It was an informal gathering, but it won't be the last. Families plan to reunite at least once a year at the Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church where they comforted one another in the worst days of their lives.
It's peaceful now, the water is clear, but the Albert Pike Campground is still closed. Saturday, victims and extended family were able to walk through the devastation.
Pastor Graig Cowart with Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church went with them. He recalls, "It was a hard difficult thing, but I think it was a good thing and they got a sense of closure."
Families returning for the first time had a difficult time, until everyone started talking about the good times. He adds, "It's a way to try and progress a little forward in their life."
Rescue workers and victim's families gathered for lunch. It's the same building many spent sleepless nights waiting to hear about the missing, but the mood is different. Here there are friendships and bonds that will never be broken.
Cohen Davis is a Firefighter and joined the rescue efforts. He says, "It's pretty devastating to see the magnitude of what the water could do compared to what it looked like when I went that morning."
Davis and relatives were part of rescue efforts that saved nearly 100 people, memories too difficult to talk about. He continues, "It feels like what you did was a success. Even though you may have lost lives, you feel like you did what you came to do."
Davies saved Kerri Basinger of Louisiana. She and best friend Candace Smith lost their husbands and two children each.
Basinger says, "This first year is going to be a really hard year."
Smith is also from Louisiana. She adds, "Prayers are still needed, we have a long road ahead of us and we're thankful most of all to have each other because we understand exactly what we're going through."
Families say they look forward to the day Albert Pike re-opens with cell phone service and a warning system so more families can come out, enjoy it and make good memories.
"We get a little peace from coming here and to know we have a new family here. It helps us to come here and if we decided to go down to Albert Pike we know we're not going alone," Smith concludes.
Families and rescue workers plan to spend the night and go to church together Sunday morning. Pastor Cowart still talks too many of the families over the phone daily.
The Forest Service is asking for the families input on the design for a memorial to be placed at the camp grounds.
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