With the end of the school year in sight and warmer days finally arriving, parents are getting their summer calendars organized. Their summer plans must be soon crystallized for the whole family. The range of possibilities for summer activities can almost be overwhelming.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here are sports camps, art camps, religious camps, private camps, and agency camps, all varying in length, price, and focus. Many parents who wanted their child to attend a traditional summer camp needed to sign up by Christmas, or even earlier, to be sure to get a spot. Some even registered the day after their child got out of camp for the following year, as returning campers usually get preference. With summer vacations getting shorter every year, where would their child be happiest and for how long? Will their child be near home or perhaps at an adventure camp some miles away? Will it be a full session camp or a day camp? How much is this all going to cost? Decisions need to be made.
Few are really aware of the impact that summer camps in Western North Carolina have on the economy of this area. Some fine and old camps are found in New England, Texas, Maine, and Minnesota, but this area has at least fifty of the finest camps in the country. The beauty of the mountains combined with its refreshing summer climate has made this area a haven for summer camps to thrive and flourish. Campers come from all over the United States and from many foreign countries. The camps are often surrounded by large tracts of land with ponds, fields, riding facilities and tennis courts. An amazing array of activities are provided for the campers to enjoy. Lasting friendships are made at these camps, where someone has had their first place to learn and grow as an individual away from their parents. Lasting memories are made. There are many well recognized camps in the area, such as Camp Falling Creek, Highlander, Illahee, Kahdalea, Keystone, Merrie-Woode, Rockmont, and Timberlake to name only a few. As adults many of the campers return to attend a college nearby, to work or live in the area they remember so fondly. The residual economic influence on this area has been enormous.
An Economic Impact Study
An economic impact study was furnished to Capital at Play by the North Carolina Youth Camp Association (NCYCA). A team of researchers from North Carolina State University in January 2011 quantified the impact to the region as representing more than $360 million in total economic impact. The study collected data from camp directors, camp staff, and camp families based on camp information from the summer of 2010. A total of 45 camps participated with a total of 40 usable surveys representing 50 camps from Western North Carolina. From staff data, approximately 540 usable surveys were collected representing 5,477 total staff. Seasonal staff, who traveled specifically to Western North Carolina because of the residential camps, were shown to spend an average of $2,402 during their stay (before, during, and after camp) in Western North Carolina. (We encourage you to view this complete survey on the NCYCA website.) According to the study, four counties: Buncombe County (13 camps represented with $103 million), Henderson County (17 camps represented with $126 million), Jackson County (2 camps represented with $11.5 million), and Transylvania County (18 camps represented with $120 million), made up this figure. The study also estimated a direct economic impact of over $200 million, more than 10,000 full-time equivalent jobs created in addition to camp staff, $260 million in increased resident income, and $33 million in new tax revenues during the summer of 2010. This astounding figure has undoubtedly increased since 2011, as the United States economy was only beginning to rebound then from the depth of the recession.
