Closing Day D Session!

Dear Parents & Friends,

Thank you for a great ending to our D Session today. We’ve had a wonderful time with your children and thanks for sharing them with us.  Soon you will receive a link to an evaluation that we are hoping you will participate in.   We are collaborating with Clemson University to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of our camp programs and to better understand your perspectives as parents.  In addition to learning about your child’s camp experience, we also want to gain greater insight into how parents today are making decisions for their children.  We hope that this information will help us continually improve our camp programs and services. Your feedback is important. We appreciate you taking the time to help us keep Gwynn Valley an outstanding program.

I was reading an article this morning before breakfast about “being grateful”.  Last year, a Harris Polls survey was conducted to determine those things for which Americans are most grateful.  Ranking at the top was health of family & family relationships.  I’d like to think in some ways that camp can contribute to these top choices.  Even though your child may come home pretty tired, their cup runneth over from a healthy lifestyle at camp including: good food, plenty of exercise, good role models, learning to live and work together, becoming more independent, gaining resilience and so much more.  I feel it’s good to leave the nest and venture out from under the wings of parents to grow those flight feathers and confidence to an appropriate level.  It is also good for us as parents when they leave and come back tired but fulfilled.  We miss them and love them even more.  In two weeks I’m sending my youngest off to college and I will feel as you did when you dropped them off at the beginning of the session.  It’s sometimes hard to let go.  We can see the value of a good camp experience and how it bolsters the life of the child and has positive effects on the whole family.   Relationship building is the other part mentioned in the article.  Building relationships is the essence of what camp is about.  Getting along with one another and quickly learning that we’re not the center of the universe.  If your child left siblings behind at home, I’m sure they were missed on both ends and they appreciate them even more when they see them again.  A camp experience helps to round out the whole child and provides what we can’t always provide at home by introducing a whole new set of friends and folks from all over the world.

For those of you that have arrived home we hope that your child’s experience has captured all the magic of what camp can be. We know you will hear stories and songs as the weeks go by and that the camp experience will become a great memory. Placed in the hands of a mature staff a camper really gains from “playing outside which produces growing inside”.  From all of us, thanks again for a great session.  Wonderful children, great staff and the Simple Joys of Childhood at Gwynn Valley!  Hope to see you next year!

Last Full Day of D Session :( but there’s always next summer :)

Dear Parents and Friends,

What a great day here and I can’t believe these two weeks have gone so fast.   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 campers took this opportunity to do things they loved to do and even try and few new things.  Several cabins were off program just spending time together on this last day.  One went to the Rock, one went tubing and one went to Connestee Falls to swim and others just played and spent time on their own.  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 at Looking Glass Rock and the Nose area.  Our climbing staff do a great job of engaging 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 scene on these trips.  Main Camp Bikers consisted of an all boys group and the counselors leading the trip said they killed it and did multiple laps on a trail called Ridge Line.  It’s one of the most popular trails in WNC.  Everyone was beaming upon return.  The weather cooperated on all trips today.

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.  I went over myself to cool off and have a dip and enjoy the parade of Main Camp campers enjoying their last swim.  As the afternoon waned and all those swimmers appetites swelled for our GV food, we have our last dinner of pizza and of course a delicious dessert of brownies.  Eating at GV takes on whole new meaning.  You can’t buy food like we have here.  It’s fresh, wholesome and there’s lots of it.  We spend 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 days progress.

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 skits they had written themselves. We ended campfire with a great slide show made from the pictures you all have been seeing over the past couple of weeks.  Debbie, our pianist accompanies the slide show with her background music that always seems to fit the moment.  She adapts to whatever is going on in the Lodge as she tickles the keys to match the emotion in the room.  What a gift!  She ends every campfire with a song that has been a GV tradition for years called “Sheep May Safely Graze”, by Bach.

As you arrive tomorrow friendship circles will be in each cabin at 10:30.  Our final campfire for Main Camp will be at 11:00 in the Lodge and you’re welcome to stay and have some delicious GV farm food at 12:00.  See you tomorrow and safe travels!

The Tajar’s Birthday!

Dear Parents & Friends,

Tajar Ball has come to an end here at GV and it was total fun had by all involved.  Of course this day starts as we celebrate the Tajar’s birthday and of course he has to make his presence known by creating organized chaos on the Green and in the Dining Room this morning.  Debbie was on the roof, two SIT’s were asleep in kayaks on the lake, the dining room was toilet papered and assorted boats, targets, cups, kayaks and other camp paraphernalia were scattered hither and thither.  He must stay up all night to do this and I’m sure sleeps in late while everyone else is marveling at his wacky creations. This friends, is just the beginning to a grand birthday ball that begins just before our dinner hour.  More on the ball later!

