Biltmore Train

It’s long been a theme of mine to point out how camp is different from life at home. It obviously is. After all, that’s why you send your girls. You want them to have the sort of unique experiences camp provides— opportunities to explore, worry-free time with friends, a break from technology, more fun, etc. There’s no doubt that what girls do at camp, what they get at camp, how they feel at camp, is different than their lives at home. We love that Rockbrook provides a strong sense of community, regular moments of adventure and creativity, genuine kindness practiced and received, constant face-to-face communication, and all in a beautiful setting and among really great people. It’s worth identifying these differences because I believe they are what make camp not only delightful and often surprising, but also inherently educational and formative. How a particular difference makes a difference is usually interesting to consider.

ice cream summer camp staff
ice cream cone girl

So I’m always on the look out for ways that camp life differs from the “real world.” A good example happened today after lunch when we surprised the girls with the “Biltmore Train.” This is a special event that’s become a tradition of sorts at Rockbrook, something that many of the returning campers look forward to each year. Its name is derived from the Biltmore Estate, the property near Asheville built by George Vanderbilt between 1889 and 1895. The estate originally included a working farm, and a commercial dairy that would deliver milk products to local businesses. On a regular basis, a truck from the Biltmore Dairy would come to Rockbrook to bring milk products, in particular, ice cream. These trucks were decorated with a train motif, probably as a nod to the Vanderbilt family’s ties to the railroad business in America. It soon became a tradition for Rockbrook girls to meet the truck/train as it pulled into camp, and enjoy a cone of Biltmore ice cream right there on the spot.

The Biltmore dairy has since closed (It has a become a winery and tourist destination.), but we still celebrate the memory by holding an all-camp ice cream party once per session. But there’s a twist. The girls are allowed to have “unlimited” scoops of ice cream, but they only get one cone. Their strategy is to carefully (and quickly!) eat the ice cream out of the cone, and get back in line for a refill. Eat ice cream, not cone, and repeat… making a train! With each trip though, the cone begins to disintegrate, ultimately becoming a soggy blob incapable of holding any more ice cream. For the determined, it’s possible to end up with four or even five scoops. There’s a rumor that someone once ate 15 scoops, but I think that’s impossible.

summer camp ice cream party
ice cream eating campers

Today’s Biltmore Train after lunch was exciting and fun. We had three stations set up, each with three different tubs of different flavors. This shortened the lines, and spread out the significant work our counselors did hand scooping all those cones. In the sunny and warm afternoon, the girls had a blast refilling their cones, chatting and laughing. As the cones softened, they also got a little messy, hands and faces becoming stained and sticky. But that too was part of the fun.

I asked a couple of campers if they were enjoying the event, and one said, “Oh yeah, I love ice cream!” Another, older camper said, “yes, but I’m only getting 2 scoops. That’s enough for me. You might wish for unlimited ice cream, but when you get it, it’s too much.”

How insightful! A big part of the fun of the Biltmore Train is the chance to eat multiple scoops of ice cream. Different from home where parents wisely put a limit on such a sugary treat, the campers can have their wishes for more come true at camp. But with those wishes come the consequences of getting messy and perhaps having a stomach ache. Too much of a good thing, and it can easily become bad. Or at least uncomfortable!

The Biltmore Train event is another opportunity at camp for the girls to make their own decisions, in this case how much ice cream to eat. It’s strange and exciting in its excess, but at the same time a little serious because it can end up making you feel bad if you go too far. It’s a decision of degree, of “how much” rather than “yes or no.”

It’s great to see the girls play with this decision, and to gain some experience that will help them down the road, both in knowing how much ice cream is too much, and in knowing that some decisions are matters of degree. I suspect most of the campers don’t appreciate this aspect of the Biltmore Train at camp, but it appears that some do… sticky faces and all.

summer camp kids making heart

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