E Closing and End of Our Summer! :(

Dear Parents & Friends,

Thank you for a great ending to our E Session today.  We’ve had a wonderful time with your children and hope they will have great memories of their experiences with us.  Soon you will receive a link to an evaluation that we are hoping you will participate in.   We appreciate you taking the time to help us keep Gwynn Valley an outstanding program.  The picture shows all of Cabin Playhouse huddled around their counselors at breakfast yesterday. They will miss their counselors!


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 special part of their summer.  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 sharing your children. Hope to see you next year!

PS   Here is the link to the video I spoke about at final campfire.

E Highlights

Tajar Ball at the End of Fun Filled Day!

Dear Parents & Friends,

We awoke this morning to the Tajar’s folly with all kinds of pranks all over camp.  There were so many things moved and out of place we hardly knew what day it was and where we were.  Tables from the dining room were on the basketball court.  Tubes from the lake were all over the Green.  Folks had different name tags on and didn’t even know it.  People were walking backwards thinking they were walking forwards.  Cups were hanging from trees and of course the word Tajar was spelled out on the Green with kayak paddles.  Despite all his folly we made it through another wonderful day at camp intact and just ended on a great Tajar Ball note.  More on that later.

I spent some time this morning with climbers who were on their last day of Main Camp Climbing and taking on our two Arborist trees.  Arborist climbing is very different than tree or tower climbing here at camp and originally was used to access trees without spiking the trunk or limbs.  It’s an environmentally friendly way to get up into trees.  Through a series of knots and hitches you literally climb the rope you’re hanging on and inch your way up like a silk worm.  It’s a strenuous workout for legs and arms but you’re able to hang freely while climbing and 98% of the time making no contact with the tree.  I shot some good video today of the two groups that were climbing and am looking forward to using that later in some camp highlight reels.


I followed the horseback riders this morning on a short trail ride and also spent time with the two wheeled horses on our mountain bike skills course which winds through, over and up some of single track here on the property.  This was the A groups last day of Discovery and they were going for it.  The Mill was making Johnny Cakes this morning and everyone was getting to sample them complete with either home churned butter or molasses.  Both were good.

There were several cabins getting the last tie dye session in today.  Dye was mostly on the shirts and good thing we wear aprons and gloves or you might have greeted a tie dye hand or two on closing day.  Nature Skills and Camping took a hike to the Rock this afternoon as a signup and they were justly rewarded. It was the perfect afternoon for it.  It was cloudy this morning but didn’t sprinkle on us until late morning.  The afternoon was partly cloudy and sun shiney.  From the Rock you can see all the way to the Parkway, Mt. Pisgah over to Shining Rock and Devil’s Courthouse.  It’s a great view and you literally look right down on camp.  The last few feet are a scramble but well worth the time and effort to get there.

Several special events took place today and one was the release of the baby calves.  All summer long they have been cared for and bottle fed twice each day by our campers.  Today was the day they were set free to go into the big field.  It was in essence graduation day at the farm.  A slew of campers and staff took their lead lines and walked them to the entrance of the field.  Some bounded away kicking their heels up and frolicking along the way while others were hesitant and weren’t quite sure what they were getting themselves into.  Keep in mind these babies were born back in late April and early May.  The whole affair reminded me of opening day of camp when some campers just can’t wait to get to their cabins while others are bit reticent with parent’s parting goodbyes.

Another annual event is when the “smart fish” left in the Mill Pond have resisted the worm, corn and bait and haven’t been caught.  There’s only one thing left to do and that’s drain the pond and let the campers get in there with nets to catch the remaining hold-outs.  You can’t release the water all at once or the trout would escape to the lake.  You open just a board width next to the drain and slowly let the water into the lake.  As the level drops the fish are easier to catch… well for the first two minutes, until the campers start stirring the mud up on the bottom and you can’t see a darn thing.  As the water drops lower and lower the trout literally have no place to go except into the nets.  There were some big trout remaining with some weighing in around 2 pounds.  The campers squealed as trout swam at their feet between their legs and all around them.  I didn’t stay to get a final head count but it was numerous.

I think at least two cabins went tubing today.  Primavera was one who took along a GoPro to capture the event.  Our tubing run is about 2.5 miles and we take out across the road so it’s a short walk back to camp.  Campers are in tubes and we also take a raft for safety which sometimes acts as a tug boat for the little yellow tubes floating behind like ducklings.  With the recent increase in rainfall it was a quick and fun ride down the flat French Broad near camp.