After breakfast this morning we went right over to morning sign-ups to jump right into program after going back to cabins, brushing teeth, and getting ready for the day.  There were some wonderful activities going on this morning.  Several hikes were leaving downtown GV to go to the Rock and to Connestee Falls.  Both of these hikes are about 20 to 30 minute hikes here on our property.  There are lots of trails on camp, some more pronounced than others.  Some you could classify as game trails and others were created many years ago for access to the upper reaches of our land.  You don’t see too much game in the summer because of our numbers and it’s hard to hike anywhere in silence.  After the campers leave in late summer our critters start to come back as things settle down for them. Usually during the winter we see lots of deer, fox, turkey, and the occasional bear and bobcat and assorted small critters like rackity coons, opossum, and lots of rabbits.  We hear, but don’t see coyotes in the winter.  They are very shy.  There’s even an old small gauge railroad bed that’s near the top of the property.  I’m sure it was put in for logging way back in the 20’s and most of it has disappeared and overgrown.

Of course on any hot day the waterfront is buzzing and everyone wants to stay cool and that goes for the pool also.  Our pool is one of few camp pools in Western NC and it was built back in the 40’s.  One of our first projects after buying camp was to upgrade the pool and it’s so nice to have on days when you need to separate boaters and swimmers in two different locations.  There are times when the pool is very busy like opening and closing day.  Tomorrow everyone on Main Camp will make a visit to the pool for pillowcase day.  There’s hardly any camper that hasn’t tried the zip line over the lake and the traverse line.  The zip is pretty straight forward and that’s where it ends.  The traverse line is very difficult and we’ve only had two campers make it all the way across this whole summer.  Ask your campers about it on closing day.   That’s only two days away!  Can we keep them another week?  It’s been a great group!

So.. Tajar Ball started tonight with everyone in costume and of course no one knows who the Tajar is, because he is in costume too.  There’s a giant cookout with all the burgers and hot dogs you can eat plus lettuce, tomato, onions, homemade relish, potato chips, watermelon, cole slaw, and lemonade.  That’s just dinner and once the Ball starts there’s cookies, snow cones, popcorn (grown here at camp), and of course everyone’s favorite – ice cream and a multitude of flavors made at the Mill (no store bought ice cream at GV).  Along with food there was the Strongman Ring the Bell Challenge, Tin Can Toss, Guess the number of M&M’s in the water bottle, Football Thrown, Soccer Shootout, Cup and Ping Pong Ball Trickery, Face Painting, Balloon Critters, and more, plus the Giant Water Slide.  Cold water, but fun and exhilarating.  The Ball lasts for over an hour and everyone’s usually full of food and tuckered out by the time we end things about 8:20.  After a full day of activities it’s a good way to end our last regular day of camp.  Tomorrow morning we have morning sign-ups and then packing and pillowcase day in the PM.

As we wind down the session I want to let you parents know about a survey you will receive in the next couple of weeks.  It’s an evaluation sent to you by the camp and Clemson University.  We’re participating in a summer outcomes study that will provide valuable information and meaning to the work we do.  I’m on the North Carolina Youth Camps Board (NCYCA) and we’re an organization that has performed an economic impact study here in our region as well as lobbyed hard to keep our summers for camp and mostly to keep up to date on legislation that affects our industry.  I sincerely hope you will take the time to respond to this valuable tool.  This provides us with feedback to help make our program better.  We appreciate you taking the time to help us keep Gwynn Valley an outstanding program.  It’s been a great session and a great group of children.  Stay tuned for there is more ahead!

Kiwi Day Today!

Dear Parents & Friends,

Welcome to New Zealand Day.  We were met at breakfast by Gandalf the Wizard and precious rings were given out to campers upon entering the land of the Lord of the Rings through the Hobbit Hole.  We heard he Kiwi national anthem and then proceeded in to eat a typical NZ breakfast of muesli, strawberry yogurt, toast and a little Marmite if you want it and of course milk fresh from the NZ cows and fruit juice.

On any other day our activities would be typical but our theme took us to the far away land of the North and South Island to mountain bike, hit the beautiful waters of Milford Sound, visit the Fox Glacier and of course the Waitomo Glowworm Caves.  Given the morning theme all these places magically appeared at GV.  Camp can take you almost anywhere.  Climbers were out today at Looking Glass. You can almost see the rock from my office and from our perspective here at camp, they got the weather they needed to stay out all day long and climb the Nose area.  The Nose is just on the Northwest side of LG and sits with a perfect view of everything Pisgah looking north toward the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Those over 6000 foot peaks look even bigger.  There are several climbs around the Nose and our group had three different ropes set up so everyone got to climb as much as they liked.  We hope the weather will hold for Mountainside tomorrow because they will be out at the same site.  All of Mountainside is participating in their first of two training days tomorrow and getting ready for their adventures.

