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

2017 Session Highlight Video’s Are Here!

Dear Campers, Parents and Friends,

We hope you are well and having a good start to the New Year!  Camp is right around the corner but we’ve experienced everything but summer type weather here in Brevard. Since late fall, we have received about 16 inches of snow from two different weather fronts and it was very cold just after the holidays.  Despite the cold and snow, we are excited about the summer season and working hard to get ready for camp!

There is nothing like sharing some fun memories from the 2017 summer to help everyone dream of warmer weather and camp. We are very excited to post our expanded “highlight videos”  from each 2017 session and our annual “U Rock” video that has shots from all sessions this past summer. Please click on the any session link below to view the fun and true to life days at camp.  Those campers in Mountainside and Riverside will find some footage in some sessions that corresponded with our Main Camp schedule.  We hope you enjoy the video clips!

A Session

B Session

C, C-1, C-2 Session

D Session

E Session

U Rock 2017

If you haven’t registered for camp yet, we still have space available in the following sessions:

C session  (July 1st-20th) – Kindergarten,  1st,  2nd grade girl and boy space

D session  (July 22nd-August 3rd)

E session  (August 5th-12th)

Young Leaders  3  (July 22nd-August 12th) 1 girl / 1 boy space

 

As always, if you have any questions, please let us know.

Our best,

Your friends at Gwynn Valley

Happy New Year! 2018 Brings Change and Growth With the Arrival of Our New Assistant Director!

One of the great things about ringing in the New Year is a renewed sense of purpose, an opportunity to set goals, and look toward the future while appreciating and being grateful for the past year. It’s a time to reflect and to think about change, growth, and what we have learned.

Gwynn Valley’s new, beautiful, timber frame dining room and kitchen in 2017 was a wonderful change. For the first time, all of camp including Riverside, Young Leaders, and Day Camp were all able to dine together at the same time. Due to the additional space, we are excited about the opportunity to grow Mountainside by one cabin in 2018. By adding a cabin and 5th adventure, more campers will be able to participate in a program that helps young teenagers develop a new sense of confidence, competence, community skills, and an even deeper appreciation of the natural world.  To lead this group and our other older programs, we are really excited to welcome Kevin MacDonald who will be serving as GV’s Program Director and Adventure Coordinator.

Kevin comes to Gwynn Valley as a passionate outdoor educator who has spent many years in the field and the classroom, teaching children and adults.  He and his wife McNeill are moving from Virginia where they ran a nonprofit educational center related to nature connection, environmental stewardship, self-reliance, sustainability, and community development.  Through the years, Kevin has led wilderness adventure trips for several other western NC outdoor programs/camps both in our mountains and the Pacific Northwest.  He has also led trips abroad to Thailand where community service, adventure, language studies and life skills were a focus for the groups in his charge.

His formal education during college provided him with a degree in art from Houghton College in New York with concentrations in drawing and ceramics.  While pursuing his degree in art, he studied in England, Tanzania, Honduras and Italy.  During and after college, he pursued his desire in the outdoor worlds of paddling, climbing, mountaineering, caving, backpacking and a bit of mountain biking.  He is an accomplished paddler and loves the world of primitive skills (fire by friction, plant identification, buckskin tanning, flint knapping and more).  He makes a bit of magic, juggles, and tells stories as well as plays the fiddle and can call dances.

We are pleased to have him join our year round team and excited about his skills and talent that fit with our mission here at camp.  As Assistant Director, Kevin will be overseeing our program and guiding our staff in the care and teaching of our campers as well as working with children in areas where his own skills will shine.

Kevin understands the transformative power of a positive experience at camp and in the outdoors for today’s youth. “During the dozens of outdoor expeditions I’ve led with teenagers, I’ve seen firsthand the profound growth that occurs when people participate in wilderness adventure. I’ve seen timid, apprehensive kids become decisive, confident, resilient leaders as they paddle rivers, climb rocks, and explore caves. I’ve seen groups of strangers become effective teams – and communities of friends – as they hike mountain trails, make camp in the rain, and tell stories around crackling fires. For cultivating the best in people, there’s nothing better than the beauty, complexity, and authenticity of the natural world.