Many campers signed up for the Swing by Choice this afternoon.  Campers wear a chest and sit harness and are secured into a cable that is about six feet off the ground.  Your cabin mates grab a rope and haul you upward till you’re almost parallel to the ground and you release a short length of cord that acts as a go button and lets you fly in a pendulum arc between two telephone poles.  It’s a challenge by choice swing because one can release oneself at any time and at any height.  Campers must wait until they are Mountainside age to participate in the full experience of the ropes course and the swing from a higher point of take off.

As the dinner bell rang tonight everyone showed up in costume to celebrate the Tajar’s birthday.  There was a cookout complete with burgers, hotdogs, chips, all the trimmings, watermelon, cole slaw, and beans.  That was just the beginning of a food fest.  After dinner we had a shower move in and everyone retreated to the dining room while the rain passed.  Some events were moved indoors except for the Strongman (ring the bell) Challenge, Waterslide Mountain, Hay Ride, Giant Bubbles, Swurfer Swing and the Sponge Toss.  Inside the Lodge there was Face Painting, Tin Can Topple, Corn Hole, Guess the # of M&M’s, Hide the Ping Pong Ball, Balloon Dart Throw and others.  Some of the campers just camped out at the Waterslide Mountain which has you climb to the top and slide your way to the bottom of a big splash pool.  As a camera man you can’t stand too close to that pool.  There was also ice cream, cookies and snow cones if you didn’t eat enough dinner.  There will be some tired campers tomorrow because after a full day we also went hard until 8:30 this evening playing and having fun.  We couldn’t have asked for a better day.

Camp helps a child develop a powerful identity which makes children feel confident in front of others and provides them with something genuine to like about themselves. A child may not be the best on the ropes course, the fastest swimmer, or the next teen idol when he sings, but chances are that a good camp counselor is going to help a child find something to be proud of that she can do well. The camp experience not only helps the child discover what he can do, it also provides him with an audience that shows appreciation. With all the activities and experiences that Gwynn Valley offers, there are many experiences that provide the inertia that propel children in positive ways and are stepping stones for life’s skills.

Tomorrow morning is the last day of Discovery and in the afternoon we’ll be packing our bags and going for fun sessions at the lake and pool.  We look forward to seeing you and have you share in our world of the “simple joys of childhood”.  Stay tuned!

Plenty of Sunshine & Adventure Return!

Dear Parents & Friends,

What a gorgeous day here at Gwynn Valley! We started with some rain, but the clouds parted late this morning and the sun has been shining ever since. It has been a bit wet this week, so a sunny day like today was well appreciated around camp. Several cabin groups took advantage of the clear skies this afternoon and pulled ”off-program” for hikes, creek hikes, and swims around camp. For those cabins who stuck with normal program, we offered a wide variety of sign up activities this afternoon including mountain biking, hemlock climbing, horseback riding, the last corn picking of the summer down at the farm, hand-building creations at pottery, fishing and open fire cooking at the mill, basketball, lake ‘line’ fun (zipline & traverse line), sit on top kayaks, candle making, pool swim, and many more! This morning all campers participated in Main Camp discoveries which ran as normal allowing camper to continue progressing through the teaching and fun that takes place each morning.

The dry weather was also appreciated by our seven cabins camping out this evening. While at Gwynn Valley each Main Camp cabin does at least one camp out during the session. The camp out night is an evening when cabin groups walk to one of our 11 camp out shelters around camp, build a fire, cook dinner over the fire, roast a few s’mores, and watch the fire flies roll in. As it gets dark, campers tuck into sleeping bags and spend the evening sleeping peacefully in the moonlight. Our camp out shelters are 3-sided with a roof to keep the water out but let in the sounds of the forest and allow for star gazing beyond the roof line.  For many campers, this is their first experience sleeping outdoors, and we strive to make the experience a positive one. We hope that camper experiences at Gwynn Valley like the camp out will help to inspire a life long affinity for the wonders and joys of the outdoor world.

Today was a very happy day for our Older Programs! All four Mountainside groups (climbers, canoers, mountain bikers, & pioneers) as well as the Riverside group (backpacking) returned safely from their adventures all over western North Carolina. These five groups were some of the happiest crews I have seen come back into camp this summer. They were covered in mud and bursting with stories of strengthened friendships, obstacles overcome, and totally shredding the gnar. Campers definitely develop technical skills while out in the field; Grant touched on this yesterday when he mentioned his time with the Mountainside canoers and their progress towards the Mighty Nantahala River today. All groups showed tremendous gains in both their skills and their confidence across all adventure areas. Even more powerful than these technical gains is the growth in their relationships with others and their confidence in themselves. Tonight on Mountainside we had a banquet to celebrate Mountainside’s return to Gwynn Valley. All Mountainside campers and staff who went out on trips over the last four days gathered together in the Mountainside Lodge to enjoy delicious food and phenomenal company. Watching campers interact in this celebratory environment really highlights their comfort and confidence in the camp environment. I wish that I could bottle up the feeling in the air on Adventure Banquet night and give it back to these young teens on those challenging days back home: the first day of school, testing days, sports try outs. If ever your camper’s confidence waivers, I hope they can remember how brightly they were shining tonight.

