Dicsovering the Day through Discovery!

Dear Parents & Friends,

We started off with a wee shower this morning as they say in the ole country. Soon the clouds parted and though slippery in places all activities went right into motion. Sometimes when it’s spitting rain the fish bite and this morning they were taking any bait at the Mill. We had good results and soon we’ll have enough fish to feed the whole camp. There is something special about catching a fish on a cane pole. It’s a cross between Huck Finn and the simple joys of not having to rely on a lot of high tech equipment or fishing apparatus. It’s pure joy when they pull out a trout.

Today we began our activities and children started their Discovery activities in the AM. Each camper has 4 activities they take in the morning. In the afternoons you have a free choice of 2 one hour activities or 1 two hour activity and that changes each day. Progressive skills in the morning and skills and variety in the afternoon. Then of course there’s the after supper activity time when all kinds of activities are available for about 45 minutes. Pick-up ball games to basic crafts and the like. We went to the Lodge for campfire and finished off our cabin skits and then sent folks off to bed.

As we started program today it was interesting to go around to many programs and see them get off the ground with the foundations of the program. I think most people who sign up for biking think that they’re just going to hop on the bike and ride off. We go through a battery of fitting the bike and helmet and making sure that you practice shifting and understand cadence. There are so many games that can challenge the child just on short grass to give you an idea of their riding ability. You quickly learn what sort of terrain they can handle and whether or not they can ride single track. Single track trails are rarely more than 3 ft. wide and take some skill to navigate when there are small roots, inclines and the occasional rock to ride over or dodge. Sometimes children aren’t used to shifting gears on the bikes and one has to multi-task to stay balanced, monitor your brakes and shift when needed. Guidelines and foundational teaching is so important throughout camp and even the waterfront provides info for the campers as to where they can dive in the lake and when and where they need to wear a PFD. Progression of teaching and building on foundations of safety, skills and fun make for good programs. Kayaking, Weaving, GV rescue, Fishing at the Mill, and many others started their day with the importance of foundational learning.

Today Riversider’s were on the lake preparing for their canoeing component which starts next week. Many had experience but we needed to go back to those basics to start anew and not get into bad paddling habits. Paddling at the ripe age of 13 and 14 should be a dance on the water and finesse instead of power. One can never really be stronger than moving water but only figure out best how to harness its strength to your advantage. They made great progress today and it was a joy to see them out there. They’re off to Foster Falls tomorrow for their climbing component.

Campers were climbing at the Wall today both from Main Camp and those Mountainsider’s staring their mini adventures. Several cabins were tie-dying today as a group. Jess and staff get some vibrant colors from the dyes and washes we use. There is a secret to keep the color fast. It was interesting to see them choose their patterns and go about the dying their shirts. They were after the most colorful and wild shirts and several chose the fireworks pattern – getting ready for the upcoming holiday. Despite the cool weather this morning one group started the day off with a creek hike and returned happy, very wet and ready to get into some dry clothes. We are so lucky to have so much water on our land. It feeds our lake, runs our Mill, and puts us to sleep. After a long day in activities, I’m sure that many of the children are settling into a deep slumber. Stay tuned to see what tomorrow brings!

Opening Day C/C-1

Dear Parents & Friends,

It’s a cool night here after a beautiful day and a few showers that rolled in just before dinner tonight. It looked like rain most of afternoon but held off so we could get down to business on this first day of C/C-1.  Many thanks for dropping off your children as we head right into the middle of our summer with a lot of returning campers as well as those who will experience Gwynn Valley for the first time. One our values at camp is acceptance and we acknowledge the fact that we come from many places and have a lot to share and what a better place to do that than camp and especially GV. We make it a priority to incorporate those new campers and make them feel that are part of the GV family. It doesn’t take long and already I’m seeing friendships being formed. Those that have been to camp before know that we start off our first day of camp with a bang. There’s not a lot of down time the first day or any day but especially the first day when campers might have a tendency to think too much about home. Activities were assigned the first day with campers Tree Climbing, Horseback Riding, Arts and Crafts, Sports, The Farm, The Mill, Fine Arts, and the Waterfront. Always an active part of camp, the Waterfront had the Zip Line humming with camper after camper trying to go for the Spider Man. The web spinner would be proud of our fledgling “spidies”. Some were trying the Tension Traverse which is a real challenge located at the lake. You may see some photos of this as the week progresses.