We are very excited to have him on board and know you will welcome Kevin to our thriving program.

As stated above, we are grateful for a wonderful 2017 summer and are working on making 2018 even better.  As we get excited about the New Year, the goals we have set, and our mission, we are thankful that you continue to allow Gwynn Valley to nurture your children by building character and relationships in a community that fosters personal challenge, a connection to nature, and the simple joys of childhood.

Happy New Year!

Stayed tuned for more exciting news about program, staff, and new construction!

What’s Important About a Camp Experience!

Dear Parents & Friends,

As I write, leaves are falling and the beauty of camp captivates my attention pulling me outside to the clean crisp air and all things natural.  The fall season brings back reality after weeks of wishing that camp went on through the warm months of Sept. and early Oct.  We had a wonderful summer and we’re looking ahead to 2018 with great anticipation.  A boys shower/bathroom facility is being added on to the Brookside Shelter bathrooms. It was your turn fellas, after the girls got an upgrade several years ago.  When we constructed the new dining room we lost some staff housing, so right down Brookside Avenue, from the new boy’s facility, will be a new building to hold some of our leadership and activity staff.  There’s also talk of a new camper cabin and we’re still deciding where to locate that.

Camp promotion and travel began this week with Maggie out on the road in the eastern part of our state.  I will hit the road this weekend heading to parts of SC and GA and then off to other cities and towns south with Anne in the weeks ahead.  We hope to see you at one of these camp home shows so check our travel schedule on the website by clicking here.  travel schedule

After camp this year Anne and I ventured to the Yukon for a 12 day canoe trip down the Beaver River.  We went with 9 other friends, some from Brevard and others from near and far.  An old acquaintance named Mike Fischesser, organized and researched the trip and we got to reap the fruits of his interest in that area.  No one going on the trip had ever paddled the Beaver, but Mike did have some fairly detailed notes from a fishing/hunting guide who had been down the river 10 years earlier.  We flew into Whitehorse and after a day and a half of prep (food, gear, boats and forming our team), we drove 5 hours to Watson Lake.  That same day we took an hour long float plane into Toobally Lakes and then a 20 minute helicopter ride to the river put-in.  Needless to say the next 12 days and 130 miles of paddling  and camping were filled with adventure, fishing, hot springs, several challenging rapids, many animal sightings, beautiful scenery, and the joy of friendships and good times together sharing food and each day’s journey.  For 12 days we saw no other humans, brilliant stars, the northern lights and not so much as a jet trail in the sky.

Beautiful Yukon day on the Beaver River

Nature at it’s best

Campsite camaraderie around mealtime

I could go on to describe so many parts of that trip that stand out, but what was really poignant was the relationship building among the participants and being so close to the natural world each and every moment we were out there.  I reaffirmed my convictions of how being out in nature really brings us back to the simple joys of our lives, much as it does here at camp during the summer.  I for one, must have this connection for my own soul to be free from the everyday 24/7 world of screens, automobiles, and all the things that distract us and make our lives move too quickly.  As mentioned above, our connection to each other is equally important and that too is so true here at camp.  First on our list with our campers is making sure they are adjusting to their new community, cabin, program and table group.  It’s all about meeting new people and being able to live, work and play together where no one is at the center but everyone plays a vital role.  Camp plain and simple is good for us, me included.

I also want to share an article that was sent to me by one our camp dads.  It’s a piece that wholeheartedly embraces the benefits of camp for children.  I can certainly attest there’s no perfect way to raise our children.  Camp is different for different people, but I do think a camp experience and specifically a Gwynn Valley experience is very positive for those children who attend.  I hope you enjoy this parent’s opinion of the camp experience.  Stay tuned!


Overnight summer camps are better for your kids than SAT prep classes.