While Mountainside was busy celebrating their return to camp, those Main Camp cabins who weren’t camping out participated in Mountain Dancing and Tajar Tales with Debbie, Jordan, and Daniel in the lodge. Mountain Dancing is a great way to get out the crazies and work up a sweat before bedtime. We wind down the evening with a few Tajar Tales to ease the transition into bed time. Two cabins (Sunrise & Raines Cove) who missed the earlier Mountainside Visit were able to do a tour of Mountainside this evening. These boys asked some great questions about Older Programs and I hope we see some of them up on the Mountain next summer!! Riverside had a relaxed evening full of 9-square, gear cleaning, showering, and chill time in cabins… much deserved after 4 days of backpacking on the Art Loeb! With 3/3 adventures complete (climbing, canoeing, backpacking), this group is feeling accomplished and ready to enjoy a few days in camp.

As we approach the end of the summer, our camp community is challenged to stay true to our of philosophy of being present. It is only natural as you come upon a transition time like the imminent end of summer that your mind starts to wander. As we catch ourselves thinking about the next stage, we always encourage both campers and staff to stay where their feet are! We only have 8 days here at Gwynn Valley during E session, so we cannot afford to spend any of that precious time with our minds somewhere else. The practice of staying present is a wonderful exercise in mindfulness.

I hope you sleep as well as the Gwynn Valley campers who are already deep into a REM cycle tonight!

Good Food, Great Paddlers and Managing Challenge!

Dear Parents & Friends,

I’m back at camp after a great day on the river with Mountainside.  I left camp this morning about 8:30 and arrived at their campsite about 9:00 near Dupont State Forest.  It’s a great place to camp because it’s public but only one group is there at a time.  The gate stays locked and it’s nestled in a pine and hardwood forest not far from Gwynn Valley.  They spend their nights there and drive to the river each day.  Today was spent on the Tuckaseegee near Dillsboro.

Before leaving this morning I got to sample some of breakfast menu that touted our international day from Mexico.  The kitchen crew had made many wonderful treats for the campers plus scrambled eggs, breakfast nachos, and fresh papaya and cantaloupe.  Lunch was even better today so said my table.  I had PB&J on the river but that tasted great as well.  I did make it back in time for dinner tonight and once again a Mexican theme with a BBQ’d beef, mashed potato and carrot salad to die for, green salsa guacamole, tortilla chips,  pasta salad with ham, a sweet tea made from hibiscus and a dessert I can’t pronounce but was delicious.  One of my campers at the table said it was too sweet.  Many disagreed!

Of course the best part of the day was being out with Mountainside and on the river.  They did a great job and will be heading to the Nantahala tomorrow.  Today was prep day for that trip.  We did flip drills so that everyone has their self-rescue down if they go over.  Then Nanty doesn’t have the bigger eddy’s that the Tuck has and it’s faster moving water and narrower than the Tuck.  We also practiced a lot of peel outs, S turns, and hitting eddy’s.  They are well prepared and should do a great job tomorrow.  This group has particularly hard working and will reap the benefits of this tomorrow.  If you’ve never been on the Nanty, the water is about the same year round – COLD!  It comes from one of the deepest lakes in this part of the world and never really warms up.  To say it’s refreshing is being kind.  Unless it’s really hot, it is not a river one just swims in like we did today.  The campers took advantage of JUMP rock on river left about 2/3 of way down today.  It’s about a 12-15 foot rock that is easily climbed and then drops straight into the water.  There’s plenty of depth and it’s fun to jump in two’s and three’s. Everyone went at least 2-3 times today.

All adventures get back tomorrow including Riverside.  We will be ready to welcome them back into camp and hear all the wonderful stories they’ll have about their adventures.  At camp, children get what they need to develop physically. They experience fresh air, exercise, a balance between routine and unstructured time, and all the good food their bodies need. Not that s’mores don’t have a place at the campfire, but a good camp is also about helping children find healthy lifestyles. Counselors that care enough to look after a child’s physical health, bringing out the camper’s best by encouraging manageable amounts of challenge, are also conveying to the camper a belief in the child’s physical capacity to cope with the challenges before them. That’s important for children’s long-term physical development. We were certainly doing that today.  Small doses of running challenging rapids and trying new moves in the boats were all a part of our day on the river.  You could tell at the end of the day this group was more confident and more skilled than even the day before.  Hopefully we can share some of video we shot today so stay tuned!