Kayakers were also out today on the Lower Green.  It’s a fine section of river for introducing a little bit bigger water than our local French Broad offers.  It’s also a dam release river and runs a fairly regular release schedule that we can pretty much count on each day when it runs.  In times like this summer when it’s been a little dryer than normal, it’s nice to have something that’s reliable.  Mike and Nik and AC said they rode the initial pulse of water all the way down to the takeout today.  The downside of the Green River is that on a typical hot summer day it can have hundreds of tubers that literally fill the river and make it unpleasant sometimes.  They were trying to stay ahead of the tubers all day long.  Everyone did well surfing at Sunday Ledge, ferrying, learning how to read the river, and hitting as many eddy’s as possible on Jacob’s ladder near the end. There’s always time to swim as well.

Fine Arts spent the morning working on some skits for NZ day and we saw evidence of those tonight at campfire.  Sports played capture the flag which always draws the crowds.  I think in all today with all sports and games they had over 90 campers participating.  Capture the flag is a running as hard as you can sometimes type of game and a game of strategy and figuring out where the other team’s flag is hidden.  Of course the Farm was cranking this morning.  One good hour of rain yesterday really blossomed overnight and much was harvested today in the morning.  Of course all those animals need to fed each and every day.  Pottery was putting their glaze on their finished pots today in a variety of colors and getting ready for the upcoming firing which will produce an array of color combinations.  It’s sometimes hard to tell how things will turn out with glaze colors.

Lunch today was sausages wrapped in pastry and egg and bacon pie along with salad and fruit.  We’re so well fed here and you know where a good bit of that food comes from.  Dinner tonight was fish and chips and piled high on the table on top of newspaper and cooking paper.  After lunch the skies darkened a bit and we had a short intermission with a couple of thunder boomers but again all was well and back to normal at the end of rest hour.  Arts and Crafts took an opportunity to get wet and do some art in the inner tubes at the lake.  Hand weaving or Kumihimo was at the lake and it was the “coolest art hour” ever.  What a novel idea and everyone loved it.  Bikers joined later after a hot sweaty ride to cool off.  The pool was also a busy place today and the water was just the right temperature.  We’ve purchase a pool cover this year and it’s raised the pool temps as much as 10 degrees from previous years.  I was over there shooting some underwater/slide go-pro shots.

Most of being at camp is all about living together and relationships.  That’s how my eyes see it even though program is a blast and so much fun.  Teamwork, collaboration and communication are the skills that are necessary for the success of children later in life.  Camp is more than just hard skills.  As they grow up, children will remember the lessons that their camp experiences taught them, helping them to become better, more well rounded adults. The key life skills learned at camp follow children for the rest of their lives.

Camp each and every day carries us to far off places and allows our dreams to come true.  It’s more fun than Disney World because it’s real life.  Tonight at campfire we left on a plane and flew to NZ and visited many places, learned where our Kiwi staff lived and something about their lives.  Our cultures, while somewhat similar, are really different too.  It’s fun to take a peak into other’s homes and learn about what’s life like there.  Camp is a magical place and we make magic every day.  Stay tuned!

Counselor Spotlight!

Dear Parents & Friends,

It’s been a great day at camp and that’s not unusual.  You know staff really make camp what it is and we’ve got a great staff this year.  You’d probably rather know what’s going on at camp with your children but I thought it noteworthy to talk a little bit about a few staff in particular.  For the first time that I can remember, we’ve got three staff members who are or were involved in arm services from three different countries.  I recently did interviews with all three to find out more about their duty and service and see how camp was different and similar in some ways.

Stacey who is a cabin counselor in Peter Pan is active and on leave from the New Zealand Army.  We have her all summer and she’s doing a great job.  Stacey said, “Camp is certainly more laid back than the army, but safety and risk management is #1 in both settings”. The Value of Acceptance, which is one of camp’s values, is also emphasized in her service.  The service is very competitive unlike camp where games end in a GV tie.  Stacey has signed on for 20 years and at this point has the rank of a Corporal.  She was the first woman in her family to join the service, but her great grandfather and grandfather served in WWI and WWII respectively.   She joined in 2008 and presently is serving as a dental assistant on her base.  Stacey grew up in Hastings, near Hawkes Bay close to the ocean.  It’s on the North Island and is very close to the sea.  She’s presently stationed in Linton which houses about 3000 troops and 25% of those are women.  Over the next few years she could be posted to an Air Force base or a Navy base with her skills.  She’s been surprised by the recognition our military service gets over here.  She’ll be heading back to the base when the new year begins and has really enjoyed her time at camp.