After lunch we held our Discovery Skits, which provide the campers with a glimpse of the kind of activities they can take in the morning while at camp. They get 4 choices for an every other day schedule, one each hour of the two hour time slot. The afternoon signups happen every day for either two one hour activities or one two period. The two hour provides a chance to go on a long hike, bike longer, visit the rock, go to the farm or possibly a tubing/kayak trip down our section of the French Broad.

We also had swim assessments after signups with some time to digest our food and get ready for the afternoon. The swim checks allow us to gauge how well campers swim and their comfort level in the water. These are done in the pool where you can easily see the bottom and its only 5 ft. deep at the DEEP END. It’s a great teaching pool and allows those who are a bit uncomfortable in the water to take it on gradually. The depth starts off about 4 inches and gradually goes to the 5 ft. mark.

Tonight’s dinner was our traditional first night macaroni and cheese, salad from the farm, applesauce fresh baked rolls and the GIANT COOKIE with each cabin’s name on it. We will move to our tables tomorrow at lunch where we’ll mix up ages and programs and you’ll have yet another group that you belong to at camp.

After supper activities are a free time for campers to choose one activity after dinner. It changes each evening and a variety are offered each night. Usually there’s a ball game or two of some sort, games on the green, some kind of arts & crafts, story telling, and any number of other activities. Tonight after activities we held our first campfire and cabins began introducing themselves through cabin skits. Mountainside and Riverside also started up a session today and they were out on the Gatehouse Green playing games and learning about teamwork and creating that small community aspect. Mountainside starts their mini-adventures tomorrow with each camper trying out all four adventure activities- mountain biking, paddling, climbing and pioneering.

Tomorrow brings our first full day of camp and as we move into the session, I just want to say that camp is a great place for these young people. It’s full of life building moments and experiences that sometime can’t happen anywhere else. It’s a place where you’re under the watchful eye of staff who are mostly way younger than parents. It’s a good place to be guided into fun and skilled activities that you can continue into your adult life. We maximize our time outdoors, playing hard, eating our farm grown food, and getting good rest by night. What more could a camper ask for. The “simple joys” of GV abound and it’s an exciting time as we begin our session. Stay Tuned!

PS  Here’s a video from Session that will provide a taste of GV!  Click on link below.

From Session B

Last Full Day of B Session!

Dear Parents and Friends,

What a great day here and I can’t believe it’s gone so fast this week. Isn’t that how it works. When you’re having fun things tend to speed up and go too fast. We held sign-ups this morning and every single activity you could think of was up and running. Something like 17 people signed up for candle making on this last full day. Capture the flag ruled the athletic field and around in that vicinity. We also had several trips out today including climbers that went to climb the classic Sundial on the Nose area of Looking Glass Rock. The Nose area has several great climbs and our climbers took no time in getting to the base of the rock this morning and having the climb to themselves. Several other camps showed up later with larger groups and our GV campers had their rock manners turned on. Climbing is not a boisterous sport and many groups yell and talk loudly while waiting to climb. Our climbing staff engage our campers and actually teach them how to belay with a counselor backup so up to three people are involved in each climb including the climber. It’s a focused, involved and fun situation.

Our bikers were out today as well and traveled to Dupont State Forest to ride the many trails there. Rupert, Sheaf, and Ashely went out today and rode Hickory Mountain and Ridge Line and then made their way to Hooker Falls to end their day with a swim. Mountain biking is such a natural for us here at camp. We have over 3 miles of single track trails for the campers to train on. More and miles of trails are being established in our area each year.

Our WEB of Life instructor tried a very neat thing at the beginning of the session for Discovery. She asked the campers a battery of questions regarding what they knew about the outdoors and environment and did the same at the end of session. It was amazing how much they learned without the traditional classroom setting where this type of information is usually imparted. It was fun, educational and most of all, hands on and they loved it without thinking it was a test or gauge of what they had learned. She’s using this information in part of her internship for school.

The afternoon was filled with packing and of course pillowcase day where everyone goes to the pool and takes their pillowcase along. You get it wet and fill it with air – voilà, you have a floatation device. It was the perfect day to be at the pool and everyone enjoyed their last swim. Along with pillowcase day is our traditional last meal of pizza and of course a delicious dessert of brownies. Some campers had dessert early today at the mill, where peach and fudge ice cream were made in the morning. I wanted to save some room for lunch. Eating here is a lot of fun because of all the good food. We spent time together at the table and don’t just eat and run. There’s always time for good conversation and finding out what people are doing as the day progresses.

