Mountain Biking is good for the body and soul!

As we settle into new school routines (and navigate all the challenges that come with school in the midst of a pandemic!), we want to share this reminder of camp. If your lives are like ours, we bet most of you are spending hours and hours each week in front of screens for virtual school, remote work, etc … don’t forget to make time to get outside! At Gwynn Valley, one of our favorite ways to release stress and pent up energy is by mountain biking. This video gives a tour of our brand new bike depot as well as some tips on how to keep your bike clean and ready to ride. Watch to the very end for some sweet footage from our favorite trail ride in WNC! 

A Virtual Visit to the Farm at Gwynn Valley

We hope you are finding ways to enjoy your summer. We really miss all of our campers and we know you miss us too. Here’s a little video about our farm program, highlighting some of our animals. We hope you enjoy this little virtual visit to the farm!

Registration is Open for Gwynn Valley Family Camp 2020!

We are excited to offer a new way to experience the magic and wonder of Gwynn Valley Camp as a family! Although guidelines, restrictions, and recommendations  by the CDC, ACA, NCDHHS, and our county would have limited our ability to operate our traditional summer camp program while fulfilling our mission, we do feel we can offer a smaller “family camp” that will allow members of our camp community to come to Gwynn Valley, get outside, savor the cool mountain air, and enjoy some camp activities while maintaining physical distance. Spaces are limited, so register today!

For more information, please read through the following sections. Review of the COVID-19 Health and Safety Information is required before enrollment can be confirmed.

  1. Family Camp -Basic Information
  2. Family Camp – Packing list
  3. COVID-19 Health and Safety Guidelines
  4. Family Camp FAQs
  5. How to Register for Family Camp

Somewhere South

At Gwynn Valley we LOVE celebrating local agriculture and honoring food cultures both locally and from our international staff around the world! For this reason, the Bullard family has loved watching Vivian Howard’s new show “Somewhere South” on PBS. Watching this series, we learned so much about other people and their food traditions across the Southeast. Each episode, Vivian takes viewers on a journey to learn more about how a particular regional food culture came to be and what makes the food so unique depending on what region she is in. If you’re looking for a family friendly show that celebrates the nuances of southern food culture, check out Somewhere South by PBS! You can find all 6 episodes of the first season here:

Happy Earth Day

Happy Earth Day from GV! Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, celebrated April 22, 1970. Spending time immersed in the natural world is part of what makes Gwynn Valley so special; we hope that everyone can find a moment to appreciate the natural world today!

Stargazing is a quintessential summer camp experience. The same way that a sunrise or a mountain top view can bring a sense of awe and wonder, looking up at the stars or watching a meteor shower can instantly remind us of the beauty and value of the natural world around us.

Did you know we have a space enthusiast on our year round team? Zeke studied astrophysics at UNC Chapel Hill and loves to share his knowledge with any keen learners. Zeke told us that the Lyrid meteor shower peaked this morning. Viewing conditions were ideal because the moon is currently in it’s “New” phase, making it easier to see faint objects in the night sky. If you’re curious to try out star gazing at home, the new moon phase means ideal conditions for that too! Below are some easy to use resources for appreciating Earth’s beautiful night sky.

Wondering where the best dark-sky view spot is near you? This map shows the level of light pollution across the US.

Want to know which constellations are viewable at a given time/date? Stellarium can take a little fiddling around with but is a great tool.

See what photo the Hubble Space Telescope took on your birthday!

Have you been following our Camp Connections updates in the time of quarantine? Check out this section of the blog for great resources and fun activities that families and kids can do while at home!

Tajar Folly/April Fool’s

Those of us who live at Gwynn Valley all year awoke to quite the silly sight at camp this morning. We found kayaks on pathways, a year-round staff member on the lake, and paddles left at the top of the Green spelling out a close approximation of the word: “Tajar”. Our furry friend the Tajar must have gotten up to no small amount of mischief last night! He usually gets rather silly around his birthday, but that isn’t until summer…is he bored? What’s that you say? April Fools’ Day? Yes, I think you’re right! The Tajar is playing an April Fools’ trick on us!

To those of you that might not have had a chance to meet the Tajar yet, allow me to introduce you. The Tajar looks a little something like a tiger and something like a jaguar and something like a badger, but he is different from all those animals. Our Tajar lives in an unassuming old tree here at camp and loves to fill his days with many death-defying life-leaps and no small amount of folly! Being an interesting and mysterious fellow, if you see the Tajar once, you will certainly forget what he looks like. If you see the Tajar twice, you may not remember what you forgot when you saw him. And if you see the Tajar three times, you will certainly forget that you forgot everything you remembered about the Tajar — except for one thing — you will surely become a friend of his. 