A Simpler Life at Camp!

Dear Parents & Friends,

We must be living right here at GV.  We have had another good weather day today after early morning showers pelted us before breakfast.  The day was a mixture of sun and a few sprinkles here and there but the sun did shine a good bit of the time.  We’ve had a very dry summer up until our D Session and then it began to follow the pattern of weather we’ve been having now.  We needed the rain and I’m glad it’s coming in the night when we’re sleeping.  Speaking of which many more cabins are camping out tonight under the clouds and stars and the same will be true tomorrow night as our last few cabins go on campouts.  In a short session it takes about three days to give everyone this experience.

Our Mountainside and Riverside groups are out for 4 nights.  We heard from several of them and everyone is doing fine.  It’s been wet but not to the point of impossible by any means.  I will be going out with the paddlers to the Tuck tomorrow.  Paddlers usually get wet and stay wet so it doesn’t matter.  When you’re surrounded by moving water all day a little rain doesn’t faze you.  Given the choice, I’d rather have it falling from the sky than be swimming alongside my boat.  Even on paddling trips we make sure campers are wearing splash jackets and staying warm.  It’s just part of taking care of oneself in any conditions.

I went to the Mill this morning to watch the crew there for the first activity hour.  It’s like stepping back in time, because the Mill was built in 1890.  That’s a long time ago and one of the aspects of the Mill is talking about your life as a child in those times.  While at the Mill there are many implements and artifacts from that era including corn husk dolls and toys made from corn cobs.  That was about the extent of that “Toys R Us” storefront from that time in history.  It was a simple life.  Besides learning about grinding corn from our corn crib, there was also a group outside fishing from the small pond below the waterwheel.  I was watching a sibling pair, an older brother and younger sister, as the brother was helping his sister with getting her placed around the pond and also assisting her with getting her cane pole positioned to bring in Ringo, the legendary giant trout that no one can catch.  I didn’t stick around to see if little sis caught Ringo, but it was fun to watch the two interact and he was such a good big brother.

The campers inside the Mill learned about the dried corn they would be grinding, how to take it off the cob and then how to “process” it after it had been ground up.  It is a many stepped system that they go through to reach the final products of corn meal, grits, and chicken feed which goes back to the farm.  We consume all the corn meal and grits here at camp.  We learned about the weevils and the moths that live by eating the dried corn and how to get rid of those.  Of course the Mill puts on its modern face as it did this afternoon, when all that water power is used to MAKE ICE CREAM! Yes you read it here, ice cream and almost any flavor you want.  They made “iscream” in the PM and the flavor of the day was cookie dough.  There was no lack of campers who wanted to sign up for that afternoon activity.  Between Capture and Flag and Ice Cream at the Mill, there were some empty seats at other activities this afternoon.

While near the Mill this morning I visited the weavers up in Shady Grove.  We have 11 floor looms that campers can create intricate patterns on.  They use a combination of their own designs and also the levers and foot pedals of the loom to design their pieces.  It’s a methodical pace that takes patience and focus and the final product is very nice.  Another craft that harkens back to simpler times is taking a dried gourd that’s grown at camp and clean it up, paint it, cut it out, sew things into its thick skin and create a piece of art or perhaps a vessel to hold life’s treasures.  The gourds dry out in an old barn through the winter and each has a distinct knack for patterns of mold and mildew that once scrubbed off, reveal a nice skin that is easily decorated.  The first phase of cleaning the gourd is the hardest.  You get it down in the creek next to the Mill and scrub with all kinds of brushes and pads to get down to the nice layer.  From there it’s up to you to design it with your own purpose and ways to enhance its natural beauty.

Working with your hands and learning handicrafts is very satisfying.  It might come in the form of building your first fire or creating a piece of tapestry on the loom.  We live in such a mechanical world and technology surrounds us.  It’s nice to involve ourselves in activities that are “human powered” with simpler approaches to an end result.

We ended our day with a little Mountain Dancing tonight in the Lodge with Debbie at the 88’s.  We did the Hokey Pokey, Going to Kentucky, Pattie Cake Polka and Sasha.  After that was a Tajar Tale or two.  Children had a chance to choose their partners as well as be with their own cabin.  Camp is a good place to make your own decisions.