After supper activities is always a nice time at the end of the day. It’s cooler and is perfect for some running sports like ultimate Frisbee or soccer. Tonight it was ultimate and of course Thunderball. If you’ve never played it’s fast paced with lots of running. You can’t run with the disc but can throw it a long way. As soon as it’s missed by the team that throws it, the other team gets the disc. It’s very similar to many of our sports taking the best of each. It does take some skill to throw and it’s also a game of opportunities where you get many chances to catch and throw.

Friendship campfire was filled with talent and folks singing songs and readings along with a video made about friendship. We ended the evening with a play written and performed by our thespians. As you arrive tomorrow friendship circles will be in each cabin at 10:30 unless you’re on Mountainside and Riverside and they will conduct their campfire for parents at the same time. Our final campfire for Main Camp will be at 11:00 in the Lodge and your welcome to stay and have some delicious GV farm food at 12:00. See you tomorrow!

Tajar Ball!

Dear Parents and Friends,

It’s Great Outdoors Week this week and what a great way to celebrate the outdoor realm by being at Gwynn Valley. I was up at the climbing wall today and saw some firsts. Climbing in cowboy boots is possible. After all, Paul Petzoldt, the founder of NOLS, climbed the Grand Teton the first time in cowboy boots. Why not get a head start here at Gwynn Valley. They were red cowboy boots at that. Today was a perfect weather day here and the last day of Mountainside and Riverside adventures. All Mountainsiders returned today and every adventure came back smiling. Riverside completed their three weeks with a 4 day trek on the AT. They were tired but happy for the experience.

We started out the morning with a little Tajar Folly because it’s his birthday. There were SIT’s on the roof of the Upper Dwellings, cups in the trees, kayaks on the Green and tables upside down in the dining room. The Tajar gets very frisky on his birthday. We’ll talk more about the Tajar Ball later.

Potters at the Pot Shop were glazing their pots and getting them ready for a final firing in the kiln today. Campers were also making corn husk dolls at the Mill which I’m sure was going on in the 1890’s when children would come to the Mill with their parents and collect the corn shucks to make all kinds of things. The morning went very quickly and I spent most of it at the climbing wall videoing the climbers from inside the wall. We have a couple of windows cut into the wall that allow access to the outside about 30 feet up and it’s fun to get that perspective. They’re sometimes surprised to see me up there inside the tower. Several campers were tackling the hardest part of the wall today which is the negative angled side or the overhung side which leans away from you. It’s all about keeping your legs under you and not just arm strength. It’s also strength to body weight ratio as well. Some of our youngest smallest campers just jump right up the wall. Climbing is a wonderful sport because of the trust you develop with your belay counselor. Without that rope and knowing that a responsible adult is holding you, it would be difficult to reach those heights. The equipment and the trust factor make it all possible and then it’s just you and the wall. Add to that, you’re in the shade in a forest with a rushing stream just below you and all your friends are encouraging you to reach the top and go for it. Even if you don’t make it you’ve accomplished a lot.

Several days ago I talked about why outdoor activities are so good for children. Outdoor play increases attention spans. I see very focused children on the climbing wall, trying to test their mettle on the Tension Traverse over the lake, negotiating a steep banking turn on a bike, throwing their first piece of pottery on a wheel , aiming at a tiny bulls eye 40 feet away and many more situations like these. I don’t always see children focused when we’re doing announcements at meals or when some adult has gone on too long. My wife’s motto this summer is to talk less and say more. Children are bombarded by so much every day. Children who have difficulty with pen and paper tasks or sitting still for long periods of time, are significantly more successful after they’ve spent time outdoors.

And then there are the health benefits. Time spent outdoors improves children’s immune systems. Healthy children are stronger learners. As children spend more and more time outside, their immune systems improve, decreasing time out of school for illness. At camp the air smells different, no air conditioning alters the temps and filters out the smells. We are probably over all, dirtier than we would be at home and we probably come in contact with more germs in the dirt and woods. Maybe those germs are good germs or “cleansing germs”. Dirt collects in those places that sometimes creates a smudge of black or brown or sweat streaks coming off the head or face. One of the guys climbing today had Band-Aids on both knees and tonight at the Tajar Ball they had both fallen off. My guess is he is in a state of almost contact skinned knees from playing so hard. I referred him to our camp nurse who took a look at the knees and declared better to have fresh air than more Band-Aids. They did take a trip to the health hut to wash them off with soap and water.

