Nature Camp Activities

Rockbrook is a nature camp for children set among fantastic natural beauty. It's natural surroundings include 3 large waterfalls, 2 prominent rock face cliffs, record old-growth trees and the French Broad River.

Rockbrook is dedicated to getting girls outside, to providing nature camp programing that inspires them to learn more about and appreciate the natural world. The lasting benefits for children that follow this broad immersion in nature are wonderful parts of camp.

Drastically Different

July 30, 2013

Camp girl sitting by a creekDuring another tour this week, I was struck how the setting at Rockbook is in many ways extreme. It’s so drastically different from the straight lines, smooth surfaces and pure tones of the outside, “civilized” world. Around here, the complex forces of nature, the curls and swirls of natural beauty, shape us and provide so many wonderful— wonder-filled —experiences… slabs of grey granite jutting from the ground at odd angles, clear streams sparkling in the sunshine, ancient trees too large to hug, tiny insects busy scavenging the ground, shaded by fractal-shaped ferns. Rockbrook has this organic feeling, and it’s something we cherish and foster. Rather than level every stepping stone, trim back each encroaching rhododendron branch, or eradicate all of the spiders that might wander into the showers, we want life at Rockbrook to include the natural world (at least a healthy, regular dose). It’s a priority that informs a great deal of what we do.

Camp is simply outdoor living. It’s a life immersed in, rather than shielded completely from, the weather. It’s a daily encounter with unfamiliar (and happy, given all the rain we’ve been having this summer!) plants. Tiny critters cross our path all the time. It’s a life that weaves mysterious forest sounds with the constant rush of water coming down the mountain. Camp means having a flashlight ready when it starts to get dark, belting a wide-eyed scream after jumping in our very unheated lake, and ultimately getting a little grubby most days… Perhaps I should say “extremely grubby,” in many cases. After all, these are enthusiastic children playing outside, and they’re not holding back. If you can imagine your girls living outside for this many days, probably not caring too much about how wet and grimy their clothes become, you might be extra cautious when you open their trunks back home! Fighting “Nature Deficit Disorder” like this, is just bound to be messy.

Camp horseback riding lesson for girlsHmmm… Maybe by insisting that our kids always be perfectly clean and starched, we are contributing to this deficit, compounding the negative effects associated with it.

The equestrian staff has been celebrating the recent stretch of dry weather we’ve all been enjoying. It’s been an extraordinarily wet summer this year, and that has been frustrating our riding program because when our fields are wet and muddy, they become too slippery to ride safely. Now, we are finally teaching mounted lessons all day long, helping girls learn the basics of horsemanship, and progressing to more advanced skills when they are ready. I think everyone —staff members, campers and horses alike— are happy to be busy riding.

Camp girls ready to go backpackingChristina, one of our fantastic Adventure Trip Leaders, led a group of girls backpacking and camping at a spot known by some as the “Enchanted Forest.” This truly is a magical place to camp. Tucked a couple of miles into the Pisgah National Forest, a large stand of White Pine trees lines both side of the trail as it follows a small stream. Decades worth of brown pine needles cover the ground with ferns and other clubmosses providing green accents. After packing in their tents, food and water, the girls spent a wonderful night in the forest— roasting marshmallows around their campfire, goofing around and chatting late into the night, and feeling a morning chill the next day.

Camp girls ready for whitewater actionAll of the mini session Middlers and Seniors who wanted to go whitewater rafting took their trip today. With a few remaining full sessions girls joining them, this turned out to be 55 campers. About half of those elected to spend the night beforehand at our Nantahala outpost property in Swain County. This is another chance to be outside and enjoy a campfire, complete with s’mores of course, before bed. The girls had a grand time singing songs, taking turns telling jokes, all while staring hypnotically at the flickering fire. Around 9am we met our veteran rafting guides and all of the RBC gear at the river’s put-in, and after suiting up and hearing the guides’ safety instructions, the rafting hit the water under glorious, bright sunshine. For the next two hours, it was a wild ride filled with laughing and squeals of delight with every crashing wave of the rapids.  This last photo was taken at the final big rapid called the “Nantahala Falls” and as you can see, it’s a great one. After a good sized hole at the top, all of the river channels in a Class III drop producing this kind of splash. It never fails to get everyone’s heart pumping, and once safely at the bottom, a smile on their faces.

Kids whitewater rafting on the Nantahala river


Rockbrook’s Harvestmen

March 23, 2012

Daddy Long Legs SpiderProbably the most common arachnid (the class that includes spiders) you see around Rockbrook is this little guy. You probably recognize him as a “Daddy Long legs Spider.” And you’ve also probably heard that they are the “most poisonous spider in the world,” but (luckily!) they are not dangerous because their “fangs are too small and short to bite through people’s skin.” With that kind of reputation, this is definitely a little scary no matter what.

The problem is; it’s not true. Also known as Harvestmen, these little guys do not in fact have fangs or any venom at all. It is true their mouth parts are quite small, so they can’t bite you. Overall, they’re totally harmless. They also don’t spin webs because they lack silk producing glands. It fact, technically speaking they aren’t even spiders! They do have eight legs and are in the same biological class as spiders, but are in a different order. It’s just a big misconception that seems to be repeated every summer at camp.

There are more than 100 species of Harvestmen in North America, and they are particularly common in rich deciduous forests (like Rockbrook!) where there are lots of other small insects, fungi, and plant matter they like to eat. When you’re at camp this summer, keep an eye out for these fascinating, and harmless, forest critters.