By LAURA CLYDESDALE  The Washington Post

May  2016

“Do you even like your children?” the woman I had just met asked me. The audacity of the question took my breath away. I had been chatting with her, explaining that my kids go to sleep-away camp for two months every year. I quickly realized two things at once: she was obnoxious, and she actually didn’t care if I missed my kids during the summer. She was talking about something else. I didn’t have to tell her the reason I “send them away” for most of the summer is because I like them. They adore camp, and it’s actually harder on me than it is on them. I often tell people that the first year they were both gone, it felt like I had lost an arm. I wandered around the house from room to room experiencing phantom limb pain.

Now, instead of being offended, I got excited. I was going to be able to tell her something that my husband and I rarely get to explain: we do it because we truly think it will help our kids be successful in life. With underemployment and a stagnating labor market looming in their future, an all-around, sleep-away summer camp is one of the best competitive advantages we can give our children. Huh? Surely, college admissions officers aren’t going to be impressed with killer friendship bracelets or knowing all the words to the never-ending camp song “Charlie on the M.T.A.” Who cares if they can pitch a tent or build a fire?

Indeed, every summer, my kids “miss out” on the specialized, résumé-building summers that their peers have. Their friends go to one-sport summer camps and take summer school to skip ahead in math. Older peers go to SAT/ACT prep classes. One kid worked in his dad’s business as an intern, while another enrolled in a summer program that helped him write all his college essays.

Many (this woman included) would say that I’m doing my children a serious disservice by choosing a quaint and out-of-date ideal instead. There are online “Ivy League Coaches” that might say we are making a terrible mistake. We don’t think this is a mistake at all. It might not be something to put on the college application (unless my child eventually becomes a counsellor), but that isn’t the goal for us. Our goal is bigger.

We are consciously opting out of the things-to-put-on-the-college-application arms race and instead betting on three huge benefits of summer camp, which we believe will give them a true competitive advantage in life:

  1. Building creativity.
  2. Developing broadly as a human being.
  3. Not-living-in-my-basement-as-an-adult independence.

MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson says in his book The Second Machine Age that we have reached a pivotal moment where technology is replacing skills and people at an accelerated pace. He argues that creativity and innovation are becoming competitive advantages in the race against artificial intelligence, because creativity is something a machine has a hard time replicating. The problem is that creativity seems so intangible. Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things.” He believed that people invent when they connect the dots between the experiences they’ve had. To do this, he argued, we need to have more experiences and spend more time thinking about those experiences. Indeed.

According to Adam Grant’s book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, researchers at Michigan State University found that to receive the Nobel Prize, you need deep study in your field and those broad experiences Jobs was talking about. They studied the winning scientists from 1901 through 2005 and compared them with typical scientists living at the same time. Grant writes that the Nobel Prize winners were:

  • Two times more likely to play an instrument, compose or conduct.
  • Seven times more likely to draw, paint or sculpt.
  • Seven-and-a-half times more likely to do woodwork or be a mechanic, electrician or glass-blower.
  • Twelve times more likely to write poetry, plays, novels or short stories.
  • And 22 times more likely to be an amateur actor, dancer or magician.

You read that right. Magician!

It’s not just that this kind of original thinker actively seeks out creative pursuits. These original experiences provide a new way of looking at the world, which helped the prizewinners think differently in their day jobs. The beauty of summer camp is that not only do kids get to do all sorts of crazy new things, they also get to do it in nature, which lends its own creative boost. Most importantly, my kids have such intensely packed schedules full of sports, music, art classes, community service and technological stimulation throughout the school year that it makes finding these all-important quiet mental spaces more difficult. Summers provide a much-needed opportunity for my children to unplug, achieve focus and develop those creative thought processes and connections. OK, OK. Creativity might be a compelling tool to beat out that neighbor girl applying to the same college, but what about this “developing broadly as a human being” stuff? I didn’t come up with that phrase. Harvard did.

William Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions at Harvard, has penned a compelling letter to parents. It practically begs and pleads with them to re-evaluate the summer extracurricular race and to “bring summer back,” with an “old-fashioned summer job” perhaps, or simply time to “gather strength for the school year ahead.” Fitzsimmons writes, “What can be negative is when people lose sight of the fact that it’s important to develop broadly as a human being, as opposed to being an achievement machine. In the end, people will do much better reflecting, perhaps through some down time, in the summer.” In terms of “developing broadly as a human being,” summer camp can provide an impressive list of life skills.

Studies over the past decade have shown outdoor programs stimulate the development of interpersonal competencies, enhance leadership skills and have positive effects on adolescents’ sense of empowerment, self-control, independence, self-understanding, assertiveness, decision-making skills, self-esteem, leadership, academics, personality and interpersonal relations. Now for the cherry on top: independence.

Michael Thompson, the author of Homesick and Happy, has written, “ … there are things that, as a parent, you cannot do for your children, as much as you might wish to. You cannot make them happy (if you try too hard they become whiners); you cannot give them self-esteem and confidence (those come from their own accomplishments); you cannot pick friends for them and micromanage their social lives, and finally you cannot give them independence. The only way children can grow into independence is to have their parents open the door and let them walk out. That’s what makes camp such a life-changing experience for children.”

So, yes, Ms. Tiger Mom, I am letting my children walk out the door and make useless lanyards for two months. They might not have anything “constructive” to place on their college application, but they will reflect, unwind, think and laugh. They will explore, perform skits they wrote themselves and make those endless friendship bracelets to tie onto the wrists of lifelong friends. The result will be that when they come back through our door, we’re pretty sure that, in addition to having gobs of creativity and independence, they’ll be more comfortable with who they are as people.

And just maybe they’ll even bring back a few magic tricks.

 

 

 

Eclipse at Gwynn Valley Was Spectacular!

Parents and friends,

The recent solar eclipse at GV was spectacular.  We hosted several groups of friends and family who scattered themselves all over the property where there was an open view.  We had a few clouds, but were able to see about 95% of the evolution to totality and back which was amazing.  See video link here:  Eclipse at Gwynn Valley

With camp over, it’s been too quiet around here.  Our last post-camp work staff are leaving today and tomorrow as we’ve properly closed camp.  The next big event will be registration opening on Sept. 1 and later on we’ll be hitting the road for our annual promo tour.  We’ve got some great video footage from the summer that we’ll be bringing on the road of every session as well as an update to our promotional video.  Also expect to see the newest version of our annual “You Rock at GV” video.  I think you’ll like it.

As the fall and winter approach there are several big projects in view.  We hope to have a new website up and running in Oct. and will be building a new staff cabin on the Brook.  We lost some staff housing with our new construction of dining room and kitchen last year and need to replenish some space for the coming summer.  We’ll keep you posted on other happenings as they occur.

Thanks for sharing your children during our 82nd summer here at GV.  Anne says it was our best summer ever and I tend to agree.  Hats off to our staff who made it so and many thanks to all who contributed in so many ways.  Hope that you and your family has had a great start to the school year.  Let us know if you have camp feedback and stay tuned!

 

E Session Campers Were the Icing on the Cake!

Dear Parents & Friends,

Thank you for a great ending to our E Session yesterday. We’ve had a wonderful time hosting your children and it was a great group to help us end our summer season.  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 great memory. 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 with us here at camp.  Hope to see you next year!

Grant & Anne

Video from E Session  –      E Session Recap

Last Full Day Was Spectacular!

Dear Parents and Friends,

We just finished our Friendship Campfire for Session E.  What a great session it’s been and a wonderful way to end our summer.  We were treated to nearly perfect weather all day today and we finished strong.  Our morning Discovery’s were running full steam ahead and I stopped for some time to observe our Arborist climbers ascending the tree out in front of the Gatehouse (office).  Ask your children about these giant poplar’s that shade us, provide an activity and are beautiful.  In passing I came upon our horses and their mounts riding down the camp road and stopped to walk with them for a while.  From there it was on to our friends with Nature where they were hunting the rare striped salamander that lives in our little stream that used to be the camper water fountain or springhead.  In times past and before health laws, there were several tin cups that hung around the spring and campers and staff would just dip their cup in the tiny reservoir to quench their thirst.  Now day’s the water flows freely out of ground year round and then goes under the Lodge between the Dining Room and Green and then into the lake.  The salamander makes his home in this tiny world where ferns, jewel weed, sweet shrubs and other plants shade his private quarters.

