A Camper Perspective

As it’s only my 2nd year, I still don’t really know the complete “ropes” to the camp. I first arrived during my CA year (banquet year!), as COVID-19 delayed my final “regular” senior year of high school. In my opinion, it was a great year to begin my Rockbrook experience.

summer camp horse riders

COVID restrictions changed my first year of camp. Apparently, I didn’t really experience all of camp, but I never would have guessed. Even with missing out on a few in-camp events, there were so many opportunities to go out of camp on adventures. For example, I went rafting, hiking, and whitewater kayaking. Those trips allowed me to gain skills, knowledge and memories that I’ll never forget.

That’s the spirit of Rockbrook, in my opinion. It’s not just about friends, the food, or the lake. It’s not all about the activities (even though they’re all very fun!) or who’s doing what. In my opinion, it’s all about the new skills, new emotions, and new memories that will last a lifetime.

Another thing about camp that I love is the inclusivity of camp. Everyone here is so open and welcoming of everyone else. For example, as a Hi-Up, we can go to any evening program. So I go to the Senior skits dressed in a full banana decor and no one bats an eye.

The camp spirit is unique too. It carries on even when a girl goes home. I’ve seen it from many people, including myself! Girls bring home the embracing nature of camp. They also bring back positivity and happiness along with new skills such as resolving simple conflicts with compromises, how to help reduce their fears, and how to help others with their confidence.

Camp is truly a magical place for me. When I arrived at camp, I jumped out of the car, smiled, and said, “I’m home!” Whether girls have been at Rockbrook for 5 years or 5 days. I can speak for the RBC community when I tell you that Rockbrook is our happy place. One of our favorite places on earth, but most importantly, our home away from home.

Claire Herrnstein

camp pasture hore ride

A Parent Perspective

I am the proud mother of a Rockbrook camper. This is my daughter’s second year at Rockbrook. For her first year, we decided to sign her up for the mini-session to see if summer camp was something she was going to enjoy. When we picked her up last summer, she let us know without hesitation that she was ready to go back for the full session, which is almost 3 weeks long. As I write this and reflect on what summer camp means to me as a parent, she is back at Rockbrook enjoying all that camp has to offer.

girl ready for summer camp

The moments leading up to camp drop-off are always emotional. This year, as we waited in the car line, I watched my daughter go back and forth between happiness and excitement (after all, she had been waiting for this all year!) to being nervous and anxious. She recognized the lake she had so much fun in last summer but then realized this meant we were getting closer to the drop-off point. After we unloaded her trunk and she realized it was time for us to say goodbye, she started to cry, just as she did the previous year. This year, however, she was not the only one; I also had some tears as we drove away from camp. 

Sending your child off to sleepaway camp is not easy. Aside from the obvious fact of how much I would miss her, there were lots of other things I worried about. Would she do a thorough job of brushing her teeth? Would she remember to put on sunscreen? Would she eat any vegetables over the next couple of weeks? More importantly, would she be able to fall asleep without the goodnight hugs and kisses from Mom and Dad that she was used to? Would she miss the nightly ritual of being tucked into her own bed? What would happen if she got homesick or felt left out? 

In the end, I know she will be fine. At Rockbrook, she is surrounded by an incredible staff trained to handle all types of situations and wonderful, caring counselors (many who were Rockbrook campers themselves!) who have secret tricks up their sleeves to help homesick campers. Not to mention, she is in a cabin full of friends who are also probably feeling a little sad about missing home. And, as she settles into camp life and I start to see photos of her smiling with her friends, I know I will be okay too. 

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that camp has so many benefits for children: the opportunity to try new activities, developing confidence and self-esteem, learning social skills, and building lifelong friendships. What you may not know is that camp can also benefit the parents. By sending my child to camp, I’ve learned that being a parent is more than handling the day-to-day stuff. Sometimes, it means stepping back and letting your child find their own way. At Rockbrook, my daughter gets to decide what activities she wants to sign up for, what food to put on her plate, and how to spend her free time. That is a great thing. If she gets homesick or has a bad day, she has to figure out how to deal with those feelings without me. And while the time apart is difficult, I know that when we are reunited, I will have so much respect and appreciation for my daughter for the amazing, brave, resilient, independent person she is. (I will also appreciate the steady stream of camp songs that usually follow in the days after camp!)

