Hurray for May!

Can you believe it’s May already.  As I walked through camp and up to the dining room this morning, I realized how green and beautiful camp looked but something was missing….. campers and staff!  It’s just around the corner until you begin to arrive and just over a month before we have our first campers show up for an 8 day session here at Gwynn Valley, the best camp for boys and girls this side of the French Broad.  For those of you not familiar with the French Broad the name refers to the river that flows through the valleys of our region and was given that name by early explorers.  Those first settlers came to a point where they looked down on the broad green valleys that at that time were held by  France.

Azaleas looking toward the Lodge

Azaleas looking toward the Lodge

Many of you may know that Gwynn Valley is in Transylvania County.  “Transylvania” comes from  Latin, meaning “over the trees” or “across the woods”.  Our forests and timber held a big attraction in the early years of the area, but before the timber industry came there was a good bit of farming done in these fertile valleys  of the river.  We’re still farming here at Gwynn Valley and taking advantage of the fertile soil here on camp property that helps produce about 70% of our food each summer.  The very first timber harvested from the county was floated down the French Broad RIver to Asheville, where it was sold. An attempt was made at one time to make the French Broad River navigable, and jetties were built in order that boats might come up the river. A boat called the Mountain Lily came to Brevard and never returned due a flash flood that pulled it’s from its moorings and mired it in mud not far from the town.  Never again able to move from that spot, the boat was stripped of its wood which was used to build a church in the Horseshoe community.

Many of our paddlers at camp utilize a section of the French Broad each summer where you can still see evidence of  those jetties.  Depending on the water level you can see their remnants and we often use them to teach the art of eddy hopping on river trips.  Eddy hopping is safely moving from one spot on the river either laterally or  going downstream to another spot.  It allows the paddler to scout as they go to take advantage of safe spots on the river as they progress down.  We’ve had good rainfall this Spring and hope we continue to fill those rivers for a good summer of Gwynn Valley river trips.  Whether you’re tubing, kayaking or canoeing there’s no finer place than the western NC mountains for a fun or challenging day on the river.

Fiddle heads of ferns just coming up

Fiddle heads of ferns just coming up

In the days ahead we will be putting the finishing touches on most parts of camp as we make ready for another great season.  Nature is putting the beginning touch on many of our wildflowers that are springing up everywhere.  Soon the Trilliums will be in all their glory on the southwest part of our property.  Look for some pictures on our next blog for some of outstanding wildflowers that grow here at camp.  Thanks for being a part of the “simple joys”.

New Website and More!

Welcome to Gwynn Valley’s new and improved website.  I hope you’ll find that it really speaks to our reputation as a great camp for boys and girls located here in Brevard, NC.  Change is good and we’re very excited about the changes to this new addition that reaches out across the globe to families and children everywhere.  We hope you will find it more in line with our brochure as well as more interactive.  Please take a look at the many new photos that are there and most of those are from last summer ’08! Also check out the new map of camp.  It’s a great rendering of the main part of camp that actually encompasses “The Rock” and other favorite aspects of our 300+ acres.  You can get to it by clicking on About Us and then Map of Camp.  Also look for more news updates on our News page in the coming months and certainly check in at the beginning of the summer to see all the great photos and daily blogs that will be coming from camp.  You’ll of course need a log in username and password for that.  Your parents can assist you in that task.

Camp is only a few short weeks away and we’re pretty darn busy getting ready for you.  We’re ordering new gear, finishing up renovations, and crops at the farm are busting up through the soil.  We’ve had a lot of rain this Spring so vegatables are doing well.  The grass has never been greener and our dogwoods are in all their glory.  Carson Creek that runs through the center of camp is pumping lots of water.  I was on a walk yesterday with folks that monitor our land conservation easement (see Conservation Easement under About Us on the website).  We walked to The Rock and then bushwacked down the mountain to the Outpost Campsite and followed the creek all the way up Connestee Falls.  In the process we discovered a new cascade coming off the southern side of the property that I hadn’t seen before.  I’m sure it’s been pretty small with our lack of rain over the past couple of years but yesterday it was really running.  Yet another great place to explore once all our campers get here.  We’re planning lots of outings this summer that will take us to new and exciting places.

The year round team met today to plan Staff Training which is probably the most important week of our summer.  A lot of work goes into preparing our staff for a summer at Gwynn Valley.  We’ve attended conferences and workshops this winter to add to our knowledge and experience in creating the best possible environment for our campers and the staff mentoring them.  If this is your first year at camp we hire creative, fun, inspiring individuals who demonstrate a desire to work with children and who have strong character, leadership skills, and experience to teach in our program areas.  The heart and soul of Gwynn Valley is it’s staff and this summer we’ve got just over 70% of our staff who are returning.  You will recognize some old faces as well as some new ones from all over the world.  Countries such as Scotland, England, Ireland, France, Canada, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Brazil, Korea,  Australia, and New Zealand are represented this coming summer.  In addition, we have staff from many US states. All of the staff are at least 19 and our overall camper/staff ratio is 3 to 1. We’re also excited to welcome a great bunch of SIT’s (the most we’ve ever had) this summer.  Once you reach the age of 16 and 17 you’re eligible to be a Staff-in-Training and it’s a great way to continue your camp experience on a whole different level.  It’s also a stepping stone and training ground for those interested and qualified SIT’s to make the leap into the staff ranks once you complete your freshman year of college.  Just a few years ago some of these folks were in Peter Pan and Raccoon Ridge.  This summer you’ll see them working hard in many aspects of camp and learning the ropes.

