Dear Campers, Parents and Friends,

For centuries, nature has been a source of healing and inspiration. Now, studies show exposure to nature has endless physical, cognitive, social, creative and emotional benefits for children. I am not at all surprised by this finding. This is why a good camp experience adds so much to the overall development of the whole child. Today’s children get 50% less unstructured outdoor play time than kids of the 1970’s, according to the Alliance for Childhood, a non-profit group. Our lives are over-scheduled, so free time, for both children and adults is sparse. We are hyper-competitive and dictated by security concerns. Video games and electronic devices vie for children’s time, and all the while, parents are dealing with the demands of balancing work and home life.

Camp is one place where unstructured outdoor play exists in its finest form. Outdoor play at camp is meaningful and relevant to how we live today. Camp helps to reinvent the outdoor experience. Camp allows the child to get close to nature in a fun and hands-on manner. Sometime back in the sixties adult directed sports for children began to replace pickup games and unstructured free play. As you might guess after 9/11 children did not venture as far from home and play was mostly supervised.

Gwynn Valley is a giant playground where children are well supervised in a nurturing environment. The traditional playground and the playground industry are redefining themselves to meet the demands of our high-tech world. Traditional playgrounds have incorporated technology into physical exercise for children who are participating. It’s an active and fun way to relate to the modern child who’s been raised in a technological world. Camp’s massive playground comes without technology and all the things that provide for all the senses that children need to take in on a daily basis.

First and foremost are the relationships they make while here at camp with other children and staff. The playful camp environments are large and varied from sports, to adventure challenges, to creative/artistic skills, to nature itself utilizing all types of forest surroundings, streams and meadows. All of this plays into life skills for growing happy and healthy children. How often does one get to go directly to the source where your food comes from.  How often does one get to participate in harvesting the food that they will eat at their next meal.  How often does one get to physically interact with the animals that are a part of a farm to fork program.

Camp leaders, manufacturers, educators and researchers must work together to better understand the physical, cognitive, social and emotional aspects of what happens when children play. Whether they’re playing tag, biking the flow of single track, or placing rubber bands to create the  tie-dye masterpiece, they are using all their senses and building the foundations for making the whole person. Camp’s playground is a nurturing and meaningful place for children where experiences build confidence, spur on creativity, and  help build strong relationships.  Play is powerful and camp is powerful.

PS – Here’s a link to a video on our new dining room / kitchen building progress!  Enjoy!

New Building Update

Summer Camp and Children’s Mental Health

Dear Parents and Friends,

On Friday I will be attending a workshop on Mental Health for Camp Leaders. The North Carolina Youth Camp Association is sponsoring this event by bringing in two speakers that will discuss these issues with camp owners and directors.  This is a topic that has received a fair amount of attention in our industry and the field of education at the national level in conversations and workshops over the past couple of years.

While summer camp is certainly not a cure all, we definitely know that it greatly benefits the overall mental health of children who attend.  Studies have proven the effects of playing in nature, being away from the “screen life”, collaborative living, positive role modeling, under-scheduling instead of over-scheduling, gaining resiliency and much more.  Each year we all see the effects of the complicated choices and lifestyles that children are exposed to.  Some of those choices pull them in directions that aren’t always what’s best for their own mental and physical well being.  Camp is a safe haven where they can thrive, guided by young adult role models through their camp journey and toward positive measurable outcomes (more on that in a later post here).Airstrip biking

The American Camp Association recently  published an article on Anxiety and the Importance of Play: An Interview with Shimi Kang, MD.  Just click on the title and you’ll be taken to the article.  After reading this, I think it’s something our parents would be interested in.  I hope you enjoy it and hope your new year is off to a great start.

Change and Transition Starting the Year Off!