(of camps surveyed for NCYCA)
Land Usage :
Acres (avg) owned : 399 acres
Acres (total) of all camps : 19,376 acres
Acres (total) in conservation of all camps : 3,000+ acres
Local Economy :
Miles (avg) camp families live from camp : 500 miles (max distance recorded was 8,500 miles)
Overnight lodging, number of nights (avg) in hotel/motel : 4.14
Camps using local food product : 74%
(as a percentage of total $7,659,272)
Equipment/Maintenance – 4%
Program Equipment – 5%
Vehicles – 6%
Horses and other Livestock – 6%
Ground Improvements – 6%
New or Renovated Buildings – 57%
Other Capital Expenditures – 16%
Annual direct spending of all camps (combined) :
Average Camp Operating Expenditures:
(as a percentage of total $61,143,278)
Staff Expenditures – 36%
Insurance Benefits – 11%
Taxes – 10%
Food Service – 9%
Other Operating – 10%
Occupancy – 7%
Transportation – 3%
Administrative – 3%
Program – 5%
Health Service – 1%
Staff (other) – 1%
Marketing – 2%
Contract Service – 2%
Traditional American Camps in the Area
Keystone Camp is one of the oldest private summer camps still in existence in the Southeast. It opened in the summer of 1916 when Miss Florence Ellis and Miss Fanny Holt brought a group of 11 girls from Jacksonville, Florida, to Brevard, North Carolina, for the summer. Page Lemel is the fourth generation director, after having spent many summers as a camper, counselor and head counselor before taking over the director’s position. This girls’ camp, which takes campers from kindergarten through 9th grade, strives to develop the total girl on an individual basis, offering a wide variety of activities and programs. She said that 90% of the campers that come are from outside of North Carolina (California, Florida, Texas, and elsewhere) and that many come from foreign countries, such as Haiti, Brazil, Turkey, Egypt, Russia, Spain, and Costa Rica. These are often the children of executives of international companies who have been sent to foreign countries and want their child to grow up knowing the American camping cultural experience. Keystone Camp plans to celebrate their 100th anniversary in July of 2016 with many returning alumnae.
In speaking with Page about camps, she said that the growth of camp life in the United States goes back to the Civil War era, as a reaction to urbanization. People wanted their children to have a greater contact and a better understanding of the outdoors, as farmers left for large cities and the cities grew larger. One of the oldest camps in the United States is Camp Keewaydin, a canoe camp in Vermont and Canada, which was established in 1894. The campers from the ages of ten through eighteen are assigned to wigwams and often cook over open fires. [Editor’s Note: I happen to remember my brother, David, returning from this camp in Canada, the summer he turned sixteen. He had to cook using a reflector oven, sometimes lighting the fire in the wilderness by striking flint stones. When he returned to North Carolina, his neck had enlarged to eighteen-and-a-half inches—due to the portaging of the canoe on his head from lake to lake or crossing to another river.]
Falling Creek Camp is a boys’ camp for ages six to sixteen on a 545-acre paradise in Tuxedo, North Carolina. Yates and Marisa Pharr closed on Falling Creek Camp in September 2005, to begin realizing their lifelong dream. Yates Pharr had been a successful commercial real estate professional in Charlotte. In 1999 he became an executive with the Biltmore Farms Company in Asheville, where he helped Jack Cecil develop the highly successful Biltmore Park. When the opportunity arose to become a part of Falling Creek, he and his wife couldn’t resist. He had once been a camper there himself, where he developed a passion for the outdoors. Under enthusiastic leadership with carefully chosen counselors, boys spend a camping session, where they develop life long friendships.
Many years later, the details of their outlandish adventures will be retold! However, the new campers must deal with a major reality as they arrive at the camp, which is the absence of any electronic equipment—no communication with others by electronics. Campers and parents understand the policy and recognize the benefit of children building face to face communications skills, as well as the importance of being in touch with nature. The big attraction for sending children to camp is to allow them to grow and find their individuality in a safe, wholesome, and beautiful setting. The camper has the time to discover what he or she is good at and what they enjoy doing with no parental influence. Could it be fishing, sailing, mountain biking, hiking, lacrosse, or backpacking? Could it be something musical or artistic? There are an infinite number of activities from which to choose. As Pharr says, “The camp experience allows you to build the skills necessary for paddling and tennis, but you build life skills—how to get along with each other and how to be independent and make decisions for yourself. You can’t do that in the classroom setting.”
Frank Tindall is currently an associate director with Falling Creek. Frank now sees himself as a counselor to the counselors at a camp with 312 boys and 125 staff, mostly college students. He had gained a lot of experience when thirty years ago he and his wife Elizabeth, just out of college, took a giant step by purchasing Camp Illahee, a girls’ camp in Brevard. Fortunately they were both passionate about the idea and willingly accepted all the challenges this decision encompassed. They needed to wear many hats. They had just taken on a 24-hour-a-day job, year round. Besides the weighty responsibility of caring for the lives of so many young eager campers, they needed to be good stewards of the property as well. In addition, although Illahee opened in 1921, he and Elizabeth wanted to promote Illahee in off-season months for it to grow and prosper. This meant traveling far and wide, making multiple presentations in many cities and homes. In addition, they needed to recruit capable counselors and staff with good leadership skills and positive role models. A camp is a growing, living entity that has a strong impact on many lives.
