A Leap of Faith

In 1998, Grant and I put our newly built house on the market, sent our paperwork to Vietnam for our second adoption, and took a huge leap of faith taking over the leadership and stewardship of Gwynn Valley. It was a daunting and exciting year as we moved into this calling. We are so thankful for all of the connections, simple joys, and friendships we have experienced for the past 23 years.  It’s an amazing gift to have the opportunity to watch so many children grow up and return to camp as staff members, to watch them carry the torch, and spread the values they learned at GV out into the world. We have such talented staff and they will continue to do good work and touch lives everywhere they go. They continue to give me hope for our future. 

During such a difficult year, the GV team and I have decided to focus on some of the silver linings, to hold on to hope, and to work hard to make 2021 one of the best summers yet. We continue to read and learn about the best ways to run camp during this pandemic, to meet about protocols and policies for COVID-19, to plan for changes to our program such as living in family groups (your cabin), having a neighborhood for several cabins to be able to choose activities (while social distancing), or to gather for an outdoor campfire in smaller numbers. We learned so much from running family camp this past summer and continue to expand upon the knowledge we gained, and to plan for the 2021 summer. It is hard to know where we will be by the end of May next year, but we will continue to work hard, learn, and plan in order to be ready. 

An important part of being ready means hiring great staff. We are thankful for all the returning and new people who are applying and interviewing during crunch time at school, and who are excited to work at Gwynn Valley next summer. We are grateful for our medical staff who are committed to coming and working to keep us healthy as well as for the work they have done all year trying to adjust to the many changes they have had to implement. As Dr. David said in a zoom meeting this spring, “the only constant right now is change”. We have all endured a lot in 2020. My heart goes out to all of those who have been working on the frontlines whether in hospitals or grocery stores, those whose businesses have been impacted, those who are trying to balance work and virtual learning, and most of all to those whose loved ones have been ill. 

We need camp more than ever! As we plan, prepare, work on changes, and dream about Gwynn Valley, we hope you will take a minute to enjoy this video depicting a day in the life at camp. Our videography team from 2019, Liv and Jacob, put it together and we have been waiting for the right moment to share it with you. Sit back, breathe, enjoy the video, and remember to look for the silver linings. Sometimes it just takes a leap of faith. 

New beginnings for our director, Maggie

Dear Gwynn Valley Families, 

We hope all of you are healthy and well as we move through these challenging times and hope for a better and healthier 2021. Here at camp, we are enjoying the fall season with crisp, cooler days and evenings, and lots of changing colors. Hopefully, you are getting outside and enjoying some quality time with family as the next season ushers in change.

New seasons can bring transition, change, and opportunities for growth and this fall is no exception. As we prepare to greet 2021, we are sad to say goodbye to one of our directors, Maggie Howe who directed our older programs for quite a few years before becoming our Director of Staffing. As a new mom and a recent MBA graduate, she is excited to take on her next professional challenge in the world of renewable energy development and business which has been her passion since attending Georgetown and early in her career in environmental work. Maggie has recently accepted a job with East Point Energy, a utility-scale battery storage startup in Charlottesville, VA. She will continue to impact lives as she works toward reducing carbon emissions and increasing renewable energy possibilities for our future.

Maggie first came to Gwynn Valley as a camper in 1996 in cabin Playhouse. She has spent 6 summers in Main Camp and Mountainside, another 6 as a summer staff member, and 8 years as a full-time staff member. You may have met Maggie around camp or on the road for camper and staff recruitment. She has interviewed and hired many of our seasonal staff members in recent years. Her passion centered on working with our team to place each staff member in a role where they would give campers the best possible experience and they as young professionals would have the opportunity to grow and become the best version of themselves. Maggie has also helped in many areas across camp including creating the Young Leaders curriculum,  growing our Mountainside program, and most recently helping us run a covid-friendly Family Camp over the 2020 summer. 

We will miss Maggie and her fun and positive energy! We greatly appreciate all of the excellent organizational systems she has created for camp and helped all of us to learn. We know she will be a strong asset to the new company she is joining and will help them to grow and develop, just as she did here at Gwynn Valley. We wish Maggie, Stu, and their son Thomas the very best as they take on the next adventure in life. Maggie and Stuart both plan to remain part of the GV community as proud alumni and future camper parents. 

May God hold them in the palm of His hand. 

Anne, Grant, and the GV Team

Joyful surprises at Family Camp 2020

Dear Gwynn Valley Campers, Parents, and Friends, 

2020 was the first summer in Gwynn Valley’s 85 years that we did not host a traditional camp program. We really missed our campers and staff and all the JOY that normally fills our valley and makes summer feel like summer! As you know – every challenge brings new opportunities – and for the 2020 summer that was Family Camp. After making the difficult decision to cancel our summer sessions due to the pandemic, we worked creatively to come up with a program that would reach our GV community and continue our mission as best as possible. While we missed our campers and staff terribly, we ultimately feel that hosting family camp was the best choice. 

We were surprised and delighted by the positive impact family camp had on not just the children but the adults as well! Although families have been spending a LOT of time together, as you probably know more hours together does not necessarily mean more connection. What we heard from our families was that the opportunity to come to camp where they could slow down and spend high quality time together was invaluable. Being outdoors and not having to worry about what was for dinner or who would do the dishes gave families an opportunity to truly relax and live in the moment. Of course, time spent immersed in the natural world really helps with this too – and it’s easy to spend all your time outside when you’re at Gwynn Valley! 

Having families here at camp also gave us the chance to learn more about how program can happen while managing for the risk of COVID. We are very happy to report a COVID-free summer (whoo!) thanks in no small part to the incredible summer medical team who helped us roll out new procedures as well as public health resources from our local health department all the way up to the CDC and the American Camp Association. Being able to test out new policies with a smaller group on site has made us feel more confident and ready to welcome larger numbers of campers and staff on site next summer. 

While we plan to run camp for our campers in 2021 and can’t wait to welcome them back to Gwynn Valley, we have heard from many folks who want more family camp!! We are looking into ways to possibly offer family camp weekends in the future. We saw first-hand what a powerful experience it was for families to have this fun and quality time together. We want to build more opportunities for family connection into the future.

Stay healthy everyone!

Climb to new heights!

When you think about getting outside of your comfort zone at camp, climbing is often the first thing people think of. Getting 50 feet off the ground makes most people feel a little nervous, which is honestly probably a good thing when you think about it! Even if you know intellectually that we have safety systems in place to manage the actual risk [check out this video with Andy and Elizabeth for a run down of our climbing systems at the tower!], there is still a high level of perceived risk. This is what makes your heart start to beat a little faster when you’re climbing, even though you’re tied in and you know you’ll be safe if you take a fall.

Climbing lesson at the tower with Andy and Elizabeth!

At Gwynn Valley, our founder (Miss Mary) encouraged everyone to ‘do something difficult every day.’ Some days, this might be climbing, but other days it might be saying “hi” first to a new friend, or giving a presentation in front of your peers, or remembering to be compassionate in the heat of a political disagreement. Every time we work through a challenge, we are building resiliency skills and collecting tools that will serve us in each future challenge, however big or small, for the rest of our lives. Remembering what we have accomplished can help us feel strong and confident!

If quarantine has you running low on dinner table conversation topics try asking – What difficult thing did you try today? What was that like? What big challenges have you overcome in your life? How have they made you stronger?

Keep climbing!

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,