Earlier today, I listened to one of my favorite podcasts, This American Life. Coincidentally, this episode was all about summer camp. The host of the podcast, Ira Glass, talks about how there is a divide between “camp people” and “non-camp people.” Those that never went to summer camp can never fully understand the camp experience. He interviews a former camper-turned-counselor who says that all of the best moments of his life have either been at camp or with camp people. What a bold statement. He continues on to say that he would not be who he is if it wasn’t for camp. As a non-camp person, I may never understand what this means. But my daughter (and your daughters) will, and hopefully the experiences they have at Rockbrook will also become some of the “best moments” of their lives.

Jean Lee

happy summer camp girls

Want to Join Us?

Our first set of whitewater rafting trips for this camp session happened today. Bus and van loads of Middlers and Seniors, 60 in all, made the trek over to the Nantahala River to take a wet and wild ride. It’s now a deep tradition for Rockbrook girls to raft this popular river, one that we started way back in the 1980s. Rockbrook is fortunate to have a forest service permit allowing us to run trips without outside help, using our own gear and our own hand-picked guides. That makes a big difference to maintain the upbeat, friendly vibe of Rockbrook on these trips.

Of course rafting is exciting and fun— wearing the cool gear, riding in the raft with your friends, the shock of the “freezing” cold water, goofing around for the camera at different points along the trip, and the thrill of bumping and splashing through the rapids. We were lucky today to have excellent weather, warm and sunny skies keeping everything bright all day. This is the kind of outdoor adventure we love at Rockbrook— thrilling, funny, and packed with friends. Perfect!

camp 0% club poster

Here’s something I spotted on the bulletin board outside the dining hall. Can you tell what it is? It’s a flier announcing one of the many camper-led clubs at Rockbrook. Starting a club is something that’s caught on this summer for some reason. Anyone can start their own club. All you need is 2 or more people with a common interest, and then a time and place to meet. So far this session, girls have announced about a dozen of these clubs, each designed to invite others to join. During the announcements after meals, club members can come up and pitch the details of their club.

The 0% club is one of my favorites. It’s a club that invites people to show up with any kind of fear, and then working together, they reduce that fear to zero. “We will fix that !! 🙂 ” Isn’t that amazing!? Another is the “Finding Things” club. This one meets at the dining hall, and you can show up if you need to find a lost item. The members of the club team up and help you find it. This club fixes things too. Other clubs celebrate certain individuals, for example the “Sofie Society” and the “Ismini Club.” There’s a “Lima Bean” club for all those (and their like-minded allies) who “love lima beans.” There’s a “Space Club” for anyone who “cares about space.” There are clubs devoted to different book series like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, as well. We can only imagine the conversations that happen in each of these clubs.

I love the spirit of this club-creating phenomenon! It shows how the girls here understand the value of joining a group of people, of being open and accepting of new friends, and belonging to something with a shared interest or concern. They may not be able to tell you a deep reason why they are forming their club or why they enjoy doing so, but I think it’s a wonderful expression of our camp culture— enthusiastic, positive, inclusive, social, and little zany too.

I feel like all of us would benefit from joining the 0% club… but that’s another discussion.

Camp is a place where costumes are expected and celebrated. It’s common, in fact, for at least someone to be wearing something that transforms their look. It might be as simple as a pair of goofy sunglasses or hat with cat ears, or it can be a whole body banana suit, both of which I spotted earlier this week. We know that wearing a costume provides a special freedom of sorts. It allows a person to let an otherwise hidden aspect of their personality show. It’s a chance to parade something of yourself, or perhaps to expose your creativity, all just for the fun of it. Sometimes, we’ll dedicate an entire day to a costume theme, like today’s theme of “grannies.” All around camp, you could bump into folks who were more hunched over than usual, who seemed a little grey or who had a raspy sounding voice. People were wearing nightgowns, using walking canes, and a few seemed to have wigs. Many campers adopted names of their old lady personas. You could meet an Ethel, a Gertrude, and a Nellie today at camp.