Dear Campers, Parents and Friends,

Happy New Year to all of our Gwynn Valley families and friends! It seems that the New Year always brings change and sometimes transition. Andy Savage, who has been the Assistant Director of Staff and Program at Gwynn Valley for the past ten years, has turned in his resignation because Andy, Beth and their two young daughters, Maggie Grace and Ella, will be moving to New Zealand in early February. Andy’s last day in the office with us will be Jan. 31st. Andy and Beth’s new adventure is an exciting opportunity to be the first New Zealand distributors for a local company here in Brevard called Sylvan Sport. The company makes camping/outdoor/utility trailers that are easily pulled behind cars and trucks. As many of you know, Andy’s father and siblings all live in New Zealand, and they are all extremely excited about the move.

Ella, Andy, Beth & Maggie Grace

Ella, Andy, Beth & Maggie Grace

Andy was first hired by Howie and Betty Boyd in 1988 as a young international to fill a cabin counselor role. He joined the full time GV team 10 years ago and as many of you know, he has been a great asset to camp and touched many lives throughout his 27 summers at Gwynn Valley. He has been involved in almost every part of the program as well as being the expert liaison for international hiring. One of his strengths that we will miss, is his attention to staying in touch with many friends and staff of Gwynn Valley. I contend that he was “FACEBOOK” before Facebook was invented. He has excelled at traveling and meeting new and returning families on the road for us, interviewing and helping to train our wonderful staff, re-creating and promoting what we call our camp store, bringing the “FISH” Philosophy to camp, overseeing our waterfront programs for many years, and countless other duties.

We will miss his presence and positive energy as we enter into the New Year and the summer ahead. We know that he and Beth will seize this new career opportunity just as he has similarly helped to shape Gwynn Valley in his time here. Andy and Beth will be leaving some strong ties with camp but as we all know the world seems to shrink and we know that many GV friends and family will remain in contact with them. We wish them the best and may God hold them in the palm of His hand.

Grant, Anne, and the GV Team

Happy Holidays from Gwynn Valley!

Dear Campers, Parents and Friends,

As we all know, blessings come in so many different ways.  As families and friends gather for this time of year it is especially important to recognize and give thanks for all that is good and all that brings peace and joy.  Sometimes even our challenges open doors that otherwise wouldn’t have been opened.  Anne and I are especially grateful for our campers and families and the work we do here at Gwynn Valley.  We believe that a good camp experience is an essential part of developing the whole child and the outcomes translate in wonderful ways on the big stage of life.

Camp is a place of community providing multiple positive opportunities for interaction and character development.  And … it’s just plain fun.  Maggie has always said, “camp brings out the best version of ourselves”.  I do love the Holidays, all its ceremony, spiritual significance, friends and family, good food and more.  What I cherish almost as much is our opening of camp, which captures much of what the Holidays embody.

We are doubly excited this year to be in the process of building our new Dining Room, Kitchen, Program Office and Staff Living Room.  Things are going well and we’ve included a video to update you on construction.  We’ve also shared video highlights from all of our sessions as well as our 2016 “U Rock” video.  We hope this brings back fond memories of the summer and will provide you and your family anticipation of our 2017 summer.   Please note that any Mountainside and Riverside footage is included in the Main Camp sessions that correlate with those dates.   If you haven’t reapplied for this summer, be sure to check our session availability here or contact our office.

U Rock 2016

New Building Construction

A Session Highlights

B Session Highlights

C Session Highlights

D Session Highlights

E Session Highlights


Peace and Joy from all of us to you and yours!

Grant , Anne and the GV Team

Give Thanks and Get Outdoors!

Dear Campers, Parents, and Friends,

One of my favorite times of the year is approaching this week- Thanksgiving and then the Holiday’s for many different faiths just after that.  We here at Gwynn Valley have so much to be thankful for as we roll into this busy season.  Enrollment has been very strong this year and staff hiring is going well as we prepare for another great summer here at camp.  Our building project is progressing nicely (see pics). Anne and I were on the site today meeting with builders and architects to go over details during the construction process.  It’s exciting to envision what the next few months hold as our dreams are created right before our eyes.