Tom has been with camp for two years and served for 7 years in Australian Army.  He’s multi-talented and has a lot of experience in the outdoors.  He works with our Riverside campers.  His love of the outdoors started with being a Scout in his home country.  When he was a young scout he had a chance to meet Bear Grylls who now is famous for his outdoor survival life and reality show.  He loved learning all the outdoor skills from being a scout and years later took that to the next level in joining the military.  He focused on infantry even though his CO recommended other areas and thought he was too smart to be just an infantryman.  Tom served 14 months in Afghanistan.  After service there and his honorable discharge he went to South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, and Zambia to work in anti-poaching situations carrying his bush skills with him and creating a safe environment for many African animals.  In Kenya when not on patrol he was a “camp counselor for baby elephants who had lost their mothers to poaching”.  Nurturing baby elephants is akin to making sure Riversider’s needs are met some days.   “When you live in a small group like Riverside, you quickly learn what each person’s strengths and weaknesses are.  Teaching weapons training is quite similar to teaching canoe strokes, starting with foundational basics and going over the information several times to help implant those skills in the campers. The prep work that you do at camp goes right out into field with you and teachable moments are everywhere.”  Bonding with fellow soldiers (campers and staff) and processing the day happens in both environments.  Tom recognizes the difference between talent and hard work.  One of his favorite things is to wake the campers at 4 AM and drive them up to over 6000’ on the Blue Ridge Parkway to watch the sunrise.  Tom was very close to the patrols he worked with in the service and he feels the same about fellow staff and campers than he’s mentored the past couple of years.

Biggest Austin as we call him, is in our youngest boys cabin, Echo.  Austin comes from Holland, Michigan and his family met our Andy (assistant director), many years ago when Andy was an exchange student in the US.  Austin’s family and Andy have remained close through the years and Andy invited Austin to work here this summer.  Austin was involved in the Marine Corp Reserve and spent several years in the reserve while working and going to school.  His boot camp training took him to San Diego, later to Camp Lejeune and to Morocco for more training.  He spent about 5-7 weeks a year devoted to the Corp.  He grew up in a household with strong faith and when back home is involved in working with the youth at his church.  Austin stated his faith grew a great deal while in basic training.  “While military life is so different than camp, listening skills are important in both environs.”  At camp we include in that ability to listen, engagement, eyes and ears perked on what we call the “zone of awareness” when around campers.  “You make sure everyone is safe around you at camp and in your group and making sure that they are maintaining themselves.” There’s not much nurturing or gentleness in the Corp and here it’s all about that.  There’s a time to be firm and a time to relax and have fun.”  Austin will continue his education and work back in Michigan at the end of summer.  This ex- Marine is doing a great job with our youngest boys who have loved being in his cabin.

I thought you might be interested in these folks.  Our staff have many stories to tell and live very interesting lives in all parts of the globe.  I wish we had more time to have you meet more of them.  As stated above staff like these and others make us who we are.  They are partnering with you to be good parents here at camp.

We finally got some rain today and only during rest hour.  Our lightening detector went off about 2:30 and by 3:30 it gave the all clear signal.  It rained buckets and we need it.  This has been a very dry summer.  Bikers and paddlers made it back before the rain hit this afternoon.  Mountain Bikers went to Dupont and Kayakers went to the French Broad Wilson Rd. section.  There’s a great small rapid there for teaching the basics of ferrying, peelouts and generally controlling your boat in current.  Climbers are headed out early tomorrow morning to beat the rain.  Hopefully the rock will be dry when they arrive.  Tomorrow is New Zealand Day!  Stay tuned!

Special Day at a Special Place!

Dear Parents & Friends,

It’s been a fun and beautiful day here at camp.  As you may or may not know Sunday’s are what we call “Special Day” here.  It’s a day when all of our activity leaders have a day off and it’s a break from the normal routine of camp Monday – Sat.  Sunday’s are a bit more leisurely starting with waking up a half hour later and breakfast a half hour later.  By the end of a long week everyone needs that extra time.  We also try and get campers in bed a little earlier on Sunday night.  Each week when a Sunday falls over a session there’s a theme and today’s theme is Super Hero’s.  There are many stations and each station presents a challenge for all the cabin groups.  There 12 different stations and campers went to 6 stations in the AM and 6 in the PM.