Tonight’s evening program continued this theme by gathering everyone back in the dining hall for a rousing bingo tournament! Like all expert bingo players, the girls kept multiple cards up to date as Casey and Marston, our Bingo Matrons, spun the basket of labeled pingpong balls and announced the letter/number of each ball that emerged. We played Frank Sinatra, danced a bit, and had a grand time slowly filling our cards until someone shouted BINGO! That won a prize of some sort for the entire cabin group playing— cookies and milk, popcorn, or popsicles, for example. It was another example of Rockbrook girls being a little silly, playing a game together, laughing (a lot!), and enjoying the feeling camp.

First Feelings

The first day of activities at camp, what we might call a “regular day,” is definitely not regular for the girls who just arrived at camp. For the girls new to Rockbrook this is even more so. It’s the first day of experiencing some of the special aspects of camp life. It’s waking up in your cabin a little chilly (temps in the upper 60s) but to the sounds of chirping birds. It’s sitting in the dining hall with your cabin mates, eating a warm bowl of oatmeal with dried fruits, nuts, and granola. It’s heading to your first camp activity, one of the almost 30 options you selected. It’s finding out the surprise flavor of today’s freshly baked muffin served at “muffin break” (it was “funfetti.”). It’s encountering a surprisingly large bug on the fence at archery. It’s smelling the wood smoke at the campfire in WHOA, the outdoor skills activity. It’s learning the parts of a loom and giving weaving a try.

summer camp girl weaving

This is the first day when you can take a ride down the waterslide during the “Free Swim” period before lunch. And ride it again, and again. It’s the first day when you decide for yourself how to spend your free time… maybe playing tetherball with a few other girls from your line. It’s a regular day of other activities to try, so all over camp today there were girls happily climbing, tumbling, swimming, paddling, shooting arrows or rifles, hitting tennis balls and of course riding horses. Groups were riding the ziplines, tying and dying t-shirts, and just lounging in their crazy creek chairs on the hill. It’s a regular day that balances being active and being artistic, having free time and lots of things to choose to do. There’s time for rest and for play. It’s a day filled with laughter and friends. It’s very different from home, and packed with new, fun experiences all day long.

Because it’s so different from home though— different food, different sleeping setup, no parents, no electronic entertainment, for example —today can also at times be a day when a wave of homesickness hits. Especially during rest hour, that quiet time after lunch when girls often write letters home, their thoughts of home can become overwhelming and they can feel sad. It’s very common for campers to miss their family when they are away from home. Even seasoned campers feel a twinge of homesickness now and then.

It’s completely natural and healthy to miss home, just as it’s natural for parents to miss their children while they’re away at camp. But of course, being away at camp is full of rewards too, so the secret to recovering from homesickness is to lean into camp life, to get busy, and begin to experience some of its benefits. As campers adjust to camp life, finding themselves being even more excited to try new activities, spending more time with their camp friends, being more regularly engaged with the camp community, those waves of homesickness become smaller and less frequent. Being at camp over several days inspires greater courage to overcome the challenges that make camp a place to grow.

The caring and supportive community of Rockbrook make it a wonderful place to work through feelings of homesickness, too. More than likely, with time and some encouragement, girls refocus on the fun of camp and begin to enjoy their newfound independence and confidence. It can take time, but it’s amazing to see that transformation arise!

Today was a day filled with first feelings, a complex array of real world experiences, thrills and adventures. You should be proud of your girls! They are doing great at camp, and I predict they’ll continue to grow more comfortable and confident as the session unfolds.

summer kids art class

Ready is the Word

Today was the day when the girls attending our third session of the summer could finally begin their long awaited time at Rockbrook. Beginning at 8:15 am or so and continuing throughout the morning, girls and their parents (and sometimes their dogs too) lined up and drove through our check-in sequence patiently tolerating each step of the process. It was obvious to me that this last bit of waiting in line was torturous for the girls given how long they’d had already been waiting for this day, some waiting for months or even a whole year for this. Thankfully the line kept steadily moving and soon the girls were meeting their counselors on the hill.

summer camp friends arrival

It’s a big deal to get ready for camp. There’s all the health forms, the covid testing and protocols (Thank you for doing that!), the packing, and the travel —all of these take a lot of planning and effort. Meanwhile, the campers have visions of camp in their heads —all the new people they’ll meet, the different activities they’re looking forward to trying, and the surprise events they know are coming. There’s a lot to be excited about, especially when it’s been building all summer long.

