Welcome New Year Round Staff

Greetings from Gwynn Valley, 

A new year always brings opportunities for growth, change, and hope and we are especially excited about 2021 and this summer! We really missed having our campers at Gwynn Valley last year and can’t wait to welcome you back or for the first time when we open camp on June 5. 

We also are excited to welcome some new staff to our director team who bring with them a lot of talent, skills, creativity, and experience. Although it is always hard to say goodbye to strong staff members with whom we have worked closely, change is inevitable and transitions can bring new opportunities for growth. 

At the end of January, we are saying goodbye to our Program Director, Kevin MacDonald, who will be leaving Gwynn Valley to pursue a career in graphic design. Besides leading our Older Programs, Kevin has worked diligently to improve our adventure activities, reorganizing and planning curriculum for paddling, mountain biking, climbing, hiking, camping skills, and archery. Whether he was starting a fire by hand-drill, performing magic tricks, or showing up to Tajar Ball in his T-Rex costume, Kevin amazed staff and campers alike with his vast array of skills. We will miss him and wish him the best on the next step of his journey.    

We are very excited to announce three new members joining the year-round team. 

Lauren Rekhelman, long-time summer staff member and former camper, has joined our team as the Assistant Director of Staff and Main Camp. Lauren first came to Gwynn Valley as a camper in 2004, and has spent a total of 15 summers at camp. As a summer staff member, Lauren has been a cabin counselor, program leader, and brookside head counselor. Lauren graduated from Whitman College with a BA in Theatre, and worked for several years as a theatre educator and actor. In 2019 she became the Program Director for Hillel at Georgia Tech, where she connected students to Jewish life on campus. Now, she is incredibly excited to join the GV year-round team where she will help oversee staff hiring and main camp program. Lauren loves working with campers and staff to support them in their goals and help them grow through their challenges. In her free time, you can find Lauren in her kitchen trying out new recipes, or out on the trail hiking or backpacking with her dog, Abbie. 

After his role last year as a Staff and Program Intern, Zeke Cochrane will be rejoining the year-round team this coming May as the Assistant Director of Older Programs. Zeke has worked at Gwynn Valley for 10 summers and started at GV by spending two seasons working in the Gwynn Valley kitchen. He went on to be a Hillside cabin counselor for three years, before stepping in as a program leader- running our 1890’s grist mill. Zeke has worked in a leadership role in both our Mountainside and Riverside programs as well as working with the Director team to run Family Camp in 2020. Zeke graduated from UNC Chapel Hill where he majored in astrophysics, but after graduating has largely pursued his true passion of outdoor education. Before he re-joins us in May, Zeke will be finishing up a year as a Resident Wilderness Educator at the Outdoor Academy here in Brevard. Zeke has previously worked at YMCA Camp Raukawa in New Zealand as well as Camp High Rocks just down the road. Zeke has a deep love for backpacking, white-water paddling, and rock climbing. He is enthusiastic about using these outdoor pursuits to teach youth the importance of community and self-confidence. You can look for him instructing in these areas on the trails, rivers, and crags come summertime!

We are also excited to welcome Chris Tarpey to the team as an Adventure Program Intern. Chris graduated in December, a semester early, from Western Carolina University with a degree in Parks and Recreation Management. Chris worked at Gwynn Valley in 2018 in our Main Camp Program and spent the last three weeks of the summer as a counselor on Riverside. He returned to Riverside in 2019 as a counselor and trip leader in climbing, whitewater paddling, and backpacking. Chris helped his campers develop skills and comfort in the outdoors, a strong community, and confidence. Chris has a passion for rock climbing, backpacking, whitewater paddling and fishing, including fly fishing. He has his American Canoe Association Level 2 Canoe Instructor, and Rescue 3 international Whitewater Rescue Technician. He also has his Level 4 Swiftwater Rescue certification. Since he wasn’t able to move into his role as our whitewater paddling director last summer due to COVID, he spent those months working for the Nantahala Outdoor Center as a raft guide. Chris loves the outdoors and teaching skills to kids of all ages; one of his goals is to share his appreciation of the natural world with others, a core value here at Gwynn Valley. One of his professors and mentors described Chris in this way. “He has an incredible ability to connect with others, is incredibly kind and compassionate, and truly has a servant’s heart.” 

We all need camp more than ever and are so excited to welcome these three dynamic people to our team. We are working hard to plan, hire great staff, create fun and creative programs, order equipment, and get GV ready for our 2021 campers. Can’t wait to see you and gather in our community again.

Update on COVID-19 plans for 2021

Welcoming a New Year

As we say goodbye to 2020 and welcome 2021, we are all hoping for a healthier and better year. COVID-19 has challenged all of us and taught us to live with constant change and unpredictability. At Gwynn Valley, we have been busy establishing protocols, policies, and potential changes to our camp programs for a healthy and great summer. The health and safety of our campers and staff is our top priority. Although camp may look and be a little different this year, our campers and staff need camp more than ever! We are all ready to be in community again (even if in a mask), immerse ourselves in the outdoors, and learn and grow together! 

Our Site

As you all know, camp is about being in the natural world, the best place to be whether dealing with a communicable disease or not, in our humble opinion. With access to 400 acres, we have lots of space to hike, bike, explore, play in creeks, swim at Connestee Falls, and campout. Our cabins are open air, our dining hall is extremely large with good airflow and huge screens, and we have plenty of covered shelters to gather in case of rain or bad weather.

What to Expect

By May, we are hoping that our staff and many of our family members (adults) will have received the vaccination which will help limit and contain the spread of the virus.  Even so, COVID-19 will probably still be a concern this summer.