It’s getting toward sun down here and those mountains are turning blue as they usually do this time of day when it’s clear and beautiful.  Look for more updates as we count down the days until camp starts.  Looking forward to seeing you all here at Gwynn Valley where the simple joys abound!

Green in More Than Name Only

Every magazine under the sun has published a “Green” issue. Let’s hope that all those magazines are getting recycled. Through the years Gwynn Valley has been quietly moving in this direction. I say quietly because we’ve really not promoted our movement in lessening our environmental impact of running a camp.

As I began to think about our journey into “Green”, I spoke with Dale Robertson who has been a part of that journey and has been an advocate of sustainability here at camp. Those of you that don’t know Dale may just see him on opening and closing day directing traffic and directing his staff in getting you in and out of camp in a way that allows you to focus on your children. Dale is our site manager and has been at Gwynn Valley for over 30 years. Following are some of things that Gwynn Valley has been doing over the past 5 to 10 years under Dale’s leadership:

  • Recycling paper, plastic, glass, and metal for 10 years
  • Using high efficiency lighting in over half our cabins, which are run from batteries for over 10 years
  • Installing water-saver shower heads that use only 2 gallons per minute, saving up to 40% in water and heated water usage. We also have water saver toilets in most of our cabins and bathrooms
  • Using compact fluorescent lights throughout our program for over 5 years
  • Growing approximately 70% of our food and raising our own beef, thereby lessening our carbon footprint by eliminating food transportation from farm to table by wholesalers and purveyors (homegrown food also tastes better).
  • Heating 70% of the camp’s hot water with wood that is down or dead on the property. 15% of that wood goes into building projects (cabin siding, roofing, etc.)
  • Composting our uncooked kitchen waste
  • Powering the Mill with water which grinds our corn into grits and cornmeal and also churns the ice cream freezers for Tajar Ball and other special times
  • Utilizing our web site as a means by which to access camper applications, staff applications and parent handbooks which save paper.

The more I speak with other camp directors the more I realized how progressive we really are. It’s been a conscious effort to make Gwynn Valley a place that really has a strong connection to the values of the land and to educate our campers to that end. We’re a business that uses a lot of resources and has a lot of impact but there are always ways to improve and make our system better. Looking ahead we’ve focused on some long range and short range projects that will keep us attuned to our commitment to the environment and more importantly our commitment to a better world for our children and their children.

Future Projects

  • Erect a windmill to pump water to the farm
  • Use more environmentally safe cleaning products
  • Use more environmentally friendly composting of kitchen waste
  • Replace plastic dinner ware with recyclable dinner ware
  • Build a Pelton Water Wheel to power all of camp (this is a long range project that was first looked at in the late 80’s – we’ve already got the plan)
  • Use solar panels on roofs that get enough direct sun to heat water
  • Green design future facilities and buildings
  • Move toward more on-line correspondence and registration forms with families to save paper

Many of these things you can do at home and hope you will begin that journey toward a Greener existence. If you have ideas that you would like to share with us please feel free to get in touch. We look forward keeping Gwynn Valley a great model for sustainability.

 

Fall at Gwynn Valley

Dear Friends,

It is truly fall here in our mountains. We had a wonderful 2008 season at Gwynn Valley and are busy getting ready for campers who will be returning for another magical summer in 2009. We’re in the midst of our promotional shows and travel schedule which is listed above. We’re also busy getting ready to revamp our web site as well as working on lots of projects here at camp. We’re renovating Aching Legs and taking out the old chimney that has been there many years as well as most of the inner walls to open up the inside of the cabin. Did you know that the “miller”, who ran the Mill here at camp lived in Aching Legs? Rumor has it that it was insulated with old newspapers back then. Boy, would it have been cold in the winter. Soon we will begin work to expand and renovate the Hillside shower house. Cabin Shady Grove is now fully completed in its renovation with newly refinished floors. The Owl’s Nest and Pot Shop will have a different look next year, as well. Soon to arrive will be a new horse named “Smokey”. Equipment of all types is on order and will be waiting for your arrival next year.

It is a beautiful time at Gwynn Valley. If you’re new to our program or if you’re an old camper or staff member, please come by for a visit. We have tours year round and we just ask that you give us a call to let us know you’re coming so we can arrange a tour. Weekends are fine.

Thanks to all the camper families who participated in our online survey at the end of the summer. It provided valuable information that will assist us in making Gwynn Valley a better place for those who attend in the future.