Kitchen and Program Office Walls going up

Kitchen and Program Office Walls going up

Looking through the kitchen wall toward Dining Room and Lake

Looking through the kitchen wall toward Dining Room and Lake


Wall separating Dining Room from Kitchen

Wall separating Dining Room from Kitchen

It’s also been very dry weather here and forest fire precautions are at an all time high.  It has been good for building purposes but not so good for our normally rain forest environment.  We haven’t had a good rain here in over a month and a half.  Fires are just to the south of us near the NC/SC border and have been contained to some extent.  We could use about an inch and a half of rainfall to turn this situation around.  Living where we do, I’m optimistic that rains will come and all will be well.

With Thanksgiving just a day away and Black Friday just after, I’m proud that many stores have chosen to close their doors for the day of Thanksgiving and have urged their employees to get together with family and friends.  We believe that family and friends mean a great deal and that our employees deserve time off to rest, re-energize, and reflect on the spirit of the season.  Last year REI, the outdoor retailer, was closed on Black Friday encouraging everyone to Get Outdoors!  We whole heartedly agree.

We find that more and more of our campers come to camp with less and less connection with nature.  While National Parks visits were higher than they’ve ever been last year, the demographics are not what you might think.  It’s the greying generation who are visiting, camping, hiking, and soaking up our brilliant natural resources.  The parks belong to us all but only some are using them.  Seventy one percent of millennials said they would be “very uncomfortable” on a one week vacation without connectivity.

To make a long story short, we encourage you and your family to get outside this weekend at some point.  Go for a hike, ride bikes together, have a picnic if the weather is good, because any time spent outdoors with loved ones is good.  Nature does us a world of good and affects everything from stress hormones to heart rate to brain waves to protein markers and indicates that when we spend time in green space, there is something profound going on.  Research has shown that being outdoors helps lower the incidence of a host of ailments including, anxiety, depression, diabetes, asthma, and migraines.  Outside environs also help those of us with ADD and ADHD.  When we engage outdoors we stimulate areas of our brains responsible for problem solving, critical thinking, decision making, and creative thinking.  We gain curiosity and a sense of balance between our technological world and our natural world.

So… get outdoors over the next few days and spend quality time with family and friends.  We live in and around beautiful places and don’t forget to give thanks for that also!

PS     In the past I’ve posted some videos by Danny MacAskill who is a mountain biker of exceptional skills.  If you or your family mountain bikes, or if you don’t , it’s fun to watch.  Danny is a Scotsman and the video showcases some of Scotland’s natural beauty.  Click on the link below to view Danny MacAskill’s Wee Day Out!

Danny MacAskill’s Wee Day Out

The Spirit of Camp and Election Day!


Dear Parents, Campers and Friends,

We are winding down from probably the most beautiful time of the year (my opinion only) here at camp.  Most of the leaves have fallen and the weather has been brilliant over the past several weeks.  We actually need some rain, but that I’m sure will come.  We’ve had successful home shows on our annual promotional tour, with some yet to occur over the next couple of weeks.  Anne, Maggie, Andy,  and I have enjoyed seeing our camp families on the road and meeting new ones as we travel about the southeast and beyond.  Enrollment is strong and staff hiring is going well.  Our building project is right on schedule with walls and framework beginning in a couple of weeks.  Most of the time since camp ended has been devoted to building a strong foundation for this project and we all know how important strong foundations are in our buildings and our lives.

I communicate this news to you on Election Day, which is and should be a day to celebrate our freedom to choose candidates to represent us on many levels of government and also relish in the fact that we are so fortunate to live in a democracy.   With this backdrop of beauty, progress, and the privilege to exercise our right to vote, I have been disappointed by the way many campaigns have taken a darker path to reach their goals.  For the past many weeks Anne and I have been the recipients of mail, email, social media, phone calls and seen way too many derogatory commercials by candidates trying to vie for our vote.  The mudslinging and fearmongering has reached an all-time high.