Giant Jenga with the Riddler and Iron Man was on the Basketball court and it was truly a giant version.  Our Maintenance staff made two sets.  Flexibility Limbo was the home of The Cheetah (I’ve personally never heard of this super hero. I do my best to stay up with pop culture).  Strength Station with Cap’t AmericaMemory with Bat Girl –Do you know all your Super Hero’s?  Invisibility with Batman.  Mind Control with Loki and Thor – campers get to tell their counselors what to do.  Will it be for good or just plain funny?  Precision with Hawkeye – Archery!  Rescue or Float Your Counselor (with the tools at hand and improvise) with Poison IvyBattle Ships at the Lake with Bat WomanHulk Smash with you know who.  Accuracy with Wonder Woman (basketballs and trash cans filled with water) and a camper favorite.  Water Accuracy with Black Widow using water guns.  Flying with Superman (one of my favorites) in the Lodge.  Agility Course with Spider Man (we brought this one in with help from the outside world and kids loved it.

It was a great day and certainly different than a normal day at camp.  But what is normal when you’re having a great time here at GV.  A normal camp day is filled with lots of interaction with staff and fellow campers, a chance to try new things, gain new skills, push your comfort level and more, in an environment where you can fail and try again.  Pretty good normal day, I’d say.  From time to time camp’s get portrayed in not such a good light as is the case with a new movie that is about to be released.  I sometimes see that we as a profession fall drastically short of the impact made by educators in such films as Dead Poets, Mr. Hollands Opus and Stand and Deliver.  The new release is called Wet Hot American Summer and just the title makes me cringe.  I’m no saint by any means but my work is my passion and I believe strongly about the power of camp and how camp does a world of good for children.  Frankly, except for the Parent Trap movies, most movies portraying camp life and our camp culture have fallen way short on the benefits of camp.  It’s rated R so I would hope the R means rocket into oblivion before any of our campers see it.  These attempts at “entertainment” motivate me to take it to the next level here at camp and keep it child centered.  I would however, recommend one movie by Pixar if you have not been to see it or perhaps taken your child (age appropriate from my opinion around 8 or 9 to adult).  It’s called Inside Out and it’s gotten rave reviews at the table here at camp.

It would be nice if our only screen distractions these days were the good movies discussed above, but as a society and generations coping with technology I wonder where we headed.  Nature Valley bars just released the following commercial and it’s well worth three minutes of your time.

Because I am a grandfather and do the work I do, I can relate to all three generations and what they are saying.  I’m sure the generation before me said the same about television.  Friends, it’s vastly different and we have to keep our connection to nature, and nurturing nature in their lives.  You’re making a difference because your child is here with us and we appreciate that.  We are superb in telling our story to ourselves and our families.  We need to get the positive side of this message to more people.  I hesitated even providing the link because, it in some ways is an ad focusing on a negative theme that we hear about all the time.  Living in an environment like ours and away from screens is necessary for us all at times.  I urge you to promote more camp like experiences which enhances the all around/well rounded child.

To end on a more pleasant note and as a cyclist who road rides and mountain bikes I recently saw this while watching a stage in the Tour de France.  Get outside and if you have a bike and ride like the wind.  Enjoy!

Tonight after dinner we held our Vespers service or Sunday service.  Campers and staff participated and everyone enjoys our time together after a long day here at GV.  Riverside and Mountainside were there and both have fun weeks ahead.  Riverside leaves tomorrow for their paddling segment and Mountainside starts their adventure training this week with many other assorted activities.  Thanks for allowing me to get on my soapbox.  Stay tuned!

Capturing the Essence of Gwynn Valley

Dear Families & Friends,

Good evening from Gwynn Valley! Main Camp just finished playing a game that has everyone pursuing colors of the rainbow and the pot of gold at the end.  Six colors have to be gathered from the counselors wearing those colors. When a camper tags a designated ‘color of the rainbow’ that counselor has to paint a dab of paint on each cabin member’s arm. Sounds easy, right? But it’s not because the SITs are also running around in tye dye shirts and if they tag any member of your cabin the SITs will erase one of your colors and give you another in exchange.  And then there are the erasers, wearing white, who take all of your colors if they tag you!  There’s a whole lot of running around but you must stay with your cabin group and counselors.  For all their hard work there has to be a reward, so yes there is a pot of gold waiting at the end! RB, the Tajar Times editor, also happens to be a magician with a 30 minutes repertoire. The campers all gathered in the lodge after running around for a magic show that included all sorts of fun tricks making farm animals appear and disappear and objects move without being touched… The peals of laughter could be heard from across the green!