No doubt we’re all feeling a bit stir crazy in these trying times. And perhaps nobody knows that antsy, energetic, bursting-at-the-seams kind of stir-craze better than our wily Tajar. I feel sure that he’s finding it as difficult as we are to practice good social distancing! His gift of folly this morning has many hidden lessons for our campers, families, and staff members hunkered down at home the world over. The Tajar is teaching us that it’s okay to be a bit silly and have some fun. That we should all try to be creative each day, maybe that’s by dressing up in a costume and pretending you’re at Tajar ball! That it’s important to help clean up our messes. That it’s acceptable, nay, encouraged that we dance in the moonlight or the daylight in our living rooms!

Paddlelessly Yours,


Mary Gwynn: Female Leader, Visionary, and Pioneer

In honor of Women’s history month, we want to share an article about our fearless leader, Miss Mary Gwynn, who founded Gwynn Valley as a single woman back in 1935. She was a pioneer on so many fronts. Her values and vision 85 years ago remain the foundation of our camp culture and program today. Miss Mary was a female entrepreneur during a social and economic climate when such action was rare for a single woman on her own. She was an early adopter of international staff exchange programs, bringing international staff to Gwynn Valley and celebrating their culture to create a global village here in the North Carolina mountains. The idea of a co-ed camp was a bit radical for the time, but Miss Mary’s vision was clear and her commitment to the core value of acceptance drove a culture of inclusion. The tradition of socioeconomic inclusion also started with Miss Mary and her practice of providing scholarships for campers of all socio-economic backgrounds. So much of what Miss Mary started makes us the camp that we are today. We celebrate her pioneering spirit today and do our best to uphold the values she instated back in the 1930s. 

Read on for the complete text of an article written by Rick Roghair, who serves as the Professional Development Manager of the Iowa Association for the Education of Young People (IAAEYC). Rick was a staff member here in the 1970s. Among other responsibilities here at camp, Rick served as one of our celebrated camp pianists before Debbie Deboard joined us nearly 40 summers ago. 


Written by Rick Roghair, Professional Development Manager of the Iowa Association for the Education of Young People (IAAEYC)

Mary Gwynn, founder of what became Gwynn Valley Camp, near Brevard, North Carolina, envisioned a special, nurturing environment where younger boys and girls could thrive at a noncompetitive camp that emphasized individual and group achievement. Gwynn Valley nurtured each child by building character and relationships in a community that fostered personal challenge, a connection to nature, and the simple joys of childhood. “Miss Mary” opened her ‘child’s world’ camp in 1935. She combined hiking and pioneering with fine arts, creative writing, and crafts to create something very unique. She fashioned the camp based on the values of simplicity, acceptance, non-competition, and an appreciation of the natural world.

From day one, Miss Mary established her philosophy using a different focus. She wanted to ensure that each child explored her or his sense of self by creating a noncompetitive program. One favorite expression for every child was, “Do something difficult every day.” She embraced a ‘challenge by choice’ philosophy – each child was exposed to a variety of new opportunities every morning, and every afternoon selected an activity to learn more or to build personal skills, surrounded by like-minded children. Each child was encouraged to try something challenging, no matter her or his skill level. Although competition has a value and place, her focus was cooperative skills by participating in group activities each night, followed by campfire, singing, and stories.

Simplicity allowed focus on the “simple joys of childhood,” including camping under the stars, canoeing, singing, swimming, dancing, hiking, archery, and much play. The result was making friends, talking through conflicts, experiential learning, and immersing one’s self in nature. Miss Mary celebrated diversity in all forms, which allowed each camper to fully enjoy being herself or himself. 

Miss Mary provided a nurturing environment to allow each camper to learn and to grow, and to conquer personal fears. No one was a loser and self-confidence soared. Secure and safe relationships with caring adults and other children were the hallmark of her philosophy. Each child developed leadership skills in a safe environment. Miss Mary employed staff from all over the nation and the world – often 12 countries or more. She registered both genders – not very common in the early years – in separate cabins, of course! Miss Mary encouraged children of color to register (one story says she was tarred-and-feathered for this). She provided scholarships for children of poverty. Over time, boys and girls of all ages played against girls and boys of all ages in soccer, other sports, and in other group activities. A child could select English style of horse riding (look that up to understand how it is different), Red Cross swimming instruction (in the lake or with the newts in the freezing cold creek-fed pool), or the arts (using only the best materials). Nature was important, and today, the camp raises 70% of the food consumed, and the ‘older’ side of camp is almost off-the-grid. Simplicity was the key, and to this day, technology is not allowed.