Through all this, I think of our children who are witnessing this unnecessary back and forth dialogue that literally shakes the foundations of our lives.  And then I think of camp.  Camp is a place where children and adults come from all walks of life to gather together to learn, live, work and have fun with one another.  Camp is where we teach one another to lay our personal differences aside and enjoy the time we have with old friends and new ones in this beautiful place.   One of our camp values, created by Mary Gwynn, is acceptance. Camp has always been and always will be a “no put down zone”.  No matter who you are or where you come from you will be lifted up and given a chance to experience life in a positive and forgiving setting.  We are not perfect and we know that.  At Gwynn Valley we do our best to create an atmosphere of civility and respect for those who enter our gates.

Let’s utilize this camp spirit as we move forward after this week.  Let us hope and pray for peace and unity in our country no matter who is chosen from the balloting.  It is time to adopt a humble spirit to cross the boundaries and barriers that have polarized our lives for the past many months.  Let us go forth to rekindle a spirit of moving forward together, on common ground.  We must keep those foundations strong for those who are just beginning their lives.  We should mentor and guide these children and young people in the spirit of good citizenship and kindness for all man and woman kind.  We look forward to having your children join us this coming summer here at Gwynn Valley.

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”  Nelson Henderson

Exciting Times Here in the Valley!

Dear Gwynn Valley Friends,

These are exciting times here in the Valley.  Registration has opened for our 2017 season for campers and staff.  After some time off, we’re all back in the office and ready for some great changes coming to camp starting this fall.  As we all know, camp has a long history and many children and adults have come through the doors of Gwynn Valley in the last 81 years.  As we celebrate another great summer and our past, we also must look to envision our future.  We recognize our strengths in working with young people and partnering with parents to create great experiences for children and teens.  In order to offer quality programs we must keep our site up to date and viable as well.  

Many of you know that we are in the process of razing our Dining Room/Kitchen/Upper Dwellings building.  The Upper Dwellings building has occupied our site since the early 1900’s when Camp Connestee for Girls was in operation.  Since that time many additions and renovations have been added to that existing structure.  It has housed everyone from Miss Mary Gwynn to members of the leadership team over the years.  The downstairs has also acted as a “staff living room/counselor lounge”.  In the past 30 plus years, the building has expanded and more renovations, rooflines and facilities have been added.  Last year we began to take a look at our dining room and its aging roof that has been leaking and needed to be replaced.  Dale and his staff and professional contractors have re-roofed and patched it for years.  Due to the low pitch and ceiling height, the dining room has been very warm. The kitchen, where our wonderful food is prepared each day also was a hot environment in which to work and has shown its age and space limitations in recent times.  

Through discussions with architects and contractors it became evident that any work would be fruitless in trying to tie into existing rooflines and structures.  The age and structural integrity of the existing buildings was not going to support a new renovation.  Building code, as it relates to living structures that are attached to kitchens have also changed and the two require a great deal of work to make them safe for all parties involved.  At that point, it became evident that a total remake of the site was needed.  “Livability and workability” are concepts we embraced as we began to look to the future.  We wanted the design of the new building to be enduring, economically vibrant, efficient, functional, aesthetically pleasing and a comfortable place to add to the quality of life here at camp.  With these things in mind we began to move forward in the project for the new center of “downtown GV”.  The project will encompass our dining room, kitchen, program office, a covered outdoor pavilion with a fireplace and a staff living room.  Living quarters from the upper dwellings will be built in another location.  

It’s never easy to give up something that carries so many memories and has been at the center of camp for so long.  Change does not always come easy and we’ve heard many people express their sentiments about the project.  Camp’s site and buildings have been updated a lot in 20 years.  It is time to redesign this facility to work better with our numbers and our program.  The new design will bring so many good things to the table in the next chapter of Gwynn Valley.  Creating a new building also means creating a design that blends into our rustic setting. This will be an important part of the process as we make our way into the construction phase. Sustainability has always been an important part of our philosophy and we are working with electricians, lighting experts, plumbers and builders to utilize every means we can to save energy.  Post and beam rafters will accentuate the inside of the Dining Room and adjacent pavilion that will reach toward our waterfront.  The pavilion will offer a safe space for bad weather as well as a great meeting spot for evening programs and special times.  Final drawings and designs are beautiful.  This opportunity will also allow us to put our overhead power line underground that has spanned the Green for many years.  While we’ve lost a few trees, planting new ones will give us a chance to strategically place them where we need shade as well as open up our view to the Blue Ridge off to the West and North of camp.  Pathways will remain similar to what they are now and gathering areas for meals will be similar to what they have been in the past.  Downtown GV will be virtually the same, with a welcoming doorway for planning program and to partake of the wonderful food that has been a tradition at Gwynn Valley.    