Camps help children feel in control of their lives. Those experiences of self-efficacy travel home as easily as a special art project or the pine cone they carry in their backpack. Children who experience themselves as competent will be better problem solvers in new situations long after their laundry is cleaned and the smell of the campfire forgotten. The goal here is to encourage a child’s sense of internality, their perception that they have some say over daily activities at a camp. They learn to fix problems when they happen (cleaning up a mess when a group of campers get too rowdy) is the child who will take home with him a view of the world as manageable the next time she encounters challenges. Camp is a great place for children to take a good bite out of growing up, but not too fast.  Stay tuned!

Good Weather and Climbing High!

Dear Parents & Friends,

Believe it or not we dodged the weather forecast again today.  It was a beautiful day here with just a light sprinkle early this morning before breakfast.  The sun went in and out in late morning and it stayed that way all day.  It started raining about 5 minutes after I started this.  We have about 5 cabins on campouts tonight but they all should be hunkered down in the shelters by now.  They cooked out and camped out but left Downtown GV around 6:00 and it’s almost 9:30 now.  Every cabin goes on a campout at least once while at camp.  Unless the weather is really bad and they can’t get a fire going they stay in one of 12 different shelters here on the property.  It’s good cabin bonding time and there’s nothing like cooking out over an open fire and enjoying the sounds of the forest and streams around you.  Everyone usually comes back by breakfast and it makes for an early morning rise and shine.

I went by several activities this morning and this afternoon on my rounds.  I first started out at the farm where campers were experiencing so many firsts.  Feeding a baby calf a huge bottle of formula started things off.  While counselors were explaining the process the calves (all 17 of them) were braying at the top of their lungs waiting to be fed.  They know the routine these days after 8 weeks of camp.  They are very tame and always want more contact with campers after the milk is consumed.  They will settle for a rub or scratch here and there and you can tell they are just big pets.  This Friday will be a big day at the farm, because all the calves will be let loose in the pasture.  The weening period is over and they are big enough to eat grass like the rest of our camp herd.

From there it was on to milk the camp cow which is a first time for 99% of our campers.  We give everyone a chance who comes to the farm.  With our inexperienced milkers and many attempts we usually hook Elsie up to our automatic milk machine and do in five minutes what might take campers an hour or more.  Next on the list are the baby chicks, baby goats and of course the piglets.  I think everyone’s favorite is the piglets.  You’d better tuck your shoe laces inside your shoes because they love to chew on the laces and untie your shoes.  They go right for the feet as soon as campers enter the pig pen.  Pick them up and they squeal, which is loud, but mostly cute.  They are just the right size now for being able to hold them.  They will get bigger soon and you wouldn’t be able to lift them in another month or so.  Big Mama just lies there and nurses all day long.

The chicks are easy to hold and if you place them in your hand on their back and rub their belly they will fall asleep.  We also give the campers an opportunity to listen to the heartbeat of a chick which is fast at about 300 beats per minute.  The goats literally are a bunch of “kids” in a pen jumping and leaping on things including an old stump there. They rarely stay still enough to be held but campers sometimes luck out and find one ready for some affection and gentle strokes.  When the session is over it’s interesting to see them all make a beeline to their mom’s to tell them about their encounters with campers.  The mom’s listen intensely just as parents do when receiving a loving child.

From the farm it was onto to Horseback and observing campers riding in the ring and learning how to sit on a horse.  My wife is the rider in the family and my only knowledge of horses is they eat a lot.  Campers love to ride and we have many who have experience and many who don’t.  After some time in the ring, they usually head out on the trails where the first timers have a leader.

This afternoon I spent time at the climbing wall and the soccer field.  Climbing on our three sided wall is always fun.  It’s right next to the creek and is cool because of all the shade surrounding the wall.  Campers were utilizing the easy and medium side their first day out.  They first learn how to put on their harness and helmet and those should fit correctly and be secured.  Then they learn about knots and helping to backup belay.  This gives them something to do while the counselor is belaying and occupies their time rather than just waiting to climb.  It’s all challenge by choice and they can go as high as they want.  We urge many tries if they don’t make it to the top, because camp is a place where there are many opportunities. The wall is 50 feet on each side and each side has its challenging spots as you make your way up.  You have to trust your feet and legs as well as your hands and arms.  You also have to trust your belayer who is holding you safe on the wall.  We have to remind them that you’re tethered the whole way up and if you do peel off, you won’t fall but a couple of feet as the rope stretches under your weight. climbing 2climbing 1

I enjoyed seeing a pickup soccer game after being at the wall and wanted to join in but the campers didn’t need any adult intervention and were playing well and using good form.  I’ve seen soccer skills increase greatly over the years as more and more children start playing at younger ages.  You can tell it’s more widespread than it was 10 or more years ago.