From Nature to Camping Skills was a nice transition and watching the children building a fire to make pancakes.  Not only did I stay to observe the fire building but also to sample the pancakes.  I’ll admit I went to lunch a little stuffed, but well stuffed.  Mountainside and Riverside has great days today and lounged, swam and finished putting away all their gear from their adventures.  Both groups showed up after lunch today to sing with us in the Lodge.  Some of them went to the front of the Lodge to help lead songs.  They all know the songs we sing because many of them have been here for so long.  Tomorrow you will hear some of the songs we sing after lunch every day, here at camp.  All Main Camp cabins went to the pool today for the ritual pillowcase swim day.  You learn to inflate your pillowcase with air and it will float you depending on your size or perhaps the size of your pillow.  It’s basically a fun final event for the cabin after packing.

At campfire tonight we honored the many campers who have attended camp for years.  As a tradition at our final campfire we honor those who are coming for their 4th and 5th year with a blanket for the 4th year and a wooden plaque for their 5th year.  We also honor those staff, SIT’s and campers who’ve gone beyond the 5 year mark.  Milestones are now 8 years with a compass and 10 years is a sturdy stool that has our logo and name on it.  It’s made by our own Team Maintenance crew and wood from camp.  It’s always special to have these campers stand and be recognized.

After camper recognition our Discovery drama groups performed skits they had adapted from the Jack Tales book.  It was delightful and harkened back to the tall tales that came out of back hollers of our Appalachian Mountains.  Our photographer and video dude showed slides and video of the session highlights just after our Fine Arts performers.  The link for the video is here.

E Session Recap

It is on the camp website as well as the Campminder site and Facebook.  Songs were also shared and we finished off the evening with Debbie playing “Sheep May Safely Graze” which has been a part of campfire for many, many years.  It’s a beautiful song and if you linger after the end of our Closing Campfire tomorrow you’ll hear it.  It comes after the staff sing, “The Irish Blessing”. Hope you’ll linger and listen.

Tomorrow when you arrive your children will be waiting for you in their cabins.  At 10:30 there will be a cabin friendship circle where all can join in.  We do these each night and check in with campers to find out how their day has been.  It allows staff to see how the children are doing since they only see them at morning wake-up, rest hour, before and after meals and bedtime.  Our days are full and it’s a good way to learn about the children’s experiences.  Mountainside and Riverside parents will gather earlier at 10:30 as well.  After the friendship circle there is our program in the Lodge at 11:00 for parents, friends and campers.  You can stay and enjoy a wonderful GV lunch at noon if you like.

Camp offers children a better sense of their own culture. Camp is a place where children can think about their own values and share with others about themselves.  We’ve done that our table this session and I have loved the group of campers and staff I sit with for three squares a day.  We have really gotten to know one another over these 8 days.  We learned that we’re all different and also have many things in common.  Being in the larger camp community provides an opportunity for children to understand themselves a bit more as they learn about others. Camp gives campers both cultural roots and the chance to understand children who have lives that are different than their own.  We also belong to something we call camp.  It’s unmeasurable and isn’t easily articulated when you’re young, but I can sense it in the way they react to the end of the session and parting.

Thank you for sharing your children with us these past 8 days.  We’ve had a wonderful session and hope to see all of these children back again next summer.  It’s been a great session and a great summer for us.  I can’t think of a better way to end our summer and I hate to see it come to an end.  We had a blast with our E session and I’m sure they will look forward to seeing you all tomorrow.  Safe travels and stay tuned!

Again the link for the video is here:      E Session Recap

Celebrating the Tajar’s Birthday and A Great Day At Camp!