While exciting things are taking place just down the path, we’re also working on revamping our website.  Look for some great new ways to view Gwynn Valley on your computer, tablet and phone.  

In October and November, we will be out on the road promoting camp, seeing our alumni and meeting prospective families.  Look for a gathering near you and bring a friend.  We’re excited about camp and the changes for 2017.   Stay tuned for updates and pictures from our project.

Lets Not Stereotype Girls… We All Get Scared!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Recently I was sent a New York Times article by one of our camp parents entitled “Why Do We Teach Girls That It’s Cute To Be Scared”.  Caroline Paul, who wrote the piece, was one of the first women to join the San Francisco Fire Department.  I can relate to this because I run a coed camp and my father was a career fireman who eventually made Chief of the City Fire Department.  I can remember when he began hiring women firefighters into the department and how much flack he caught from those who felt women couldn’t perform or wouldn’t be able to handle the stress of the job of entering burning buildings.  This was way back in the 70’s.  Needless to say I learned very early that women and girls are up to the task.  I coached a couple of soccer teams after college and had two girls on my middle school age team who went to the ball as bravely as any boy and most of the time they were outsized.  I vividly remember visiting a friend of mine who worked for Outward Bound several years later and going climbing with her in Linville Gorge.  I had been climbing for several years and was a fair lead climber (first up placing gear).  I could not for the life of me make this scary overhang move about half way up the climb and had trouble committing to placing the gear and holding on with one hand.  I was scared.  I backed off and was lowered to the ground and Mary scampered up and blew through it like a butterfly.  Grace, skill, and lack of fear were part of her topping out on the climb that day and belaying me through the crux that I couldn’t do.


I love having women teaching and being program leaders in our adventure programs. It helps young girls understand that they can do anything they set their minds to and young boys understand that gender should not limit what a person can accomplish. The role modeling provided in these situations sends all the right messages that girls pick up from female mentors.

This is nothing short of good solid support for the road ahead and debunking the myths surrounding “timid and scared girls”.  The author of the article talks about a study that states “Girls may be less likely than boys to try challenging physical activities, which are important for developing new skills.  The study points to an uncomfortable truth that we think our daughters are more fragile, both physically and emotionally, than our sons.”  Not true in my world of camp.  Yes, it is true most girls are more emotionally based and that’s a positive because they communicate better from an early age.  Guys mostly just hold it in and are not willing to verbalize like the girls.

A healthy and respectful sense of fear is good for all of us.  At camp we deal with fear in a way that leads to respect, systems, communication, confidence and grit.  We talk about this in staff training in the context of “perceived risk” vs “actual risk”.  The perceived risk is what the camper sees and it’s the actual risk we’re most concerned about.  In designing program we leave the perceived risk to their discernment and control the actual risk.  We do everything in our power to provide proper instruction, the right equipment and practice in an appropriately progressive way to enable most campers to move forward in a “scary” situation.  The bonus here is they will have multiple chances to try again and hopefully succeed.  Failure is a whole other topic we could talk about here, but let’s get back to our campers.


Camp is a great place to instill the aspects of making the best people. We are equal opportunity dispensers of fun and fear in all the right ways.  Girls have all the same opportunities right alongside their male counterparts and I see this daily here at Gwynn Valley.  It is our obligation to assist campers with making good choices whether it’s on the rock or in cabin/program interactions.   Learning how to communicate about these aspects of navigating life’s challenges and risks are also a part of our work.   At camp, being scared is not gender based.  Our boys and girls need to experience camp participating and learning from one another.  As one camper states in our video “We’re not going to live our lives separate with regard to gender.”  We use the same terms for boys and girls when we think of bravery, grit and resilience as well as compassion when fear does exist.  These are some very big buzzwords in growing young people into healthy and mentally strong adults.  As stated above, we are equal opportunity dispensers of providing the right values to grow in the Gwynn Valley garden of life.