Camp is about the familiar (playing a game you play at home) and the unfamiliar; trying new things like milking a cow for the first time.  It’s about leaving your comfort zone, eating new foods and being pushed in positive ways.  It’s about sleeping out in a shelter and being surrounded by new friends and listening to rain on the tin roof.  Camp is much more and for each child it’s different.  What you’re imagining by reading this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Stay tuned and we’ll try and reveal more of that iceberg each day.  The rain has stopped and the katydids are back out calling their call.

Opening Day of E Session!

Dear Parents & Friends,

Welcome to Session E and welcome back to those who have children attending our 3 week Mountainside and Riverside sessions.  We’ve had a great first day and I hope drop off was very smooth for you. Main Camp Session E and A is when we have most of our new campers, so arrival day is full of wonder, magic, making new friends, and jumping right into activities.  After parents left this morning we gathered for lunch, buffet style and from there all met up in the Lodge to learn about what program fun and skills lie ahead for us here at GV. It’s important on the first day to keep everyone moving and busy so that children do not have time to think too much about being in a new place with lots of new people.  It’s good for us to adapt to unfamiliar ground but it’s not always easy.  I had a nice chat with a dad today about camp and being resilient which is an outcome from the camp experience.  Camp provides a chance to gain independence while doing so without the help of parents.  We do our best to create “en loco parentis” (in place of the parents), but obviously our staff are not the same as you all.  Campers gain resilience when we learn to trust themselves and feel good about their decisions.  Camp is the perfect place to fail, pick yourself up and try again. There’s lot of support here and we’re known to be a nurturing program for children.

All that being said the afternoon was busy with signups for Discovery and then off to some activities to sample some of our staples here at camp.  All campers have 4 activities that they choose for their morning A & B activity days.  These are two one hour periods every other day.  In the afternoon after lunch and singing in the Lodge we have signups each and every day.  So in a typical session it’s possible for children to take about 80 – 90 % of all activities.  The morning Discovery time is for skills and the afternoon can be for furthering those skills or just learning about something new or maybe something  familiar.

At 2:15 today campers went to the Mill, Sports, Horseback riding, Fine Arts, Crafts, Climbing, Tie-Dye, Pottery, Farm, Lake Fun, and Climbing.  While some were attending the above activities, others were taking their swim assessments.  We call them assessments because school is just around the corner and assessments seem more fun than “tests”.  Activities went until 5:45 and Dinner was served at 6:15.  We had kid friendly food tonight consisting of noodles and marinara sauce with fresh broccoli and salad from the garden.  First night dessert is always a giant cookie given to each table which is a cabin group.  We will move to new tables tomorrow for lunch.  We wait to create our table groups so children have a chance to bond in cabins and also go to their morning activities that second day of camp.  Table groups are made up of children from all over camp and all ages.  They will not be sitting with their counselors so it’s another chance to meet new friends and get to know the greater community.  That again comes back to what was mentioned above about gaining confidence and resilience while here at camp.

Tonight at campfire, half of camp presented their cabin skits.  There were songs, skits, great lines and thoughtful dialogue.  We will do the same tomorrow evening in order to meet everyone in Main Camp.  We were lucky today with weather today and didn’t have any rain until we were leaving the Lodge tonight.

For those with campers on Mountainside and Riverside, they will all be leaving for their adventures tomorrow morning.  Hikers/backpackers in both groups will be heading into Pisgah National Forest with their homes on their backs.  Mountainside bikers will take the rubber to the single track in Dupont State Forest.  Climbers will touch the void into Linville Gorge and Paddlers will head out to ply the Lower Green River, a true learning paradise for those aiming to paddle whitewater. It should be a fun and fruitful 4 days and we’ll keep you posted if we hear any news from our groups.

Again thank you for sharing your children with us.  Camp is a very positive environment and when children experience positive emotions, they grow and change, becoming more open, flexible, and their attention is broadened.  Positive emotions undo negatives and create memories of joy.  And…positive emotions allow children (and adults) to be more resilient.  With an abundance of positive moments that camp creates, research shows that children can better cope with change, adversity and struggles.  This all builds confidence in themselves and makes them happier.  Camp does children a world of good! Stay tuned!

D Session Closing – See You Next Year!