Dear Parents & Friends,

We awoke this morning to the Tajar’s folly with all kinds of pranks in downtown GV.  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 this morning with a drone of the two groups that were climbing and am looking forward to using that later in some camp highlight reels.

I followed the bikers on their Discovery this morning on a trail ride throughout camp.  We have differing trails that wind through, over and up some of the single track here on the property.  This was the A groups last day of Discovery and they were going for it.  The Mill made ice cream this morning and of course everyone was happy about that.  What child doesn’t want ice cream about 11 AM?! There were several cabins getting the last tie dye session in today.  Dye was mostly on the shirts and it’s a good thing we wear aprons and gloves or you might have greeted a tie dye hand or two on closing day.

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” are left in the Mill Pond who 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.

Today was a good day to try something new in the afternoon because tomorrow there will be no programs except for a camp wide swim at the pool and lake.  I think at least one cabin went tubing today.  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.

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 and some went on outside like the giant waterslide.  There were games of many different varieties including minute challenges, pyramid ping pong ball challenge, splat the rat, balloon darts, the shell game, pong bowl, soccer shootout, football toss, slackline, waterslide, hay ride, giant bubbles, swurfer swing and the sponge toss.  Inside the Lodge there was face painting, tin can topple, corn hole, and guess the # of M&M’s.  Some of the campers just camped out at the Waterslide which is like a big jungle slip and slide that ends in a big splash pool.  As a camera man you can’t stand too close to that pool. It was a chilly evening so we ran warm water into the slide to help with cool temps.  There was also ice cream, cookies and popcorn 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 sessions at the lake and pool.  We have another wonderful day of opportunity, fun and the “simple joys” coming up and will be sad to see our session and summer come to an end.  Stay tuned!

Camp Community reunited to celebrate New Zealand & South Africa!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Today was a very special day at Gwynn Valley. We celebrated the countries of New Zealand and South Africa all day long by eating their national dishes, enjoying skits before meals, singing national anthems, and of course having our whole evening program devoted to children’s stories, dances, and songs from these countries. Our kitchen crew relishes the opportunity to partner with international staff to bring traditional meals to life in our dining hall. We try to make kid friendly versions of foreign foods, and campers often discover that different can means really tasty. I know that every camper at my table found at least 1 new food that they really liked! For breakfast we had a traditional South African pap or porridge made of corn, which tasted a lot like grits. There were all sorts of toppings to add to the grits including sausage, baked beans, and tomato jam. To round out the meal we also had rusks, which is kind of like biscotti made from corn. Much like biscotti, South African rusks are usually dipped in coffee or tea, specifically rooibos (or redbush) tea. Lunch was also a South African meal; we enjoyed Bobotie, yellow rice, mango chutney, sliced bread, and watermelon. Bobotie is South Africa’s version of shepherds pie with ground beef below and egg on top. For dinner we circumnavigated the southern hemisphere and landed in New Zealand for fish & chips with sides of peas, carrots, and fresh green salad. Pavlova for dessert rounded out a day of delicious new foods for our campers!

Today was also special because our Mountainside and Riverside campers returned from their 4 day trips know as Adventures. These older programs have been in session since July 23rd, and have been working toward this week’s trip for some time. The Mountainside group split into four groups of campers participating in four different activities across Western North Carolina. Although campers did encounter some weather while out in the field, they all came home safe, warm, dry and FULL of stories! The bikers spent the last 4 days biking around Dupont State Forest, enjoying the single track as well as the wonderful waterfalls and swimming holes. Paddlers set up a base-camp and traveled to the Lower Green, French Broad & Tuckaseegee rivers. Pioneers backpacked along the Mountains to Sea trail in Pisgah National Forest, celebrating wonderful views and enjoying a few wild blueberries along the way. Climbers spent most of their time at Linville Gorge where they managed to stay unbelievably dry given the rain that all other groups encountered. This group was able to climb every day as it only rained in the evenings and overnight. Riverside, who has already spend 4 days each rock climbing and white water canoeing, spent the last 4 days backpacking in Pisgah as well. This group had a great time and enjoyed their time together exploring the beauty of our nearby wild places.