Tajar Ball tonight was completely outdoors including our picnic dinner. Burgers, hotdogs, cole slaw, tomatoes, potato salad, onions, potato chips, popcorn, snow cones and of course ice cream. All of this and then traveling around to 10 different stations and participating in many fun activities from dunking your counselor in a the dunking booth, fortune telling, soccer shoot-out, fishing, penny drop, guess the M&M’s, can toss, slack lining, balloon animals and hats, hay rides, strongman contest, and more. My guess is there will be some tired puppies in the cabins tonight. Tomorrow is the last day of camp and it will go way too quickly. Sleep well sweet kings and queens of GV and have wonderful dreams! Stay tuned!

Big Days Behind and Ahead!

Dear Parents & Friends,

First of all let me apologize for the lack of pictures on the internet over the past many days. We’ve had a glitch in our system and didn’t know it until yesterday and we’re working hard toward getting everything up asap. Our internet was also down and out most of the day yesterday and our connection to our internet provider has been spotty at best. We are sorry but these things do happen and in our rural setting a limb on a wire is a small problem can affect many users.

I’m back on the blog scene tonight after yesterday and didn’t write on Sunday night because we host our “staff rec” for all our staff. After Vespers on Sunday we put the campers to bed and one staff member can leave the cabin and after an hour they switch so both can enjoy some free time and good food with fellow staff members. We also showed the world cup match with the US and Portugal (a shortened version).

Lots to report since that time starting with a GV “Special Day” on Sunday. The theme was the World Cup from Brazil. Camper cabins could choose the station they wanted to go to including hydrotherapy at the lake or Brazilian coast, flag making to cheer on your favorite team, soccer skills clinic to get ready for the big game, face painting and an Amazon Rain Forest Tour complete with jungle birds (our SIT’S), and other delightful stations. After lunch and a long rest hour we had a giant soccer tournament and of course all games ended in a tie. Much fun was had in Brazil and playing in the World Cup. If you were not a soccer player there were a number of other games you could try your hand at during the cup games. Everyone had something to do. We ended the day with Sunday Vespers and a camp wide campfire.

Sunday was also the day that Mountainside and Riverside headed out on their adventures. They are all out until tomorrow evening and doing well. Climbers are at Cedar Rock, paddlers ran the French Broad today, backpackers made their way along the area bordering Shining Rock Wilderness and bikers hit the trails of Dupont State Forest. Riverside is presently hiking on the AT near Roan Mountain. All will return tomorrow afternoon just in time for Tajar Ball.

Today was a brilliant one with only a short shower during rest hour and some great activities going on today both in and out of camp. OLS and Web of Life went for a hike up in Pisgah and had a great time swimming at a place called Whale Back on the Davidson River to finish up their day. The Kayakers were also out on the Upper French Broad for their first whitewater action. According to Mike, Joy, and Lucca they all did a great job and no one flipped over. That’s unusual in those little sports car like boats. Everyone had a great time and learned a lot about transitioning from flat water to whitewater. We’ll have two more trips out on Thurs. with Main Camp Bikers and Climbers out in the Forest for a day trip. The big news of the day was that today was our second International Day celebrating the countries of France, Russia, and Germany. Meggan, Serge, and Lucca started the day off singing all their national anthems and each meal featured foods from their country. I think I liked the French breakfast the best. Campfire tonight was a celebration of songs, stories, and skits from each country.

The other big news today besides our news in the Tajar Times was that we were re-accredited by the ACA (American Camp Association) today and were visited by two accreditation visitors (camp directors) who poured over all of our paperwork before coming and then spent most of the day observing our programs, visiting cabins, our kitchen and health center to make sure we’re meeting the standards set down by the ACA. There are close to 350 individual standards that cover Site & Food, Transportation, Health & Wellness, Operational Management, Human Resources, Program Development, Aquatics, and Trip and Travel. They look into every nook and cranny of our organization via paper and in person. We have to provide written and verbal evidence in meeting the standards. Tucked in among all of the above sections are Mandatory Standards that you cannot miss. Miss one and you’re not re-accredited. Camps are up for re-accreditation every three years. The Main purpose of the ACA accreditation program is to educate camp owners and directors in the administration of key aspects of camp operation, particularly those related to program quality and the health and safety of campers and staff. The standards establish guidelines for implementing policies, procedures, and practices. The camp, then, is responsible for implementing and ensuring policies are followed. This is a voluntary compliance and one we gladly take on to make camp a better place for campers and staff alike. We usually do quite well on this but this is the first time we’ve ever had a perfect score. Our staff did a super job of meeting our expectations and going beyond on this day. After submitting mountains of paperwork throughout the winter and spring it was time to walk the talk and put to work everything we stand for. While I’m always a bit nervous about the visit, I know it is a great exercise in creating the best possible place for children and we always grow and learn from the preparation that goes into the visits.