Dear Parents & Friends,

Thank you for a great ending to our D Session yesterday.  We’ve had a wonderful time with your children and hope they will have great memories of their experiences with us.  Soon you will receive a link to an evaluation that we are hoping you will participate in.   We appreciate you taking the time to help us keep Gwynn Valley an outstanding program.

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 special part of their summer.  Placed in the hands of a mature staff a camper really gains a good bit from “playing outside which produces growing inside”.  From all of us, thanks again for sharing your children. Hope to see you next year!

PS   Look for a video for D session coming out tomorrow.

Last Full Day of D and What a Great Day It Was!

Dear Parent and Friends,

I just returned from campfire with a slight drizzle overhead.  We had rain several times today but spirits and enthusiasm was anything but damp.  Our last full day of D was truly a great one.  Signups this morning were great from all indications.  I spent the morning and partial afternoon with our Kayakers on Section 0 of the French Broad.  We’ve been getting rain almost everyday or evening and the rivers are finally getting back to their normal level.  Our paddlers did a good job starting off with a big learning curve and steadily gaining more confidence at every bend in the river.  The rapids were the perfect size and we practiced ferrying, peel outs, S turns and even tried a little surfing.  By the end of the day everyone had gained confidence and was pushing their comfort zones.  We had some boats go over on the first ferry exercise but they got right back on that horse.   It’s good to get out of camp and see the world beyond GV.  New places and new experiences can be a bit scary and transitioning from lake to moving water brings some tough challenges.  With the higher water levels the rivers are a bit murky and one can’t always see your hand in front of your face.  Upside down in a boat can produce some panic but everyone who went over did a nice job of pulling their spray skirt and wet exited.  I’ll be back on the water with Mountainside tomorrow afternoon and will help with their progression into their adventure days next week.  Main Camp Bikers also went out to Dupont today to shred the gnar.  Trail conditions were a bit sticky but a little dirt and mud always makes it more fun. You just have to watch those slippery rocks and roots.

Archery always draws a crowd and campers took advantage of our last day to sign up for archery.  I watched them shooting while we were getting ready this morning.   Campers love target sports where they can zero in on the bulls eye.  We have a variety of bows that some of our youngest campers can shoot and some that are of the compound variety that take a bit more skill.  Most of our activities have appropriate sized equipment for as many people as possible.  Our little 1 ½ Jackson kayaks are so tiny and they’re made just like an adult boat but just a lot smaller.  They are perfect for our program.  We also run some bikes with 24” tires for those smaller 2 wheel types.

Riverside returned today and spent their last day on the Nantahala River.  It’s always a chilly day at the Nanty with water temps year round about 48 -54 and air temps today were much warmer thank goodness.  The RS group had 4 great days of paddling and all came back with big smiles.  I ran into them just after they returned later in the afternoon.

The last afternoon of a session is always packing and pillowcase day and all the cabins made it to the pool before the rain arrived around 4:00 today.  You can do amazing things with your pillowcase after it gets wet.  Fill it with air and it will keep you afloat for quite a while.  It’s fun to go down the slide at the pool to see if you can fill it up before you hit the water.  After all of today’s activities, folks were ready for our traditional last night of pizza, salad from the farm, fruit and our unbelievable, better than best, tasting like heaven, party on your taste buds, brownies that you could ever imagine.  They’re not big but they pack so much in a square it’s like an all you can eat dessert banquet.  Some choose to eat small portions a tiny morsel at a time, while others are dunkers who love the floaties in their milk at the end of the glass.  And then there are the inhalers.  The literally breath in the brownie and it’s gone.  Campers always say they could eat the whole platter and I’ve often wondered just how many they could eat.  After a belly full of pizza it would be a challenge to go two or three.  As pizza was served on plates the dining room became very quiet and as the meal went on, the volume rose.  When dessert arrived there was a euphoric feeling that was unmeasurable.  By the time tables were cleared most of the dining room was singing songs and everyone was reliving moments from our almost two weeks together.  There’s nothing like good food and good people to bring camp to another level of joy.  We had it tonight.  During announcements, our head counselor Jordan was saying that breakfast would be 30 minutes early tomorrow because we were having visitors come and those visitors would be parents, coming to pick them up.  Only a few campers made any commotion over this at all.  Suddenly you felt that they knew that it was almost over.  Yes, I love my parents but I’m having so much fun and do they really have to come tomorrow.  The good news is they did have fun and they will be glad to see you in the morning.

After dinner and after supper activities, we held our Friendship Campfire tonight and many children received their blankets and plaques for coming to camp for 4 or 5 years.  It’s always fun to recognize these children as well as our staff and SIT’s who have attended even longer.  Each year we see more of our campers coming back as staff.  Seeing campers come back as staff is one of the best parts of my job.  The reward of having them here brings me a lot of joy.