Earlier today we had some special visitors in camp. Gwynn Valley is filming a new promotional video due to release in the fall, and we have had a professional team come in throughout the summer to capture the essence of Gwynn Valley. Today we filmed some great action shots with kayakers, paddler boarders, and water mat players at the lake; archers shooting their arrows; campers playing with piglets at the farm; tadpole hunters with Web of Life; and Mountianside campers on the high ropes course. With so many fun things going on at camp every day, the good material is endless!! We had a slightly overcast day which was perfect for filming and everyone appreciated the slight drop in temperature.

As part of the filming, we also did a number of 1-on-1 interviews with campers ranging from 1st timers in Echo all the way up to SITs who have been here at GV for over a decade of summers. It was incredible to hear them describe their experiences at Gwynn Valley. Certain themes kept coming up which seem to be near to the heart of our mission. Almost everyone described the sense of community and belonging they feel here at camp. Many discussed the importance of distancing themselves from electronics and finding other ways to entertain themselves by DOING and CREATING. Of course, some of these admitted that they miss their iPads and game consoles, but they also agreed that time away was a good thing. A surprising number talked about Gwynn Valley was the place where they make their first real from of the opposite gender, which surprised me given that so many of our campers attend co-ed schools. Of course we also heard about the daily mantra of ‘doing something difficult everyday’ which Miss Mary embraced fully from day 1! We love seeing campers stretch their comfort zones and experience growth by doing new things while at GV.

Speaking of doing something difficult everyday, we were very glad to have our Riverside campers back from 4 days of climbing at Foster Falls. The group had a great time and campers told us all about their adventures in the woods. The biggest challenge for many was the 150 foot rappel, which is right next to a beautiful waterfall. Every RS camper successfully made it through, despite a few who are pretty nervous about heights. Their campers were proud of themselves and glad that they had pushed past their fears.

Tune in tomorrow to hear about more adventures!

Another Day of Opportunity

Dear Gwynn Valley Familes and Friends,

We are happy to report that our dining hall was full again this morning! All 11 cook out and camp out groups from last night made it back to downtown GV in time for breakfast this morning. Breakfast was abuzz with tales of fire building, s’more making, star gazing, and how well/poorly everyone slept in their camp out shelters. Following a delicious and filling breakfast of biscuits, cheddar cheese, scrambled eggs, fruit, cereal, milk and AJ (apple juice), everyone headed out to their 2nd B Day of Morning Discoveries with full bellies. As I walked around filming this morning, I witnessed many excellent moments of teaching. Filming is a wonderful way to observe campers and staff in activities because it allows you to enter and observe program in a way that doesn’t disrupt the flow of the lesson. Down at the stables, many of our campers were working on riding off lead in the ring. Archers were learning how to control their aim by trying to hit cards and milk jugs that were added to the targets they practiced with on Day 1. Our climbers were in the hemlock trees today instead of at the tower for exposure to a new kind of climbing. Mountain bikers progressed from open field and basic hill work to some of the single track trails we have here on camp property. In Outdoor Living Skills (OLS) our campers learned about dutch oven cooking and made a delicious pot of baked macaroni and cheese! Of course, this is just a glimpse of what we had going on. There were also campers weaving in crafts, paddling in kayaks, writing a musical to be performed later this session, making wind chimes and wheel throwing in pottery, milking goats down at the farm, and much more!!

Today was our first day of Open Houses, which is when we have leadership staff and program leaders visit cabin groups in their camp homes (the cabins) while cabin counselors take a 30 minute break to refresh themselves or prepare for program. During Open House, the visitors ask campers about camp life, cabin life, and their counselors. On a serious level, this gives campers the opportunity to discuss matters of concern with adults who are not directly involved with their cabin. On a fun level, this gives our staff who don’t live in a cabin the opportunity to hear about all the fun things going on in cabin life! Today, I had a Open House with our youngest boys cabin, Echo. Those boys are so much fun and they are having a BALL at camp! We heard a lot about their camp out last night, their ukelele-playing SIT, and the water gun ninja who sometime stop by on afternoons when they’re headed to the pool.