I’m a happy camp director tonight and I think we’ve got some happy campers that will be winding down their session in a few days. Stay tuned for more news!

New and Exciting Experiences Every Day!


Dear Parents & Friends,

Tonight is a beautiful night at camp, a bit cooler and that means good sleeping weather up here. It’s been just brilliant today even though it was a little hot this afternoon. Many cabins are camping out tonight and between the night sky and cool temps it should be great sleeping weather. Those Hillsider’s will sleep well tonight because they just finished dancing in the Lodge. We did The Blue Bird Song, Patty Cake Polka, Going to Kentucky and the Virginia Reel. Our dance ended just around 8:30 and then off to the cabin. Spirits were high in the Lodge as Debbie, our piano player, was our band and called some of the dances.

I spent some time today with our mountain biking program. The first hour had some beginning riders who did well with our varying terrain and its features that are quite different from the yard/street/sidewalk at home. Learning how to ride in the attack position and being able to shift your weight around was the first thing they took on. The attack position is when your pedals are even at the 9/3 or 3/9 position depending on which foot you want to place forward. You’re also standing up out of the saddle with your weight evenly distributed over the entire bike depending on the terrain which we teach in a later lesson. We keep a couple of fingers on the brake levers ready to use those if you need them. We start them off in that position riding down a slight incline and then went to maneuvering the bike around a few obstacles in that position and then finally going off several small drops about 4 to 6 inches high. Everyone did great which led into a ride around camp utilizing our terrain with its many features. We got on the single track bike trail at the end our session and went about a ¼ of the way up our trail and rode back down because we were running out of time. Big improvements with this group!

We’re also seeing some real progress with our kayakers who will be going out on trips next week. We’ll head to the upper French Broad which is not far from camp. Groups going out of camp next week will include bikers, kayakers, sit on top kayakers, hikers (OLS), and climbers. Lots of campers are looking forward to these trips out. These groups have been preparing all week.

Mountainside learned what their adventures were going to be yesterday and will be heading out on Monday. We have a great staff up there with super leadership. I wish my own children hadn’t aged out of that program because I’d love to have the staff as their mentors and role models. It’s all about the staff and the role they play while your children are here at camp. We held open house today for many cabins and that is when our leaders go into cabins and talk with the campers about their experience when counselors aren’t there. It’s basically to provide us with information as to what kind of job the counselors are doing. Everything at camp starts in the cabin and works outward to program.

We will be changing tables tomorrow. I have such a great table this session and we all really want to stay together for the remainder of the session. We’ll all get new campers and staff at our tables for the remainder of the session. Arborist Climbing was in full swing this morning at our huge Poplar Trees in front of the office. Monday our climbers will head out to our “Rock” which is on site and at the top of our property. It’s a small hunk of granite but nonetheless climbable. This will be a two hour and is located in a cool shady part of camp. Climbing is very popular at camp not a day goes by without some sort of climbing activity. It’s one of those that pushes the comfort zone and allows the camper to step out there on their own. Camp is a great place to take those steps and then on your own step back into that comfort area. Stay tuned as we take on new and exciting things each day!


This and Much, Much More!


Dear Parents and Friends,

A day without rain is a day without sunshine or in other words it rains most every day here at camp.   That’s OK because it comes at the appropriate time in the past few days. It’s not even close to what we were experiencing last summer when we recorded almost 70 inches of rain over our 10 week summer. My glass is always half full as we try to negotiate and navigate our mountain weather. We’ve enjoyed our clear mornings and afternoon rumblings like today while we were eating lunch. We had a shower tonight shortened our outdoor campfire but we’ll make that up on Monday night. I realize we talk about the weather a good bit, but it does control some of our program whether we like it or not. Being outside also allows children to experience the power of our mountain weather as it moves over and around us. As many of you know we have a gorgeous view that faces West North West and can see all the way to the Blue Ridge Parkway most every day. We’re able to watch our weather come in on most occasions as we did tonight as we were holding campfire on the Gatehouse Green. You could literally see the mountain ranges disappear as the rain moved in over a period of about 40 minutes. Lightening was seen near the Parkway and that’s when we asked our campers to head back to their cabins.

