A magical GV day wraps up with Twilight Play

Dear Parents and Friends,

I’m not sure how your day was back home, but here at camp… Today was practically perfect in every way! From weather to food to activities, many of the campers I spoke to said today was THE best day yet of the session! 

The weather was gorgeous with a cool morning and blue, sunny skies all day. There were lots of sweatshirts this morning to combat the morning chill, but by the time activities rolled around all the mist had burned off and the strong sun was enticing campers to jump in the lake! We’ll have another cool evening tonight with temperatures dipping down into the upper 50s. Don’t worry parents – we’ve reminded campers (and counselors!) to pull out sleeping bags and gather extra blankets to put on beds, ensuring that campers wake up tomorrow morning feeling cozy and refreshed after a good night’s sleep in our natural mountain air conditioning! 

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Unlike the weather, we do have a bit more control over our food choices through menu planning and an amazing kitchen staff! Today our kitchen team was spot-on in both their planning and delivery; campers at my table told me that the food today was their favorite so far. We had bagels, sausage, eggs, cereal, and fruit for breakfast; followed by stir fry, edamame, rice, and cut apples for lunch; and finally sloppy joes, cowboy fries, broccoli, and salad for dinner. Coconut cream pie was the cherry on top to round out our day of delicious eating. Meal times at camp are so important for nourishment of the body but also the soul. Meals are served family style with an assigned ‘table family’ eating together 3 meals a day for a week or so at a time. This tradition offers our community members a moment to slow down and focus on conversation and connection through shared food. This practice is as old as humanity, but in our busy world today we don’t always have or make time to eat slowly in the company of others. I realize it’s impractical to spend so much time eating this way outside of the summer-camp bubble, so I relish the opportunity to be present with campers and fellow staff in this precious and important daily ritual. 

Activities were smooth today as well with happy campers everywhere you look. Campers are a few days into their morning discoveries, so walking around camp this morning you could really see the progress they’ve been making on crafts projects or fine arts performances or preparing for a kayaking river trip. The wide array of choices for sign ups this afternoon offered a fresh opportunity to try something new or go back to a beloved activity. The farm has been exceptionally popular lately with all the recent baby animal arrivals. Baby goats, piglets, ducklings, calves, and chicks are pretty hard to beat, and with 14+ animals born in the last week there’s a big pull to head down to the farm each afternoon and meet our new friends! 

After dinner tonight, Main Camp campers who weren’t camping out participated in Twilight Play. Twilight Play is a loooooong version of After Supper Activities, with a dozen activities offered for a 75 – 90 minute activity period right after dinner. Activities tonight included free play at the lake, advanced archery with compound bows, bracelet making in Shady Grove, a sunset hike to the rock, candle making at Messy Crafts, the tower swing at the Challenge Course, and many more. Camper favorites of the night were wiffle ball (universally seen as a big hit!) with over 25 campers, and a popcorn bar at the Mill that included savory spices and sweet toppings for campers to make unique popcorn flavor combinations. At ‘Popcorn & Stories’ campers sat around the fire listening to and telling stories while enjoying their one-of-a-kind popcorn flavor concoctions. One camper told me: ‘It was better than going to the movies!’ 

Up on Mountainside, the middle schoolers were really getting back to the simple joys of camp with a classic campfire evening. All 50 campers gathered around the fire ring up on the Mountainside Green for an evening of singing, story telling, and even a few magic tricks by Kevin. Campers laughed and sang until the fireflies came out, telling them it was time to get some rest. Tomorrow will be the final day of Mini-Adventures for Mountainside. By tomorrow evening, each camper will have tried all five adventure activities (biking, climbing, canoeing, hiking, and earth skills) and will be ready to make a decision about which adventure they want to pursue for their four-day trip later this session. 

Riverside continues to enjoy good weather on their climbing trip in Foster Falls, TN. We look forward to having them back at camp tomorrow evening and hearing more about their trip! Young Leaders will also be going on an adventure tomorrow for a day of rafting on Section 3 of the Chattooga River.