After a delicious lunch of tomato soup, cheese & ham toasties, fresh green salad, corn, fruit, and sky juice, we all went outside to shuck the corn picked by this morning’s farm crew. This time of year, we shuck corn almost every day after lunch. It’s just part of our daily routine: lunch, hand washing, corn shucking, and then singing with Debbie! After singing, campers watched skits to learn about their afternoon activity options and then signed up for afternoon activities. We had a few tubing trips going out and lots of campers out at the waterfront trying to beat the heat. A crew of brave and curious campers caught and learned how to fillet fish with Miller Zeke. I later heard that the best part was cooking the fish over the Mill fire and learning how delicious a fresh trout can taste with a bit of salt and pepper and a squirt of lemon juice on top! Not all campers love fish, but Zeke estimates that 19 out of the 20 campers who signed up tried it and liked it. The Tajar Times was also a popular activity this afternoon. One of our staff parents this session, Rick Brown (RB), is a newspaper editor for the 49 weeks each year that he isn’t at Gwynn Valley. When he is here at camp, the Tajar Times goes from a standard camp newspaper to a daily publication with a well-deserved collection of rabid readers.

This evening we all enjoyed more delicious food to include baked trout, succotash, green salad, dinner rolls, and roasted potatoes. Instead of coming together as a whole camp group after dinner, we split into smaller groups. A few cabin groups were camping out in shelters on Gwynn Valley’s property. The remaining Brookside campers learned some Mountain Dances with Debbie, our Music Director, and Jordan, our Brookside Head Counselor. Those Mountainside cabins who camped out last night had a chance to go down to the farm and pick potatoes (a Mountainside tradition!) and play with the baby goats and piglets. The remaining Hillside campers sat on the hill in front of Mountain View and Playhouse cabins to listen to a few Tajar Tales. For those of you at home who don’t know, the Tajar is a friend of ours here at camp who is part badger, part tiger, and part jaguar. The Tajar is very friendly and full of folly, but he’s also very, very shy so we don’t see him much. Tonight we heard the story of the first Tajar Ball, which is a tradition that lives on today at camp. Many Hillside campers chose to stay after Tajar Tales to watch the sunset. You could see cabin groups spread out in small clusters having outdoor friendship circles as the sky faded from blue to orange and pink and purple. As the darkness started to settle and the fireflies started to come out, the groups got up one by one to make their way up the hill to their cozy cabins and inviting beds. All the Gwynn Valley campers are now sound asleep, dreaming of what tomorrow will hold.


Twilight Play, after playing all day!

Dear Camper Families and Friends,

We had a beautiful and hot summer day here at Gwynn Valley! In the morning temperatures stayed temperate as campers enjoyed their second A day of Morning Discoveries. In the afternoon, it was perfect weather for swimming and the waterfront was a popular spot for afternoon sign ups. Campers were out having fun on the water mat, the zipline, the traverse line, sit on top kayaks, stand up paddle boards and just goofing around in the swimming area. The sunshine has been bountiful and we all basked in it’s summer glory today.

Our kitchen hit home runs at every meal today. As Grant likes to say, “You can’t buy food like this!” For breakfast we had homemade-whole wheat cranberry & orange scones, bacon, fruit, OJ, water, milk and cereal. At lunch we had fresh green salad, chicken, grilled eggplant and squash, pitas, olives, feta, homemade tzatziki sauce and fruit. Some people made gyros and others enjoyed a nice greek salad. Snack was a refreshing fruit and yogurt smoothie which really hit the spot when temperatures were high after rest hour. For dinner we had roasted chicken (raised at GV) with rice, gravy, homemade-whole wheat challah bread, green salad, local butter, and beet salad. Many campers at my table tried beets for the first time, and I think we may have a few converted beet lovers! At Gwynn Valley, we know that food nourishes not only the body but also the soul. We really emphasize the importance of slowing down to eat, conversing with those around you, and knowing where your food comes from. Our table groups sit together for one week at a time, and each group includes a mix of campers and staff, boys and girls, Main Camp and Mountainside. We have had a few days with our D session table groups and as you look around the dining hall you can tell by all the laughter and the noise level that groups have really gotten comfortable with one another.

The dining hall was very spacious this evening as nearly half of our cabin groups were on camp outs. Nine Main Camp cabins and two Mountainside cabins picked up food orders from the cookout kitchen and made dinner over an open fire at one of our many established campsites on camp property. Cabin camp outs are wonderful opportunity for cabin bonding and up close contact with natural wonders of Western North Carolina. Most sites have a shelter with a roof and three walls, which opens to the surrounding environment on the fourth side. There is also a fire ring and plenty of space to play in the surrounding woods or fields. Our closest shelter is Hidden Stall; it only takes 5 minutes to walk there from Downtown GV, but you really feel like you’re in the middle of the woods when you arrive. Our furthest campsites are over on the Hunt Farm and they are about a 15 or 20 minute walk from Downtown GV. Our younger cabins go to the closer sites while our older groups have a bit of a further or harder walk to the more distant sites. Every cabin camps out at least once during the session, so if a cabin group did not go tonight, they will be going at some point over the next few days.