How do I know this? Miss Mary died five years before I became a cabin counselor and musician, and later, Fine Arts Director at Gwynn Valley. Her niece and husband owned and directed camp 31 years, and the current owners uphold her vision today. Miss Mary was a courageous forerunner and woman of vision regarding child development. She established a vision of developmentally appropriate practice. Miss Mary knew the ‘practice’ is about a child’s learning, provides individually appropriate activities, and that developmental practice is culturally important. Her work, begun 85 years ago, still aligns with the NAEYC 12 Principles of Child Development and Learning. Some things are just timeless.

Original Article can be found at 

Lessons Learned from the 2020 American Camp Association National Conference

At camp we always want to encourage children to try new things.  Whether it’s eating a hand-picked veggie from the Farm, climbing to the top of the tower, or making your first tie-dye; camp is chock full of opportunities to embody a growth mindset.  We also hope that our staff will employ an attitude of openness to new knowledge and experiences, role modeling for the hundreds of bright and impressionable minds that share this space with us each year.  With this intention towards growth mindset, four members of our year round team — Shelley (our registrar), Barbara (our finances maestro), Zeke (one component of our staff hiring brain), and Katie (another component of our staff hiring brain) — set out for sunny San Diego last week where the annual American Camp Association National Conference was being held.  

The ACA National Conference is an annual opportunity for camp professionals to come together and share resources and knowledge in a whole host of camp related fields.  It’s also a great networking opportunity. Our crew ran into a big name in the camping world: Tom Rosenberg. For those who don’t know Tom, he is the current Chief Executive Officer of ACA and a former Director at Blue Star Camps and Camp Judaea in Western NC for many years.  

Below are a few of the standout sessions and takeaways that our team can’t wait to share with the 2020 staff and campers!

Zeke:  I loved that the theme at this year’s conference was connections.  As a previous blog post mentions (A Connection to Camp), camp affords an incredible opportunity to help children explore their connections with the natural world as well as the nurturing community around them.  If I had to pick the most impactful sessions I attended, it would be the two that centered on interactive staff training activities and interactive debriefing techniques respectively.  As I will be stepping into a leadership role in Older Programs come summertime, I can’t wait to incorporate more intentional critical-thinking for camp’s current and future leaders!

Shelley: My favorite sessions focused on youth development.  The Opening keynote speaker David Yeager does research in this field and shared his findings that show how a shift in children’s mindset virtually eliminated the achievement gap.  His research showed that a growth mindset (instead of a fixed mindset) is critical in overcoming challenges, but also identified reframing a stress mindset, or seeing stress as enhancing your ability to grow, as a critical component to overcoming challenges.  Other sessions by Dr. Gilboa, aka “Dr. G”, focused on mental health. She had some really great exercises for staff training and strategies that we can use with our staff to help them learn to deal with stress.

Katie: This was my second ACA conference. I went to sessions focusing on staff and different ways to improve staff training. One of my favorite sessions was called “The Campfire” led by John Jorgenson. We explored the most effective ways to lead games and songs while keeping the campers and staff engaged and having a fun time. Another  session that I really enjoyed was called “Happy Staff are Good for Business”. This session was led by Ivy Cohen of Camp Leaders, one of the international staffing agencies we work with. Ivy focused on ways to improve the job satisfaction of staff during the summer. She also emphasized ways to collect and use feedback from your summer staff. 

Barbara:  I really enjoyed the 2020 ACA conference!  A highlight for me was a session “Alums are the Key”.   Methods of increasing your Alumni database were discussed as well as the value of Alums in referrals of campers and staff and of course donations for the Gwynn Valley Campership Foundation. Another nugget was the session “Using Trauma-Informed Training to Bridge Youth Development”.   ACA reaches 10.3 million campers annually; of this number, 6.5 million have experienced some type of traumatic experience.  Thus the need to understand, recognize and respond appropriately to childhood trauma is crucial to creating the ultimate learning environment for our campers.

Attending the ACA National Conference in February is always a great way to inspire our year round team and generate new ideas for the summer ahead. We can’t wait to put our learning into action as campers and staff begin to arrive at camp in a few short months!

Help your child get ready for overnight camp

Congratulations! We are so excited you have chosen to send your child to Gwynn Valley and recognize the significance of the decision you made to enroll your child in overnight camp. Our hope is that each camper will expand their confidence, curiosity and compassion for others. To prepare for a successful camp experience, here are some ways to help your child get ready for overnight camp.