No wonder we saw girls literally vibrating with excitement, sometimes nervous excitement, but clearly jittery, wide-eyed and happy this day had arrived. These girls were ready! They were ready to get all this preliminary stuff out of the way, to stop just thinking about camp, and to finally get started doing it.

When they met their counselors at the last stop of the arrival process, each camper received a name tag made from a slice of mountain laurel and strung on a piece of lanyard. It starts out simple, but we encourage the girls to personalize their name tags adding nicknames, beads and other decorations that they might desire. Some can get quite elaborate! This summer the campers also receive a purple lanyard and clip so they can keep a mask handy. Especially at the beginning of the session, we are asking everyone to wear a mask when they are inside a building (except in their own sleeping cabin where masks aren’t necessary). We’re hopeful that our pre-camp COVID screening has been successful keeping the virus out of camp, but in case we were not 100% successful, masking like this will help minimize the spread of an infection if one should crop up. We hope to be able to relax these standards as the session unfolds.

summer camp swimming dive

After a fantastic comfort food lunch (homemade mac-n-cheese, salad and cool fresh watermelon), the age groups took turns touring the camp, meeting with their Lineheads, and heading to the lake for the “swim demos.” The tours are especially fun for the new campers because they learn about the major buildings in camp (dining hall, health hut, gym, office, etc.) as well as the different activity areas (archery and riflery ranges, climbing tower, tennis courts, nature nook, etc.). For the returning campers, the tours are another chance to chat and get to know the other girls in the cabin, and really to begin to settle down into the rhythm of camp.

It being so hot and sunny today (not record heat for us, but still close to 90 degrees), most everyone was happy to have a chance to jump in the lake this afternoon. Our “swim demos” are our introduction to the lake, and when the lifeguards assess how comfortable each camper is swimming in our chilly mountain lake. Showing you can jump off the dock, go under water, swim confidently and tread water for a minute are what we ask each camper to do for the swim demo. Campers who can’t do all of this comfortably can still enjoy using the lake, but we will limit access to the certain parts of the lake or ask they wear a lifejacket as appropriate. These are the summer days when the lake is very popular. For everyone!

Summer camp teens sitting on a rock

This photo helps summarize the feeling of camp at the moment. It shows a cabin group hanging out after the swim demo, chatting and getting to know each other. I think it shows a little bit of awkwardness, but also the beginnings of friendships. This makes good sense for a group that’s been here only a few hours. I’ve found it can sometimes take a little time for the girls to loosen up and relax, both new and returning campers alike. Coming to camp is a big change from life at home, and it simply can take a little getting used to. It can take some time to dig into the activities (we’ll launch right into that tomorrow), to understand that folks at camp are genuine and nice (no posing necessary), to realize that this is a place where it’s easy to be included. It often takes a few days to understand the rhythms of camp and to become more confident away from parents.

But I can tell we’re off to a great start, and whatever awkwardness is lingering at the moment will certainly fade. There are more stories to be shared, natural wonders to explore, new activities to try, and fun surprises to experience this session. There are more smiles on the way!

Fun Like Nothing Else

It’s a question you’ll here around camp, and one that girls have asked me probably every year. “What’s your favorite banquet?” Usually, I try to answer in a way that doesn’t commit to any single favorite. I’ll say something like, “I’ve seen so many good ones!” Which is true, since over the years I’ve been to more than 40 different banquets. Of course a few are more memorable because they are exceptionally well done— elaborate costumes, detailed wall decorations, great music, and entertaining dance numbers and skits. Generally though, all banquets, these end of session parties, are really fun events that everyone at camp looks forward to.

summer camp costume teens

This session’s banquet was no different, but I have to say, it ranks up there as one of the best. The CA campers (9th graders) and their counselors created a one of kind experience for the whole camp that I think everyone will remember as amazing. Their surprise theme was the 1980s. They called it “Retro Rewind,” and it featured colorful characters, images and popular styling from the decade. Naturally, music from the 80s was a big part of the party, with familiar pop songs lined up in the playlist.