Another well known girls’ camp in Sapphire, North Carolina, is Camp Merrie-Woode. Founded in 1919, their mission is stated on their website as: “Merrie-Woode is a sanctuary of rarest beauty which inspires a long lasting awareness of God’s presence. The Mission of Camp Merrie-Woode is to use that setting to nurture the physical, intellectual, and spiritual growth of girls and young women through traditional camp activities and outdoor adventures. In this friendly, non-competitive community of simplified living, each individual is valued for who she is and who she will become.” There are 200 girls with approximately 100 in staff on this 390-acre property on Lake Fairfield, which is surrounded by striking granite-sided mountains and lush greenery that drops into the water. The alumnae have been actively buying property surrounding the camp in order to protect it from real estate development, which has been changing the Sapphire Valley resort area so noticeably in the last fifteen years. In fact, in 1978 the Merrie-Woode Foundation, a nonprofit corporation, purchased the camp, so in effect the camp is now owned by the former campers. They were determined to preserve the serene beauty of their beloved camp in the midst of North Carolina’s majestic mountains.
What about an Adventure Camp?
Besides a traditional camp experience, parents may choose to send their child on an adventure trip with Moondance Adventures, based in Asheville. In 1996, Hayes Hitchens started this extraordinary adventure travel camp for both boys and girls from the ages of twelve to eighteen. He arranges and provides youth of similar ages to travel together to some of the world’s most glorious places. It has been described as an “out of the box” life changing experience. Who wouldn’t want to earn SCUBA certification in Belize, then dive in Belize’s Barrier Reef to see the extraordinary living coral there, or improve their fly fishing techniques with professional guides on the Snake River in Wyoming, or climb the 19,340-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro before the glacier has completely melted? The teenagers get to experience this adventure with friends of the same age, taking on responsibilities and learning about teamwork with an enthusiastic guide. Some have described the trip “as the best three weeks of my life.” There is much laughter, fun and excitement. This year new adventure trips have been added, such as a trip to South Africa (to the Indian Ocean, and the Kruger National Park), Vietnam and Cambodia (see Ho Chi Minh City and the Temples of Cambodia’s Ankor Wat), and to Maui (with sea kayaking on the majestic waters of Makena).
Hayes began working with teenagers nearly 40 years ago at his grandfather’s Camp Deerhorn in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. He knows and understands the needs of teenagers and arranges his trips accordingly. The group size is usually ten to twelve people; in most groups the age difference is no more than two years; the leaders are over 21 years of age, and are well educated. They connect and communicate well with teenagers, inspire them, and are knowledgeable. Moondance subcontracts guide service for technical activities, such as rock climbing, mountaineering, or sea kayaking. Safety is of utmost importance. It is first and foremost in everything they do. All necessary precautions are taken to ensure the safety of the travelers. The leaders will have had special training here in Asheville for two weeks prior to the departure. They have also had extensive training in wilderness programs. There are currently approximately 600 teenagers already signed up for this summer and very few open slots are available. To note, Hayes too requires the teenagers to “unplug” electronically, and no drugs or alcohol are ever tolerated; the child will be sent home.
As Genna Harris, admissions director, says, “Moondance offers four different types of adventures for teens: Discovery Adventures focus on introductory-level adventure travel; Classic Adventures with an emphasis on moderately challenging multisport adventure; Leadership Adventures which encourage student leadership in a variety of challenging and rewarding wilderness environments; and Community Service Adventures for middle and high school students designed to provide cultural awareness, global exploration, and goodwill.”
