New building projects, new programming, etc.

Soaking up sunshine, playing hard, and eating well!

Dear Gwynn Valley Friends and Families,

I’m not sure what the weather was like where you’re reading, but today at camp it was gorgeous. The blue skies and sunshine were just right for all the fun things we love to do outside! The waterfront was very popular at sign ups this afternoon with a tubing trip on a nearby section of the French Broad River and lots of activities on the lake front. Nature and Kayaking did a very popular cross-over activity where campers kayaked around the edge of the lake looking for frogs in all stages of life. Natalie, our kayaking instructor, taught campers about boat safety and basic strokes. Darcy, our Camping Skills + Nature (CSN) instructor, helped campers find signs of frog life and identify the frog that those eggs or tadpoles might eventually become. Pottery and Mill also did a fun cross over activity called ‘Slip and S’cream’ which involved campers covering themselves in slip, going for a swim in the lake, and finishing up the afternoon by making ice cream at the mill. There were of course normal waterfront activities going on as well including the rope swing, traverse line, and free swim. Riverside was out on the lake as well getting in some practice for their upcoming canoeing adventure. The RS group will take on their first river – the French Broad – with a day trip tomorrow. Riverside is out of camp 4/7 days each week, and we cherish the days were they get to play on camp with the rest of our community. It so wonderful to have everyone together at meal times and in activities around camp!

Today was the last day of Main Camp Discoveries, meaning that campers will have more opportunities to choose their activities each day at both AM and PM sign up times. Many campers will leave camp for day trips in climbing, biking, kayaking or camping skills and nature. All campers going on trips participated in the related Discovery this past week; the trip marks a culmination of their learning in that activity and is often a session highlight for those campers who love adventure sports. There will be other capstone experiences for campers who were in activities such as the Fine Arts play on Monday night, horseback riding excursions on the Hunt Farm across the road, advanced crafts sign ups, and so much more! There will also be many, many opportunities to try out or revisit all of the standard activities we have to offer around camp like blacksmithing, pottery, archery, sports, waterfront, climbing, biking, fine arts, farm, mill, etc.

Speaking of the farm and mill, we had an incredible dinner tonight thanks largely to those 2 program areas as well as our very talented kitchen team! The menu included: pulled pork which had been slow roasted since the day before, 2 types of homemade BBQ sauce, coleslaw made from farm veggies, corn bread made using corn meal ground at the mill from white corn grown at the farm, fresh sweet corn picked this morning at the farm and shucked by campers after lunch, tomato + cucumber salad made from farm veggies, and baked beans to round out the menu. Every item on the table except for the baked beans was made from scratch in our kitchen. We are beyond lucky to eat this well and so grateful for the culinary team who works hard everyday to deliver delicious and nutritious meals to our dining room tables 3 times each day.

After dinner, we had a lot of different activities going on that were split by age group. Hillside went to the Lodge where Lauren and Debbie led the group in traditional mountain dances that had everyone laughing and sweating and ready for bed when the night was over. Brookside went to visit Mountainside and learn more about this older program area. After a few games, campers broke up into small groups with a few campers and counselors from each program area to help younger campers uncover some of the mysteries of Mountainside. As I visited different groups, I heard great conversations and peer mentorship happening all over the Mountainside green. Riverside was engaging in an evening of Random Acts of Kindness, following our celebration of National Camp Kindness Day of July 24. The RS group was out climbing on this day and so decided to celebrate this evening by leaving notes of gratitude and appreciation for all of our support staff to find at breakfast tomorrow morning. Young Leaders were helping Scott decorate the dining hall for Special Day tomorrow. By 9:30 this evening, our central gathering space had been transformed into a pirate ship! I can’t wait to see campers faces when they enter this space tomorrow at breakfast and the theme for the day is revealed.

There are many more surprised in store for campers tomorrow, but I won’t spoil any of those now. Tune in tomorrow to hear about the adventures of Special Day!


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