To create a healthier environment, we are looking at the possibility of requiring pre-camp testing and monitoring your camper’s symptoms before their session.  We also hope to have access to rapid testing at our Health Hut. Our physician and nurses will provide health screenings upon arrival at camp and throughout the session.

Your cabin members will be your family group and you will probably eat your meals together. There will be more opportunities for picnics, outdoor eating, and cook-outs with your cabin friends.  Cabins groups will also have more opportunities for “off program” activities such as hikes, paddling, waterfront activities, and tubing trips. Although you may have some planned activities with your cabin group, you will also have the opportunity to choose activities. Camp may be divided into neighborhoods to create smaller groups for sign-ups and evening programs. 

When social distancing is not possible such as in climbing or when entering the dining room, we may need to require campers and staff to wear masks. 

We have lots of outdoor washing sinks at camp and will require campers to wash hands frequently. Hand sanitizer will be provided at program areas when touching equipment and protocols are in place for sanitation and disinfection. We learned a lot last summer from running family camp.

Refund / Cancellation Policy

Since your second payment is due Feb. 1, we wanted to remind you of our refund and cancellation policy. Your deposit is applied to tuition and all but the processing fee of $200 is refundable any time before February 1st providing we receive notification in writing. Cancellations made before April 1st will receive a refund of tuition paid minus the $800 deposit. 

No refund or discount will be made for late entrance or early withdrawal, except when caused by serious illness: in this case, the loss will be shared equally by the parent and the camp. Gwynn Valley reserves the right to dismiss any camper who violates the camp rules or whose conduct is determined by Gwynn Valley to be detrimental to self, other campers, or the general welfare of the camp. No refund will be made in case of dismissal.


As we move into the spring we will continue to communicate with our families about our plans and keep you updated via email and through our website. At any point, if you have any questions or concerns about this summer, please reach out to us. Our goal is to partner with you and to provide the best possible camp experience for your child. 

We are grateful for your continued support and trust. We can’t wait to see you this summer!

Giving Tuesday!

Please consider a donation to the Gwynn Valley Campership Foundation.

“As I write to you, I cannot find adequate words to say what is in my heart. I love my kids the way all mothers do. I feel inadequate not being able to give them the experiences that can enrich and change lives. Just when I thought that their lives would be a replica of mine—here comes Gwynn Valley offering my children a different look at life. For this exposure, for this kindness, for all the marvelous experiences you have given my children, I send you my eternal and heartfelt gratitude.”

Sheila – single mother of three

Dear friends,

Looking Ahead

As we start to wind down 2020, we can’t help but get excited about the 2021 summer and having our campers back at Gwynn Valley! After a very difficult and challenging year, children and teenagers need camp more than ever. Like us, they need the connection to the natural world and each other. The Gwynn Valley team continues to read and learn about the best ways to run camp during this pandemic and to plan for the summer. Camp may look and be a little different this year, but we will continue to celebrate the simple joys of childhood. Our core values of acceptance, simplicity, a non-competitive program, and an appreciation of the natural world remain the same. 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. 

Part of that planning is to work with our families who apply for financial assistance so that their children can experience the incredible gift of camp. We are truly grateful for the Gwynn Valley Campership Foundation, the leadership provided by its Board, and the scholarships they grant. 

Donations from 2020 tuition refunds

To those families who chose to donate to the Foundation this summer as we processed tuition refunds, we offer a heartfelt thank you. We had over 100 families make donations increasing the endowment by over $32,000. These gifts will help scholarship campers into perpetuity beginning in 2021. 

Every dollar makes a difference

As we celebrate giving Tuesday, we hope you will consider a gift to the Gwynn Valley Campership Foundation. Every dollar makes a difference. Beginning with Miss Mary Gwynn’s vision in 1935, Gwynn Valley Camp has been bringing children and staff together from all backgrounds and experiences. This included children from families who did not have the financial resources to afford a Gwynn Valley experience. Howie and Betty Boyd took that vision to a new level when they established the Gwynn Valley Campership Foundation in 1997. 

The Foundation includes a fund that grows as a result of generous gifts from alumni, parents and friends. The fund is invested and the interest it generates is used to enable families with restricted resources to send their children to camp.  

This year, as we celebrate our 86th year, our goal is to continue to grow the endowment. We want to make camp a reality for more children and we invite you to be part of that effort. 

Making a Donation

We hope you will consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Gwynn Valley Campership Foundation. To donate online, go to https://gwynnvalley.com/who-we-are/foundation/ and click on the orange “GV Campership Online Donation” button or you can send a check. If donating to one of the individual scholarships listed below, there is a place to indicate this when you donate online or please note it on your check. Checks should be made out to the Gwynn Valley Campership Foundation and mailed to the camp address.

If you have experienced the joy and love of Gwynn Valley-please share it with others! 

Many thanks, 

The Gwynn Valley Campership Foundation Board

  • Ginger Boyd Van Valkenburgh (Chair)
  • Robin Rose
  • Bob Persky
  • Jann Graham
  • Margaret Taylor 

Memorial Scholarships:

  • Mary W. Gwynn 
  • Mrs. Price Gwynn (Gammie) 
  • Robert Bruce Gwynn 
  • Rosemary Gwynn 
  • Mary Lou Gwynn 
  • Howie and Betty Boyd
  • Jason Bostic
  • Charles Prosser
  • Patsy Reynolds
  • Margaret Savage
  • Gray Taylor
  • Josh Williams

Scholarships in honor of individuals:

  • James (Jim) Gwynn
  • Dale Robertson, Susie Woodall, Lillie Ware, and Lucille Roberts
  • Sharon Garrett and Kay Moran
  • Lenore Kempfer

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