The fun never stops here at camp! Tune in tomorrow for more news from this little oasis in the NC mountains.

Gorgeous day at GV for an ACA Accreditation Visit!

Today was another perfect Gwynn Valley day! It was one of those mid-session days when everything feels ‘in the groove.’ Children and staff are feeling comfortable with the rhythm of camp; skill progression is evident everywhere as campers are halfway through their morning discoveries; and friendships in cabins and table families are really starting to blossom. Around camp today, everyone seemed at home in their activities, cabin groups, and in the dining hall!

Speaking of the dining hall, the food today was exceptional! Oatmeal, oatmeal toppings, fresh peaches, and crispy bacon made for a great start to the day. For lunch, we had pasta primavera with a farm-fresh pesto and summer veggies along with green salad and fruit salad. I’m sometimes amazed by how much pasta children can eat when accompanied by parmesan cheese, but I also know my table-mates were playing hard today and needed re-fueling! We had my all time favorite snack at the end of rest hour: homemade granola bars! Finally to round of the day, our kitchen team treated us to meatloaf, sweet corn, peas, carrots, rice, and blueberry cobbler for dessert! Because we don’t get dessert every night at camp, I think children (and adults!) enjoy the sweet treats even more.

Mountainsiders enjoyed their first full day of MS1B, diving into their mini adventures. As part of the Mountainside program, campers sample activity periods of rock climbing, mountain biking, canoeing, hiking, and earth skills over the first few days of the session. Later on, they choose one of these activities to specialize in for their 3 or 4 day adventure.

Riversiders were back in camp, taking the morning to unpack and unwind after 4 days of white water canoeing. This afternoon they took on the Challenge Course at the climbing tower, playing around on elements that are 30 feet in the air. Some campers have no fear while they’re so far from the ground, and others are shaking every moment they’re up there, but together they encourage each other, practice empathy with their partners, and move through the challenge together as a team. I was fortunate enough to watch a sweet moment as the group encouraged one particularly nervous camper to make the leap off the swing platform. I was touched by the way other Riversiders rallied to support their hesitant friend, reminding him that he was safe and that he could take on this challenge if he wanted to.

Young Leaders spent the day Rafting on the Chattooga River with guides from the Nantahala Outdoor Center. They are the only program in camp to go rafting and this is always such a popular day for our oldest GV campers! Even though these young adults are in many ways ready to take on the responsibilities and challenges of camp leadership, they are also still teens who crave adventure and exploration and play. The Young Leaders program offers the best of both worlds with opportunities to flex those leader-muscles mixed in with opportunities to play and relax and celebrate the simple joys of childhood all over again.

In administrative news today… after months preparing …  we hosted two American Camp Association (ACA) Accreditation visitors! Our visitors poured over all of our paperwork before arriving and then spent most of the day observing activities in action and visiting key areas around camp like cabins, the kitchen, the health care center, etc. The main purpose of the ACA accreditation program is to educate camp owners and directors about industry standards and best practices related to camp operation, particularly those related to program quality and the health and safety of campers and staff. There are  about 250 individual standards that cover Health and Wellness, Facilities, Program, Administration, Staff Training, and more! Tucked in among all of the above sections are Mandatory Standards that you cannot miss. We have to provide written and verbal evidence in meeting the standards, and of course, we are also responsible for ensuring policies are followed as part of the in-person visit. Through the accreditation process, visitors are looking into every nook and cranny of our organization via paper and in person. Camps are up for re-accreditation on a five year visit cycle with paperwork due in the between. This is a voluntary compliance and one we gladly take on to make camp a better place for campers and staff alike!

Our staff and campers did an amazing job today, going above and beyond on this important visit day. From campers answering questions about how program areas run to program leader interviews, this was really a chance for us to shine and show what a wonderful, intentional, safe, educational, and FUN program we run! After gathering mountains of paperwork throughout the winter and spring it was time to walk the talk and demonstrate all the great things we do here at GV. While I’m always a bit nervous leading up to the visit, I know how important this exercise is in creating the best possible place for children. We always grow and learn from the preparation that goes into the visits.