Children and Nature

May 17, 2010

We’ve talked about Richard Louv before, here, here and here, but I just found this video of him discussing the importance of nature for children.  It’s a short introduction to Louv’s notion of “Nature Deficit Disorder.”  Check it out!


Nature at Camp

April 16, 2009

Nature Girl Camper

As a parent, have you ever felt you were driving around in circles, literally driving your kids from home to school, to sports or dance practice, to other lessons or weekly events? Would you say that your kids are scheduled and busy most of the time? Do they spend most of their time inside, and when they do have free time, how do they spend it? Watching TV, on the Internet, text messaging?

All of this is valuable, of course, with each activity exposing children to new ideas, information and challenges, but there’s a growing awareness that if overemphasized it can create problems as well. It’s becoming clear that children need time with nature too. They need the opportunity to explore the outdoors, to play outside without the time constraints of school, to feel the elements and reconnect with the wonders of the natural world.

The Children and Nature Network is an non-profit organization dedicated to researching this issue and providing resources for encouraging children’s health through outdoor activity and experience.  It’s a great place to learn about the importance for children of direct experience of nature.

Summer camps, thankfully, are still ways for children to recover from the “nature deficit” they endure throughout the school year.  Nature and camp just go together. Particularly at an overnight camp like Rockbrook, nature is a constant companion— the earthy smell, the feel of the weather, the surprising creatures, the plant life that’s everywhere you look.  Sure camp offers crafts, adventure, sports and lots of silly fun, but every minute is also a chance to be with nature.  It’s the greatest feeling, and is also, incredibly good for you.


Nature and the Fall Season

September 22, 2008

Teen Camp Girls Rockbrook on the Blue Ridge Parkway

We just noticed a few maple leaves turning red, and sure enough today in the first day of fall. Hurray! Here in Brevard, in the northern hemisphere, this is the autumnal equinox, and it’s that time of the year when the sun rises and sets exactly in the east and west.

You might think that this also means the equinox is that time of the year when the sun rises and sets at the same time in the morning and evening (making the day and night the same length), but this is not the case.  The reason for this is a little complicated, but it has to do with the size of the sun and the curvature of the earth.  Here’s an article that explains about it.

Your time at camp and all the fun you had this summer may seem like a distant memory, but just think, you’re now that much closer to next summer! Only three more seasons to go!


Nature Camp for Girls

March 7, 2007

Outdoor Play in Nature

Richard Louv, who we’ve mentioned before, has published a new and interesting article discussing the benefits of outdoor play, the problems caused when it’s neglected, and what we might do to encourage it. The article is in the March-April 2007 issue of Orion magazine, and is entitled “Leave No Child Inside” (link to the full article). Louv has no trouble documenting an overall decline in the amount of time American kids spend outside, and likewise the numerous problems associated with this “virtual house arrest” (“threats to their independent judgment and value of place, to their ability to feel awe and wonder, to their sense of stewardship for the Earth—and, most immediately, threats to their psychological and physical health”).

Despite the forces behind this “nature-deficit disorder” (“disappearing access to natural areas, competition from television and computers, dangerous traffic, more homework, and other pressures”), Louv also finds a “growing movement to reconnect children and nature.” What’s crucial here is the positive childhood experience of nature most of us adults share and recall fondly. No matter what our current profession, level of income, or political views, we love those experiences… turning over rocks in the stream, hiking through tall ferns, catching a glimpse of a hawk overhead… and we want our children to have them too. Louv’s point is that with this kind of broad agreement on an issue, we should be able to do something about it. There’s power to this movement because “no one among us wants to be a member of the last generation to pass on to its children the joy of playing outside in nature.”

P.S. Cory Doctorow has written about Louv here as well.


Nature Girls

January 24, 2007

North Carolina Land Snail

What a great shot! Could it be the rare Noonday Globe Snail (Mesodon clarki nantahala) found only in North Carolina? We’re not sure, but we think it’s a really cool example of the discovery that nature provides girls around camp (It’s lush, to say the least!). A camper in the photography activity took this photo last summer wandering around camp.


Nature Camps

November 15, 2006

Nature Camp Writing Spider

Yikes! What’s that?! It’s a spider Sarah spotted at camp a few weeks ago, and odds are it’s a female Writing Spider (Arigiope aurantia). It’s actually a very common spider in North America, and is also known as the “Black and Yellow Garden Spider” or (even cooler!) the “Golden Orb Weaver.” It’s famous for the intricate web patterns it weaves, the web it “writes” with X marks along the strands.

There’s lots to learn about these amazing spiders. Here’s a nice article (with photos) describing the Biogeography of the Writing Spider.

Having a chance to marvel at creatures like this is one of the wonderful parts of nature camps like Rockbrook. You never know what cool critter you’ll find.

Oh, and don’t worry! The writing spider is not considered poisonous to people.


Good advice about Nature from Emily

September 12, 2006

“Are you scared of spiders? Because you shouldn’t be. Spiders eat creepy crawly things that you don’t want around. When you see a spider web do you scream? Because you shouldn’t! Instead you should stand back and admire its beauty. Just remember, spiders won’t hurt you unless you hurt them. Also, “Grand Daddy Long Legs” are friendly and harmless. They are the most common of spiders at Rockbrook.”

–Emily T., camper 2006


Nature Lore at Rockbrook circa 1925

February 16, 2006

Here is a page taken from the Rockbrook Camp catalog in 1925. Only four years after the camp’s founding, it’s a wonderful window into the traditions of those early years.