Living in a cabin with a tin roof takes some getting used to when it rains. It wakes some campers up and for others it’s as soothing as Carson Creek that runs through the center of camp. The sounds of living in the woods is so good for us. As we get used to it, maybe it tickles those primitive senses that still exist in ourselves, but we rarely recognize them because of our closed up and controlled living environs. I was attending an Open House in one of our cabins today and I always ask the campers, “what would you change about Gwynn Valley”. One camper piped up and said to replace all the screens with glass. We talked about that for a bit and I’m convinced this response is related to a term referred to as nature deficit disorder. Certainly not a serious thing but one that I see more of in camp.

Outdoor play and being outdoors provides a multi-sensory experience where children see, hear, smell, and touch things unavailable to them when they play indoors. The use their brains in unique ways as they come to understand these new stimuli.   Above, I was talking about weather. Time in nature helps children to notice patterns like certain smells before a rain or certain clouds before a storm. The natural world is full of patterns. The petals on flowers, the veins in a leaf, the bark on a tree and pattern building is a crucial early math skill.

I urge camp for everyone and see what good it brings to children’s lives each day. We see that so much here at Gwynn Valley. As I stroll through and around camp each day I see children going to new heights and gaining confidence and resilience in their activities. So what that they didn’t make it to the top of the climbing wall or score a goal in soccer. They at least made it half way up and made several good passes in the game that allowed a teammate to score. Making something with your own hands and just building a fire by yourself can bring assurance to camper that couldn’t quite dodge those rocks on the mountain bike or make it up that steep hill. Being at camp is a great place for learning about what you’re good at and what you can improve on. You get many chances and you’re given the opportunity to progress at your own pace. We can’t always make those giant leaps of learning without taking a few missteps or back steps. Persistence teaches us so much and we don’t always get it the first time. We may want it but it doesn’t come that easy for everyone. That’s when we learn to rely and understand cooperation and realizing others strengths and how we can work together to make it to the top of whatever we’re doing. Cooperative play is an essential skill that happens all the time and in almost every activity. That too, I see from cabin life to clearing the table at meals.

To sum our day here, sometimes there’s just too much going on to talk about everything. Children in trees ascending ropes, glazing your creation in pottery, learning how a Mill works and grinding corn you’ll have in next weeks cornbread, learning that the attack position on a mountain bike provides great maneuverability, learning about the “patterns” of weaving and Kumihimo (ask your children), tying your own knot that holds you fast in your climbing harness, hiking to the Rock and seeing a view of camp hundreds of feet below, standing on your upside down kayak, tubing down the river, and best of all making new friends in the process. This and much, much more happens each day here at GV! Stay tuned!

It was the sunniest of days and the rainiest of days…

Dear Camper Families & Friends,

Time sure does fly here at Gwynn Valley… It’s heard to believe that we are at the end of another action packed day!

Our sunny morning began with some breakfast burritos: spinach tortillas, scrambled eggs, black beans, potatoes, and fruit plus a cereal bar for those who prefer a simple breakfast. This flavorful and filling breakfast fiesta was definitely a great way to start the day and was very well received at my breakfast table! This morning marked our second out of three days of Morning Activities on Main Camp, so activity groups were like a well oiled machine as each group worked through their program specific curriculum.

The sun continued through lunch when we enjoyed lasagna, salad, and more fruit. And the rays stayed on us as we sang songs in the lodge, selected afternoon activities at sign up, and headed off for rest hour. The clouds started to roll in a bit as we collected ourselves for afternoon activities and we had to alter plans for an hour or so as some heavy rains came through. Mill, crafts, and other indoor activities carried on as normal. Our outdoor living skills group gathered under a cookout shelter and learned how to make a fire out of flint and steel and stayed cozy around the fire as the rain came down. Many other groups collected in the lodge and the dining hall for games, coloring, friendship bracelets, and story time. As one camper said to me as we gathered in the lodge: “I love the rain because it keeps the grass green and helps all the plants grow at the farm, but I don’t like the rain because I’d rather be climbing!” Fortunately, we had a great afternoon of indoor fun and we’ll have another chance to get on the climbing tower tomorrow!