With colleges requiring more and more students to have been involved in community service, the Community Service trips have been popular. For instance, Moondance students might volunteer at an elephant foundation in Northern Thailand or work in agriculture in Ecuador by taking cattle, sheep, and donkeys to graze in the field and collect eggs from the chickens in the morning.
Shorter Sessions and Day Camps
Summer day camps and programs are available throughout Western North Carolina. The sessions are usually short, maybe just for a week or two. Some are just mornings or just afternoons. For those interested in drama, the N.C. Stage Company in downtown Asheville is offering a two-week acting, dance, music, and stage craft camp in late July and early August. A student will learn, grow, and have fun learning to be on stage, learning to act, and how a play is put together. The camp runs Monday through Friday from nine to three.
The Hickory Nut Gap Farm Camp in Fairview offers art, riding, and drama for boys and girls from ages six to thirteen. There are five camp sessions running from June 16th to July 18th. Annie Ager and her sister Susie Hamilton offer their students a relaxed day, filled with fun and learning. Horseback riding is taught on gentle horses. In addition, campers create their own individual piece of pottery, a colorful painting or a drawing—under Susie’s talented guidance. The Hickory Nut Gap Camp offers swimming as well as drama experience.
The Asheville Racquet Club has three sports camps for children. Their Adventure Camp has many fun activities, such as tree climbing, wild water rafting, and soaring through the air on ziplines. This is for both boys and girls ages eight to fifteen. Boys and girls between the ages of four and seven can go to The Little Sneakers camp with tennis, arts and crafts, and other fun filled day activities. The All Sports Camp, is for ages seven to fourteen and offers a number of sports activities. These are one week camp sessions from June 16th until August 15th, 2014. Membership at Asheville Raquet Club is not required to participate in the summer camps.
In addition, UNC Asheville is offering several sport camps this summer, with baseball, basketball, volleyball, and soccer. There are many such athletic camps all around the area, many held at high schools and colleges. In Greenville, South Carolina, Paul Scarpa, who has coached the men’s tennis team since 1966 at Furman University, holds a well attended co-ed tennis camp there for ages nine through seventeen during the summer, where tennis strokes are honed and improved.
As high school students begin to age out of traditional camps and life guarding jobs, their thoughts might begin to turn to the next step they are planning to take: college. A summer program has been put together to help with this next step. It is called Blueprint Signature Summer Programs. A fun, inspired customized curriculum for high school students is held on a number of college campuses nationwide. The students stay in the dormitories on campus, while taking a course for one or two weeks to help pave their way and make the transition easier. George Washington University in Washington D.C. and the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, are the two campuses closest to this area, although the students can go to California, Massachusetts, or Pennsylvania.
There are four core courses: business, creative writing, forensics, and psychology, and while students must choose one of the former as their summer “major,” all students participate in daily college prep seminars. Guidance in the form of a course is given to students to help prepare them with the necessary tools to get into the college of their choice. At Blueprint they take steps to learn independence and take courses they are really excited about. On their website it says they “offer tangible takeaways that actually prepare you for college, like practice essays, a college-ready calendar, and your own top-ten college choices. You’ll also come home with the confidence to transition from where you are, to where you’re going.”
Let’s think about this…
A decision needs to be made on exactly what your son or daughter will be doing this summer. Will it be a traditional camp away from home, an adventure camp somewhere afar, a sports camp, or an introduction to a new skill? What is the best fit? Perhaps one needs to be reminded of Allan Sherman’s song from the ’60s about going off to camp. “Hello Muddah, hello Fadduh. Here I am at Camp Grenada. Camp is very entertaining, and they say we’ll have some fun, if it stops raining. I went hiking with Joe Spivy. He developed poison ivy. You remember Leonard Skinner. He got ptomaine poisoning last night after dinner…” and so the song continues until the last verse: “Wait a minute, it stopped hailing. Guys are swimming; guys are sailing. Playing baseball, gee that’s better. Muddah, Fadduh, please disregard this letter.”Here’s hoping the summer will be filled with easy living and happy days for everyone.