The sounds of Madonna, Michael Jackson, The Cure, Hall & Oats, Billy Idol, Whitney Houston, Cindy Lauper and more got everyone up and dancing, and singing along. Most banquets mix into their music selections contemporary pop songs. Not this one. They had more than enough upbeat, fun dance songs to play, songs that despite being 30 to 40 years old, were familiar to the campers and staff.

We could say something similar about the painted panel decorations that lined all the walls. They showed an incredible variety of 80s references, from music, movies, television shows, and celebrities. There were panels featuring, Star Wars, the Outsiders, Pac Man, MTV, Dirty Dancing, Ghost Busters, Top Gun (the original!), Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to the Future, and Footloose to name a few.

summer camp thriller dance

The CA girls all dressed as different 80s characters. With 29 CAs and 6 counselors, there were a lot of costumes! We had smurfs, jazzersize instructors, Care Bears, Star Wars characters like Princess Leia and Darth Vader, Ghost Busters, Jurassic Park characters (including a T-Rex!), Scooby Doo and Velma, Maverick and Goose from Top Gun, Stevie Nicks, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, and others

The dance numbers were fantastic! The version of Thriller, led by Michael Jackson, brought the whole camp to its feet cheering. Madonna’s performance of “Material Girl” was just as exciting. “The Time of Our Lives” from Dirty Dancing included some incredible acrobatic dance spins. The whole camp loved seeing the performances.

The campers wore their camp t-shirts to the banquet. This year’s yellow shirt fit right into the theme. They sat at tables grouped by their lines (age groups) to eat their meal and to watch the CAs perform. We ate “Tetris Tots,” “Marty McMelon Balls,” “Time Travel Tenders” “Super Sonic Salad,” and “Retro Rockbrookies” for dessert. Half the time, everyone wasn’t sitting; they were up and dancing, jumping and spinning to the 80s music.

80s breezy camp fun

The vibe of this 80s banquet was incredibly upbeat and joyful. All of the elements amplified the celebration— the costumes, the party favors, the candy, the black light and mirrored ball, the neon color scheme, the pumping music, the sheer exuberance of the campers singing and screaming with delight. You’ve probably never seen this many girls having this much high energy fun. It’s an experience that can’t be recreated anywhere except at camp. That’s probably an important reason why Rockbrook girls all love the banquet. They get to experience it only once a year.

But I think they also love it because it’s fun like nothing else, and that I think comes from the friendships that form the base of it all. The special bond they feel with their camp friends makes this party special as well. Knowing each other this well, caring for each other this deeply, feeling accepted and encouraged this fully, empowers the girls to let loose a little more, maybe dance with more gusto. The smiles, the singing, the dancing arm-in-arm, the energy of it all— it’s electrifying. Truly a blast.

This was a terrific banquet. Just ask anyone who was there. They’ll probably admit it’s one of their favorites.

80s costume girls

Enthusiasm for Adventure

I’ve been away the last few days taking our 10th grade campers, those we call “Hi-Ups,” on a 3-day adventure trip. The Hi-Ups are the girls who help manage the dining hall at camp, setting tables and clearing dirty dishes to rack them and send them to the dishwashers in the kitchen. With close to 300 people eating in the dining hall at any particular meal, there are a lot of dishes, flatware, and serving bowls to handle… three times a day. Hi-Ups work hard! The Hi-Ups have their own special cabin “high up” in the camp, have a few extra privileges and more freedom to enjoy their favorite parts of camp. Toward the end of their session, they take a break on “the 3-day.”

camp blindfold climbing

The exact details of this trip is a secret, making it a fun surprise for the girls going. I can’t say much about it other than it’s both exciting and relaxing. It includes swimming, hiking, camping, and climbing. At different times the girls are laughing, singing, and lounging, and they’re feeling elated, maybe a little scared, and exhilarated. They come face to face with incredible beauty and real physical challenges. Part of the trip is truly thrilling. We always end up a little scratched, maybe with a bruise or two, and solidly tired from the whole experience. And the girls, absolutely LOVE it. If you’re the parent of a Hi-Up, I hope you’ll hear some stories of the adventure.