For dinner we enjoyed a Tex-Mex feast complete with beans, ground beef, rice, guacamole, veggies, salsa, sour cream, cheese and watermelon for dessert. After dinner we went into twilight play, which is our evening of extended after supper activites including the climbing tower swing, bareback riding, sit on top kayaks, capture the flag, candle making, and many other fun activities! Twilight play is always a popular night at camp. There is something really magical about playing outside until the fire flies remind us that dusk is fast approaching and bed time has arrived!

Our adventure programs had a very successful day as well: Mountainside campers enjoyed their first full day at GV to include two sets of mini-adventures. Mini-adventures mark the time where campers rotate through and sample each of the four adventure options: climbing, biking, paddling, pioneering so that they can make a better decision about which adventure they want to do for their 3 day trip later in the session. Mountainside also had a great evening at the farm feeding calves, harvesting, weeding, and playing trumpets made out of squash plant stems. Riverside returned from their four day paddling trip where they took on the Green, the Tuckaseegee and the Nantahala Rivers. Riversiders were all smiles as they recounted their triumphs and challenges from their four days in the field. Now they have two days back at camp to prepare for their next and final adventure: backpacking!

As I sit here reflecting on the day, my open house with Connestee Cove really sticks in my mind. For those who many not be familiar with the term, open house is a time when cabin groups invite one leadership team member and one program staff member to visit the cabin sometime during the first half of the session. This is a great way for non-cabin staff to get to know our campers better, to keep leadership and program staff plugged in to cabin life, and to get some feedback about how the session is going from the camper’s perspective. We talked about everyone’s favorite activities (crafts mostly in this cabin!) what everyone is looking forward to (the campout and Tajar Ball, of course) and what challenges campers have been experiencing. I was so impressed as I listened to these 9 year old girls describe the conflicts and resolutions that they have worked through over the past 4 days of camp. On the surface, these girls were talking about  organizing the bathroom and helping each other with their chores, but on another level they were talking about practicing life skills like problem solving, empathy, effective communication, personal responsibility, collaboration, etc.

When we tell prospective campers and families about the Gwynn Valley experience, we often focus on all the activities and hard skills that campers will learn while they are here: how to paddle a kayak, how to make a mug out of clay, how to shoot a bow & arrow, how to milk a goat… but their emotional intelligence and social skills will also develop and grow as they live and work and learn here in their cabin groups and in the larger community. Of course these skills are developing all the time at home as well – with friends, on sports teams, through group project work at school – but it is so amazing to witness a snapshot of this growth and development taking place. Moments like these remind me of what a gift and a joy it is to work with children. Thanks for sharing these special young people with us!

Good night world. Tune in tomorrow for another update!


A Day of Firsts!

Dear Parents and Friends,

It’s been another great day at camp.  The day was only interrupted by a short thunder shower during lunch and then it was off to rest hour and a fun day of activities. A new group for Mountainside came in this morning and they quickly had their swim assessments and then started their team building exercises in the afternoon. Tomorrow they will start their mini adventures and before you know it, off on adventures.

Lots of fun and firsts today. Campers at my table started talking about doing things for the first time at camp and almost everyone at our table group had a first today. There was everything from a bull’s-eye in archery to weaving on a loom for the first time. We broke out our fly rods for the first time this summer. I bought some fly rods back in the winter with the intent of starting a fly fishing program here at camp. These rods came through an organization called Trout Unlimited and they offer rods and reels for campers at a great price. It’s good promotion for them and of course they are hoping that young people join their ranks, which includes protecting streams and water quality in our country. Mack, who teaches OLS (Outdoor Living Skills) is a fly fisherman and was able to sign up 9 campers today for their first lesson. I’ve never really fly fished before so I’m still learning and I quickly realized how quick children can pick up basic skills. Mack started them off on dry land teaching how to hold the rod and casting methods. About half the time was spent trying to land your fly inside a hula hoop. Of course the test came at the lake when everyone got to wet a line and it was quite successful. Everyone in the group caught a fish. Now before you get too excited you have to realize these are bream and most aren’t that big. You may be able to see that in the pictures we took today while fishing. Some of these bream are the size of a large smartphone. Our original intent was not to actually catch trout in our small pond below the mill but to catch bream in our lake. We’ve been trying to grow our population over the past year and we’re slowly getting there. Bream put up a good little fight as you will see in the video I’m loading as I write. You’ll see the pole bend quite a bit and see that it was exciting for this camper to catch the largest of the day.