Tune in tomorrow for more GV news!

Mountainside is Bigger and Better than Ever: We’re adding a NEW ADVENTURE!

Hello, Gwynn Valley Community! This is Kevin MacDonald, new assistant director at GV. I’m looking forward to meeting you all when camp begins in just a few short months! Today, I’m excited to bring you some updates about GV’s “Mountainside” program. As many of you know, Mountainside is for campers finishing sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, and is offered in ten-day and three-week sessions. During each Mountainside session, campers participate in many of their favorite traditional camp activities (like crafts, sports, and a visit to the Farm). But that’s not all! A major focus of the Mountainside program is outdoor adventure, which means campers get to have tons of fun while learning great new skills and exploring some of the most beautiful wild places in North Carolina! In the past, Mountainside was limited to forty campers per session, and there were four adventure activities they could try: backpacking (also known as “pioneering”), rock climbing, mountain biking, and whitewater canoeing. This summer, Gwynn Valley is adding a new Mountainside cabin (Sunrise), increasing the size of the program to fifty campers per session, and adding a fifth, brand-new adventure activity: Earth Skills. What are Earth Skills? I’m glad you asked!

“Earth Skills” are knowledge and techniques that allow people to thrive in the wilderness using only what nature provides. Also known as “primitive arts” or “survival skills,” the basic idea is the same: find resources in the woods (like sticks, rocks, leaves, and clay), then transform them into things you need to survive in the wilderness (like shelter, water, fire, and food). Most Earth Skills are ancient: the techniques we’ll be practicing in Mountainside are the same techniques that hunter-gatherer cultures from all around the world have been doing for thousands of years. As you learn and practice Earth Skills, you’ll connect deeply with the land around you and discover how to be “at home” in the forest. In fact, Earth Skills experts can walk into the woods with nothing but the clothes on their backs and survive quite happily for as long as they want! Getting that good requires many months (and sometimes years) of study and practice–but this summer is a great time to start! Join us for Earth Skills in Mountainside and…

  • Explore firecraft! Learn several ways to create and maintain fire (including how to make fire by rubbing sticks together). Then, harness the power of flame to cook tasty meals and treats.
  • Hone your knife skills. Knives are incredibly useful and versatile tools, and being able to use a knife is a fundamental wilderness (and life) skill. Learn numerous ways to work with knives safely and proficiently!
  • Roam the landscape to gather leaves, nuts, branches, vines, seeds, and fruit. As a “nature artisan,” use these materials to create beautiful and useful items such as baskets, bowls, spoons, pouches, cordage, dye, and jewelry.
  • Get down and dirty tracking and trailing humans and animals. Learn “invisibility” techniques such as natural camouflage and stalking so you can blend into the woods and travel across the landscape undetected.
  • Become a wild-tender of nature’s garden. Learn to identify, harvest, and prepare wild edible plants.
  • Learn about wilderness survival, and discover what to do if you’re lost in the woods. Explore the art of navigation using maps, compasses, and primitive techniques.
  • Construct forts and shelters out of nothing but sticks and leaves.

I put together a quick video of me demonstrating an Earth Skill: the art of making fire by friction using the “hand drill.” Check it out by clicking here!

Of course, “Earth Skills” is just one of the five adventure activities that Mountainsiders get to try. Perhaps you’d rather paddle raging rivers, climb epic cliffs, hike through wild places, or zoom along twisting trails on a mountain bike. In Mountainside, you can try it all! If you’ve never done anything like this before, don’t worry. We teach total beginners everything they need to know to be successful, and campers who have done the activities before will be challenged to grow in their skills, judgement, competence, and confidence.

Hard to believe…but there are only 79 days until our first Mountainside campers arrive! I look forward to seeing you then….

All the best,

Kevin and the GV Team