Stay tuned for more news and upcoming promotional dates in the weeks and months ahead. We hope you can join us at one of these informal and informative shows to share your stories about Gwynn Valley and help introduce camp to our new prospects.

Christmas in the Valley

Seasons Greetings and Happy New Year!

As we get farther into this festive season and approach the beginning of the new year, I’m reminded of all the great memories that are like little gifts that come forth from the summer. Many of you may have received our Millwheel News by now along with countless cards that arrive this time of year. Soon you will be receiving another surprise in the mail to remind you of those great summer days here at camp.

At the end of last summer Tess, from New Zealand, who worked in arts and crafts, gave Anne and me a beautiful and small painted wooden box with the words to a camp song on the outside. It was the last day of camp and campers had all headed home. Our staff were quite busy tying up loose ends for the summer and cleaning up their cabins and program areas. I had forgotten about the box and in the process of cleaning my office after camp, had placed it on a bookshelf and eventually other things got piled on it and it sat there for several months before being rediscovered. About a week ago I pulled it from the shelf and took the strings from around the top that kept the lid on. There in a space about 3 by 3 inches were at least a hundred or maybe more, little pieces of paper that had been meticulously rolled up and packed tightly inside the box. I pulled one out unrolled it and it was from a camper named Michelle, D session, Rosebay cabin. Tess had asked her arts activity campers at some point to write something on a small piece of paper that would be opened later by the directors of camp. Some of these are decorated and most importantly they give us small glimpses, impressions, and pearls of camper thoughts from the summer. I’ve been pulling one out of the box everyday here in the office and am really enjoying these gifts of children’s thoughts from the summer.

As we give and receive this time of year let us all hope and pray for peace and good tidings for people everywhere. Thank you all for coming to this place in our mountains, to a child’s world where discovery, a nurturing environment and a connection to the natural world, make possible the simple joys of childhood. This place, where children are playing outside and growing inside. This place called Gwynn Valley.

From all of us to all of you we wish you JOY, PEACE AND GOOD CHEER,

Anne, Grant and all our staff

After the Summer

By now many of you have started back to school and are into your routine at home. We miss the sounds of your laughter and joy here at camp. Camp is a different place during the seasons when you are not here. It’s a foggy morning here at camp and believe it or not we’ve actually had some rain over the past few days. Those of you that were here during the latter part of the summer remember how hot and dry it was. It’s good to see the grass becoming green again and know that the rivers will rise a little after the rains.

We are not the only ones that miss your presence. All the animals at the farm certainly feel your absence. I went down to the farm on Sat. with Jacob and my two nephews who were visiting to gather some eggs. All the calves who you all helped bottle feed and raise this summer began mooing as soon as we crossed the bridge to the farm. They now have officially been weaned and are all hanging out together able to run free and play in the pasture. No more eggs are being incubated and those end of the summer baby chicks are not so like chicks anymore. There are still a few ears of corn to be pulled and tomatoes are still hanging on the wines but other than that it’s pretty empty down at the farm.

Several staff stayed after camp to clean and put everything away for next summer. Tess, Grant, Doug, Jeff, Shelly, Margarita, Tommy, Anne Marie, Dale, Dean, Hayes, Drew, Gio, Anna, Tatitana, Kirsty, Sheldon, Ollie, Oliver and Frank were all here up to a week and a half. Many thanks to all of them for their hard work in putting camp to sleep for the winter.

Andy, Ryan, Anne and I are all busy getting ready for another year. Dates and rates for 2008 are all up on the web and soon you will be getting information in the mail for the new season. I’ve been reviewing video footage from this summer and hopefully we’ll have a new camp video that will be out in October. We hope to start our Fall promotion in October as well so come out and join us for a look at the new footage and photos from the summer. Speaking of photos, hats off to Alex, camp photographer, for taking just over 22,000 pictures this summer that many of you may still be looking at online. We’ll be going through those and picking out some good ones to use in a variety of ways over the months ahead.

Send us updates on your family at home and let us know what you’re doing. Take care and I hope the “simple joys” of life are present wherever you are.

Grant

Winter Greetings

Hope everyone had a wonderful Holiday Season and is enjoying the beginning to the new year. This is travel time for us as we continue our camper promotion and kick off staff recruitment as well. Come out and join us at one of our shows or come join us at one of our camper fairs that may be in your area. Don’t forget to bring a friend. Andy is headed to New Zealand and Australia on Sunday to attend several staff fairs in that part of the world as Anne, Grant and Ryan head out on camper recruitment. As we burn the road up there’s work going on at camp to prepare for you this coming summer. Maintenance and dredging in the lake is complete and much to our dismay, we didn’t find any treasures on the bottom. The usual t-shirt, sunglasses and missing masks and snorkels were the hot ticket. The bridge to the stables is getting rebuilt and being made wider. Dale says it’s so wide we’ll need to paint lines down the middle. Two way traffic on that bridge! Maybe horses! It’s certainly going to be sturdy. We’ll be able to drive the Space Shuttle across and it may even be wide enough. Take care!