To check out the article from the Times click on this link:      

Happy Presidents’ Day!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Happy Presidents’ Day and hope all is well where you are.  In my last news update on our website, I mentioned that our leadership staff, Andy, Maggie, Barbara, Anne and I were headed to the American Camping Association’s National Conference, held in Atlanta last week.  We had a wonderful time soaking up information and networking with other camp directors from all over the US.  There were over 150 sessions offered to attendees and we divided and conquered for those three and a half days.  The overall content of the sessions were great and each carries some valuable information for us as we head toward our summer season.  There were also three keynote speakers that had their own message on the value of the work that camp is doing with children in our country.


On the drive home we shared much information and will be meeting in the days ahead to bring together the information we harvested from those fruitful and fun days.  Leadership was a major theme throughout our time there and is appropriate on this Presidents’ Day to remind ourselves of the awesome responsibility we hold in guiding the lives of so many children while they are at camp.  It’s a joy and privilege to be a part of Gwynn Valley.  John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”. We really enjoy the chance to learn more about the work we do and we look forward to leading our staff and children into the best possible summer ever here at camp.

Making Camp Better!

Dear Parents and Friends,

Tomorrow Feb. 9th, several of us on our leadership team head out to the American Camp Association’s National Conference in Atlanta, GA.  It is 4 days of sessions, speakers, other camp directors and middle management staff all together for the purpose of creating the best possible camping experience for children.  We try and attend this conference every year because it is full of quality education, social and issue based sessions, a lot of networking, and is a boost to everyone’s professional development. Creativity abounds and the sharing of ideas flow freely as we immerse ourselves in the world of enriching children’s lives through camp.

Sat AA 038

The key to this, as Anne says, is to come home and really implement much of that wisdom that we’ve soaked up.  It’s so easy to just keep doing the things we’ve been doing for years and it takes more work to implement change.  The theme for this year’s conference is “Envision”.  The world is changing fast and “Camping” has changed a great deal since I got involved many moons ago.   Summer camp is actually  much better for the child than it’s ever been.  We know a whole lot more about child development and what makes children tick.  And children do tick differently in the camp environs.  It’s a proven fact.  Add some great programming to that and the learning and fun begins.

Mon ASA, Campfire 031

And while change and vision are good, some aspects don’t change like the values that make Gwynn Valley a great place to spend a session of camp.  Technology has crept into how we run camp but it stops at the office door and does not interfere with gaining a greater sense of self through relationship building in a nature focused environment.  Through the years we’ve added new programs like mountain biking, ropes courses, stand up paddle boarding, more sophisticated arts and so on.  The essence of all these is learning through doing and gaining confidence and resilience in our human powered environment.  We empower children to seize opportunities, to make new friends and try new things independent of parents.  Children at camp learn to create their own fun without the aid of electronics and sometimes with the simplest objects they can collect.  We do a great job of teaching camp skills as well as real life skills.  Where the real growth comes is when they are working with one another in a cooperative relationship and building trust and competence in communication, acceptance and a greater appreciation of the simple joys of childhood.  Of course all this is done under the guidance of a great staff.  As Maggie says, “The camp environment creates the best version of ourselves”.

Sat MA 025

Life moves fast and our value of simplicity speaks large in slowing us down to learn where our food comes from and how much work it takes to get those potatoes out of the ground and to the table.  When you get your hands dirty and find those balls of carbohydrates just below the surface, food takes on a whole different perspective.  How many children will ever get a chance to feed a baby calf or milk a mother cow.  That whole circle of life theme can be found every day at our farm.

Camp does children a world of good and we aim to fill our cups this week and bring back more of the good for Gwynn Valley.  Stay tuned!