Of course, Main Camp programming went on as normal throughout the day. We did experience periods of rain in camp, but all activities carried on as normal. This morning campers went to their 2nd meeting for B-day discoveries, where they continued with the curriculum they started in Tuesday’s classes. This afternoon we had a wide range of sign up activities on offer. All the staples were there: mountain biking, fire building, Tajar Times (our daily news publication), horseback riding, archery, stand up paddle boards, blacksmithing, etc… there were a few unique activities this afternoon as well. Nature and Waterfront joined forces for Lake Critters: a snorkeling activity that taught about the ecology of our lake. The Grist Mill ran a 2 hour dutch oven cooking activity where campers made a cobbler over the mill fire. Waterfront offered a creek hike to Connesstee falls, the waterfall on Gwynn Valley property. Crafts introduced some new activities today with felt making and beaded wind dancers that proved very popular. And the farm was made extra special today by the calf who was born overnight! Campers squealed with delight when they met this young calf who was less than 24 hours old and already over 50 lbs.

Tomorrow is sure to be another exciting day at Gwynn Valley. We will be celebrating the Tajar’s birthday, so who knows what sort of silliness and fun our campers might encounter! You can rest assured that there will be lots of costumes and a very fun birthday party where our whole camp community will celebrate the Tajar.

 

 

 

Rolling On the River!

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 met them in a little town called Dillsboro where the Tuck Gorge starts.  It’s about a 4 ½ mile trip with consistent whitewater the whole way.  The group is camped just outside a portion of 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 that far from Gwynn Valley.  They spend their nights there and drive to the river each day.  Today was spent on the Tuckaseegee.

I am the designated video boater who goes first and catches everyone coming through the major rapids or as I tell the campers, they are on GVTV.  They did a great job and will be heading back to the Tuck tomorrow to build on those skills they learned today.  There are so many eddies to go for and special places that challenge you and are fun.  Robert, camp’s instructor does a great job with the campers.  He’s been with us about 6 years and is a professor in the Wilderness Education Dept. here at Brevard College.  Today was a progression to bigger water, more pushy and a wider river.  The campers did flip drills so that everyone has their self-rescue down if they go over.  They 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 worked very hard today and will reap the benefits of this tomorrow.  Besides learning about the river, strokes, and maneuvers, the campers had fun swimming and jumping in fast moving water.  This is all under the guise of getting everyone familiar with fast water and how to properly handle yourself in that water.  They jumped off railroad rock which only sticks about a foot out of the current but you are trying to ferry your body to the other side of the river (about 25 feet).  It’s fast, bubbly and refreshing and it’s a confidence booster.  The campers also took advantage of JUMP rock on river about 2/3 of way down today.  It’s about a 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 4 or 5 times today.

Back at Main Camp it didn’t rain all day and was sunny and beautiful.  Tonight we hosted a quintet of musicians who live locally and all started playing bluegrass music when they were very young.  The Creekside Crawfish are 10, 11, 13, 14 and 15 years old.  Anne and I bid on them at a local fundraiser last winter and we were lucky to get them here.  The campers danced and had a grand time.  We have a young musicians mentoring program here in our town that goes into the schools and local Boys and Girls Club to teach children guitar, bass, fiddle, banjo, and mandolin.  It’s been a worthwhile endeavor and these kids are just a few that have come through the program.

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, they experience fresh air, exercise, a balance between routine and unstructured time, and all the good food their bodies need. Over the past several days they’ve also experienced some mountain weather from cool rainy days to sun sweating afternoons like today.  Not that s’mores don’t have a place at the campfire, but a good camp experience is also about helping children find healthy lifestyles. Counselor’s care certainly includes  a child’s physical health, bringing out the camper’s best by encouraging manageable amounts of challenge and 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.  Camp is all about learning, gaining an appreciation of your surroundings, and is truly fun.  That kicks off again tomorrow morning and everyday here at GV.  Stay tuned!