Jess and friends making fern headbands

Jess and friends making fern headbands

So, this was a first at camp and it was pure fun for those that fished with our new fly rods. It is a sophisticated sport and of course you can spend thousands of dollars on gear but what a great way to be introduced into a new sport and without all the trappings while catching fish that are fun to fish for. What is fun for us as children sometimes turns into life-long hobbies or pursuits. We hope this is true with all our skills and activities that we teach at camp. Many children will leave camp with an interest in something that will grow as they mature and perhaps become a hobby or vocation. And hopefully they will teach that skill to another person. We need more good teachers in the world and we also need those who want to learn. We presently have a camp full of learners as well as many good teachers. Campers are like sponges whether it’s figuring out a riddle at the table or learning how to bend it like Beckham. I teach in the summer and I learn a great deal from the campers and staff. It’s a nice relationship and one we sometimes refer to as servant leadership. We serve and we lead by example and walking our talk and presenting ourselves as role models for children and one another. Our returning staff really help to educate our new staff in the ways of GV.

It’s been a productive day and one can never guess what comes out of our busy days here at camp. The rewards are snapshots of prized moments that only we are privy to and I think it should be that way. Story telling is an age old art and I encourage you to ask your campers about their experiences here at camp when they come home. We can take pictures and videos and I can write to bring further description but hearing it first hand from your child is priceless. Stay tuned as we create more stories and firsts.

International Day – Celebrate New Zealand!

Dear Parents & Friends,

It was an international day here at Gwynn Valley and we celebrated the country of New Zealand. We have quite a few staff from the land of Kiwis so we learned a great deal as the day went on. We heard stories from the Mouri peoples and learned songs and saw some very interesting advertising presented by the Kiwis. Our foods included one of their famous desserts called Pavlova. It’s lots of meringue and whipped cream with strawberries and kiwi fruit. Food is a major part of our day at camp. It seems that we spend a lot of time eating. It’s a relaxed existence and there’s always conversation at the table about all kinds of subjects. On a typical day when camp is not running I spend a lot less time eating with the exception of dinner. With three squares a day at camp we spend a lot of time in the dining room. No complaints because the food is good and it gives everyone a chance to wake up in the AM, check in at lunch, and ease into the evening with a nice meal and ready to move toward a cooler time of the day that is more relaxed fun in different ways. The time after dinner allows children some of the unstructured free play that doesn’t always occur in our over structured day. This time at camp is supervised but relaxed and a sort of winding down unless you’re playing a sport. It’s my favorite time of the day whether I’m in the mountains or the beach. Maybe that’s why Adults call it Happy Hour. Our Happy Hour is of course without the refreshment but none-the-less a relaxed and easing into the evening and coolness of night.

I spent some time at the farm today. They were picking the last of the broccoli but everything else is certainly coming in. The group also began to pick the first carrots. If you’ve never pulled carrots out of the ground it’s one of my favorites. You have to look for the bigger stalks and you wiggle that stalk around and just pull that carrots right out of the ground. It’s a satisfying exercise because there’s something magical about not seeing what you’re picking except for the stalk and when it comes out voila. They also fed the baby calves, gathered eggs and engaged in some other farm exploration before I got there.

Besides this rant each night we have another source of news here at camp called the Tajar Times. I enjoy reading our “Times” each day and especially chuckled over one picture drawn by Jason, in Cabin Sunrise. He drew a picture of a “boneless chicken coop” and then asked the question under the picture, “Have you ever wondered where boneless chicken comes from?” You gotta love it.

Campers going to the Mill today made Cookies and Cream Ice Cream and those who made got to sample. It’s pretty darn good ice cream and who can say no to that cool sweet refreshing temptation in the middle of the day. I only had a few spoonfulls. There were campers on the lake testing their SUP skills today. Our kid size boards haven’t come in but we have 4 boards that they can certainly test out. If you’ve never been on an SUP, it’s very different from any other kind of paddling. Speaking of paddling, Riverside was out on the river again today paddling the Tuckaseegee. It’s located just near Dillsboro and has a section we call the gorge that is the perfect whitewater river for our paddlers. They had an excellent day today and will be ready for more and more as the days go by. We will also have a new batch of Mountainsider’s arriving tomorrow and will kick start their session tomorrow afternoon. It should be another great day at Gwynn Valley. Hope you are having half as much fun as we are. Stay tuned!