Be sure to ask your camper how they’re feeling about camp. Whether excited or anxious (most likely both!), be sure to acknowledge their feelings. Help them pick out a few things that they’re really looking forward to (riding a horse, petting a goat, making new friends, etc.). If they are feeling nervous or anxious, be curious and ask questions to learn exactly what they are concerned about so that you can help them come up with a plan.  

Appropriate pre-camp preparation is the best “medicine” for homesickness. If your child expresses concerns about being homesick, please let them know this is normal and there are people at camp who will help them. Let them know it is important to talk to their counselor when they are missing their family and home. To set your child up for success, don’t tell them you will come pick them up early if homesick. Rather, reassure them that you know they can do this and that you can’t wait for your child to share camp with you on closing day. 

Here’s a wonderful list of Homesickness Do’s and Don’ts from a fellow camp director in California, Audrey Monke. 


It’s all in the details!  We carefully review the details you share through the camper application and health history form. Please tell us anything you think might be helpful about your camper’s personality. Include friend requests, challenging behaviors, challenges at home, and anything else to help us get to know your child. 

Please be sure to fill out the Health History form as soon as possible and no later than May 1st. This form allows you to share information about allergies, dietary restrictions, medications, and health conditions. It also asks about other important details like bed-wetting, sleepwalking, or recent family changes (ie. a recent marriage, divorce, or death). Sharing this information early on helps us to best support your camper and create a positive camp experience! 


If you haven’t already, check out our new video, GV Favorite Things. Watching this video can help children picture themselves having a great time at camp. While you’re on that page, watch our 2019 session highlights lower down in the Video Gallery to learn more about Gwynn Valley and the camper experience.


Schedule some sleep-overs with family or friends. Having a few successful experiences sleeping away from home without their parents around will build a child’s confidence and lower the stakes for their first night at camp. 


We are happy to provide tours all year round on weekdays or weekends. If you’re going to be in the area or want to make a special trip up for a visit, please call and schedule a tour. We also host an Open House for new camper families every year on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend from 2:00-4:00 when you can visit camp, take a tour, and meet some of our staff.


Feel free to give one of our Directors a call to talk through any questions or concerns.  

A Connection to Camp

Although it is early February, we’ve had some beautiful spring weather here at camp with temperatures in the 60s, blue skies, and daffodil shoots pushing up through the ground with their bulbs waiting to open. All these changes in the natural world are reminders that camp is right around the corner, and we are SOOO excited! In just four months, our first campers will arrive for A session and our staff will have just finished a variety of staff training programs. These warm temperatures make us anxiously await all the activity that happens during the summer season.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out the Video Highlights from each session during the 2019 summer, I recommend it as a great way to get excited about coming to camp in 2020, especially new camper families. Video Highlights offer a peek into the activities at camp and the fun that is had, which may help diminish some of those anxious feelings that all campers experience leading up to the summer season. Our 2019 photo and video team (Liv, Jacob, and Charis) did a wonderful job catching the magic that happens at camp, the smiles and the laughter, the friendships made, the skills learned, and so much more. You can find the video highlights listed by session on our website under the video gallery: Who knows, maybe you will catch a glimpse of yourselves or our wonderful video team at the Oscars later this month; you never know!  

Each summer, our photo and video team tries to share a glimpse of camp life with our parents and families while their children are at Gwynn Valley. It’s a way for parents who are “camp sick” to get to see snippets of the many activities going on at camp, and to hopefully see their child practicing a newly learned skill, making a new friend, or hanging out with their cabin group. Although we aren’t able to post a photo of every child every day, we do our best to provide families with a link and a connection to camp. 

At the core of what we do, camp creates connections. At Gwynn Valley, we like to say that life begins in the cabin and works outward into program. Making and strengthening authentic friendships is one of the many important skill building opportunities that camp affords to children and teenagers. Community living in the cabin helps create these bonds, which travel out into program and table families. One of the joys of growing older is being able to witness and experience the many strong friendships campers have made throughout the years that have carried into adulthood. We see this in so many of our counselors and staff whose best friends were fellow campers in their cabin or Mountainside adventure group. It’s so amazing to think that this connection to friends and community has been happening since 1935. 

If you haven’t had a chance to watch the 2019 video highlights or to look through the photos from camp with your child, please do! This is a great way for your family to get excited about the summer, talk about friendships made, discuss the challenges overcome, and to experience a connection to camp.