Our Mountainside campers enjoyed their 2nd Mini Adventures today. During the first week of camp, each camper will try mountain biking, rock climbing, canoeing and pioneering. After today, everyone has tried two of the four adventure options. At the end of the week we will collect adventure preferences and sort them into adventure groups for further training before the big trip. After Mini Adventures today, half of mountainside went out for cabin camp outs while the other half ate dinner as normal in the dining hall and then went down to the farm. At the farm, MS3 campers set a record potato harvest, collecting over 400 lbs of potatoes! After working hard in the garden, our farm workers enjoyed some play time with the baby goats and the piglets. The piglets were freshly bathed and adorable as always.

Back in Main Camp, the remaining cabins enjoyed an evening of Twilight play. For those of you who are new to camp, Twilight play is an extended after supper activity period. Tonight campers went down to the stables for horses; swung like Tarzan and Jane on the tower swing; played a massive game of capture the flag all over Downtown GV; popped GV grown corn at the Mill; made bath bombs and hacky sacks with our crafty ladies Daisy and Kelly; went on scavenger hunt for Debbie; tried their hand at wheel throwing with Hannah; or played camouflage with our OLS / WEB team.

After a full day of playing in the sun, all our campers are now sleeping peacefully in cabins and camp out shelters. We’re excited to hear about camp out adventures over breakfast tomorrow when all our table groups will be complete once again. Until then… we’ll all have to dream of the adventures that tomorrow will hold.


International Day for Poland, Slovakia and Hungary!

Dear Parents and Friends,

It’s International Day at camp today and we’re celebrating Poland, Slovakia  and Hungary.  Every Tuesday we celebrate a country or several countries as part of our international focus at GV.  One really learns a good bit about the many countries represented here at camp.  We have lots of accents and to an outsider it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where some of our staff live.  International Day helps with this through all day education by those staff from a particular country or countries as the day progresses.  That could come in the form of national anthems, facts at each table when we’re eating, foods or snack we might have that day, skits and of course the campfire which puts a name to a place and all kinds of interesting facts.  The world is diverse and there’s so much to learn about beyond our own boundaries.

But, on to other aspects of our program.  I stopped by Shady Grove this morning to watch weaving and tomorrow they will be making jewelry.  Just around the corner was pottery making their first coil and slab pieces which is foundation work for later expressions of artistry.  Next door the campers were working on gourds that we grow here on the property.  You can do a good many things with a dryed out gourd.  The skin dries very hard and you can etch in it, paint it, cut it to any shape and make all kinds of things to take home.

On the waterfront a new group was getting used to the kayaks and being comfortable upside down in the water.  Wet exits come first and then they progress to the spray skirts which prevent you from falling out of the boat when you turn over, so you have to be ready to find and pull the tab on your skirt in order to wet exit.  This is a prerequisite for paddling even on the lake and certainly on the river.  It takes a while but most folks get it.  After that then we start working on strokes which are much different from the canoe.  Kayaking is easier starting off but gets a little harder as you progress.  It’s easier to paddle in a straight line vs being in a canoe even with a partner.  Having two blades simplifies and confounds at the same time.  The kayak in the right hands is very maneuverable and can run circles around most canoes.

On the high adventure scene the climbers were scaling the tower again this morning and learning their knots and commands along the way.  There’s a lot communication that goes on between the climber and belayer (who holds you safely).  It’s definitely a team effort and a skill that’s good for working with other people and maybe someone you don’t know.  Our tower is nice for all levels and teaches the basics right up to overhanging challenging wall climbs.  It’s only one of four kinds of climbing at camp, which we can talk about at a later date.

The bikers were getting their mountain legs today as they tackled some of camp’s single track.  Mountain Biking has become one of our biggest programs and it attracts campers every day.   Today they were learning to use their gears and riding in the attack position as navigated up and down our varied terrain.  It’s harder than it looks but it prepares you for positioning over the bike as well as understanding cadence and gearing.  We have three trails here at camp and two skills areas which challenge the camper on short distances with winding narrow single track.

Riverside left today for their climbing adventure and will return on Friday.  Mountainside continues their mini-adventures tomorrow.  It’s only the beginning of the week and it didn’t rain a drop today.  We’re having Fun with a capital F.  We’ll have to see what’s in store for tonight’s international campfire. Stay tuned!