Speaking of joy, I’m sure you’ll be joyful as you arrive tomorrow to pick up your children.  They will be waiting for you in the cabins.  At 10:30 there will be a cabin friendship circle where all can join in.   After the cabin friendship circle, we welcome you to join us in the Lodge for our end of session campfire at 11:00.  After that feel free to have lunch with us and maybe walk around camp to see some of the activity areas.  See you tomorrow and safe travels.

Tajar Ball is Always a Highlight!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Today we awoke to a foggy and cool morning.  It was nice until ole Mr. Sol came up over the fog and burned it off to reveal the heat.  It was also the Tajar’s birthday.  There is always Tajar folly on his birthday and today there was no exception.  His folly includes putting things where they don’t belong, like kayaks on the path to the Mill, inner tubes hanging from the trees, spoons and cups in odd places, dining tables moved outside and balloons hanging from string in the dining room.  The campers get a kick out of it and it is fun to watch their reaction.  The Tajar Ball is always a hoot and everyone comes dressed in masquerade.  There were astronauts, princesses, monsters, dragons, kung fu fighters, aliens, unicorns, fairies, golfers, Kings and Queens, ballerinas, ball players, runners, brooms, turtles and much more.  What you can imagine you can be with a little costuming here and there.  Just before the Ball tonight we had a big rain come through camp that lasted about an hour.  What is usually a cookout on the basketball court turned into a cookout in the Dining Room.  We were undaunted and still held the Carnival part of the Ball on the soccer field.  There were all kinds of things to participate in including dessert food, hayrides and many games.  As part of the Carnival was the Tin Can Toss, Sponge Toss, Speed Stack, Corn Hole, Duck Sling Shot, Guess the Number of M&M’s, Face Painting, Balloon Animals, The Shell Game, The Quarterback Throw, Slack Line, Soccer Shoot Out, Penny Drop, Hay Rides, Angry Birds, Minute Challenge, Strong Man, and the Infamous Mountainous Slide of Death into freezing cold water.  Plus, there was food like popcorn, cookies, snow cones, and made here at GV Ice Cream.  Kids love it and staff have a pretty good time as well.

Another group of climbers went out today but didn’t get rained out despite the clouds passing over Pisgah.  Bikers and Main Camp kayakers are out tomorrow with bikers in Dupont and Kayakers to Section 2 of the French Broad.  I will going with the kayakers and looking forward to it.  Mountainside will be taking a day off from training for their adventures.  They headed in many different directions and returned home with more skills and confidence.  That will continue to rise as they venture out again on Friday.  Each group will be progressively challenged in their individual adventure. I will going with the paddlers that day after D Session parents and campers depart on Firday.  Riverside will return tomorrow from their paddling component and a day on the Nantahala.  We look forward to having them back.  They really add to our program with their years of experience at camp.  Another group of older folks that have been outstanding this session are our SIT’s (Staff In Training, aka- Slaves in Training).  They have just been fabulous and have been great additions to our cabin and program life here at camp.  And let’s not leave out our newest program called Young Leaders, which just started this year.  They’ve really added to the camp community and helping while learning in so many ways.  This was the pilot year for the program and we hope to have many more years with these older campers.  Again, all of these folks are old campers and have come through ranks of Main Camp, Mountainside and Riverside.  They are future staff members in the making.

I spent the morning going around to different activities including riding, pottery, the mill, two of our arts activities, sports, and of course the farm.  Besides tending to all the animals they picked the corn we had tonight at the Tajar Ball.  I was able to get some good video from the corn field.  This time of year there is nothing better than corn on the cob and fresh tomatoes.   This afternoon I went with the advanced riders over to Hunt Farm.  They were riding for a two hour session on the 75 acres we lease there.  It’s beautiful and rolling and they really enjoyed riding between the corn and hay fields, hedges and eventually to the river and back by a different path.  I rode my bike with video gear which is easier than riding a horse.  You don’t have to feed my steed and it doesn’t have a mind of its own.

On a different note this marks the 155st year of organized camping in the US.  And with over 60 percent of parents reporting that their child continues to participate in activities learned at camp, we are planting the seeds that grow into a lifetime of service to communities.  Community gardens are a good example of one of those services that is thriving right now.  Camps are teaching great lessons and values that build on the same values you parents are trying to instill.  I’m proud to partner with all of you to make the best possible young person that we can. Gwynn Valley is dedicated to that mission and we hope that you will reap some of the benefits when your child returns home.  Stay tuned!