I’m always amazed by the enthusiasm for adventure Rockbrook girls have. This Hi-Up trip proves it many times over, but there are countless examples punctuating everyone’s regular life at camp. Tying into a rope and climbing a tower blindfolded, zooming through the trees tethered to a zip line pulley, sliding down a 60-ft natural waterslide— all are examples that come to mind. Camping in the woods, paddling a whitewater kayak or canoe through moving water, and balancing high on a tiny rock ledge are also good examples. The girls at camp are taking full advantage of these opportunities. They almost seem to crave the thrills, the exhilarating fun they provide.

Why this appetite, though? Sure, these activities are “fun” or a “blast,” but is there something else that makes them more attractive while your girls are at camp? I think there is.

summer camp hammock nest

As I mentioned, I think the Rockbrook community makes girls more courageous because it provides unconditional support and genuine encouragement. Camp folks aren’t competing or judging each other based on abilities or ranked results. Instead, everyone at camp is facing challenges, trusting their abilities as they try new things, and finding supportive friends along the way. Together, there’s an energy at camp that spins up and toward adventure, a kind of collective power bolstering us to dive in. When those around you are excited to go rock climbing, you might be too. When the whole camp is spraying themselves with shaving cream and launching themselves down a sheet of plastic, it suddenly seems like exactly the right thing to do. In this kind of community, it soon becomes clear how it doesn’t really matter if you climb to the top of the rock, so it’s more fun to give it a try. It’s fun no matter what the outcome.

kids taking care of horse

Maybe we can put it like this; “kids are more adventurous when they’re part of a supportive community.” They’re less likely to let uncertainty stop them from pursuing a goal. The community makes things safer, more focused on what’s positive about a new experience, and less concerned about winning or perfection. This kind of camp community makes it easier for young people to keep a “growth mindset” that pursues novel challenges, and thereby to keep learning, expanding their experiences, and deepening who they are.

I may be repeating myself here, but camp is great in this way. It has a unique power to be fun but also truly formative by proving to girls that challenging experiences, adventures, are positive things. Instead of stepping back, go after opportunities to challenge yourself. There are surprising rewards for those who try. At camp, your girls are not just learning to climb or paddle (that’s kinda not the point), they’re nurturing an aspect of their personality that tells them “I can do it.” “I can get better at this.” That’s a habit I think we want all of our kids to develop.

And finally, I would say the kind of supportive community we have at camp is something we should strive to create in our schools as well. After all, we want all children to develop this approach to adventure, toward experiences that are new and challenging. We want them to seek out opportunities to explore, feel confident to experiment, and know they’re OK no matter how they “perform.” It’s the process of learning and growing that matters. I’ve seen a focus on community make a big difference at camp. Camp girls are stronger. They’re more confident and courageous. They can do so many amazing things. And they’re happy and excited doing them. I wish every child could become like that. Don’t you?

crazy hair summer camp teens

Second Session Highlights Video – Part 3

We have another short video for you! Robbie Francis of FrancisFilmworks spent a day at camp earlier this week filming and now he’s put together a wonderful glimpse into life this session. Robbie has a real talent for capturing the special moments at camp— the girls happily doing their activities, bopping around camp, and just enjoying each others company.

The video shows lots of laughter, moments of concentration and accomplishment, and so many, many smiles.

Take a look! We think you’ll enjoy these 2 minutes immensely.

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

Eagerly Every Day

First, we have a camper service announcement: Please send more mail.

Send more mail to camp

As these campers are happy to spell the word “mail,” and to provide explicit instructions, “send me some,” everyone at camp thinks about receiving mail at least once a day. Everyone has a mailbox, and after lunch each day, we all head to the dining hall porch. Hundreds of heads bend down and peer into the grid of small wooden boxes mounted on the wall, each hoping someone has sent them something. Since everyone is checking their mail at the same time, it feels good for the girls to have something—an email, a postcard, or an envelop containing a proper letter —waiting in this box. And sadly, it feels a bit disappointing to find it empty.

Unfortunately, our local Post Office can easily become overwhelmed in the summer with 14 summer camps suddenly boosting the volume of mail it handles. Delays are practically guaranteed. But don’t let that discourage you! Use First Class postage and get something out. In addition, take some time and send your girls an email. It’s a free service that we hope you’ll utilize because we know how much it means to the girls here. We hope you can make some time to send some mail soon! Every day!

Today was twin day at camp. In addition to celebrating the actual twins attending camp at the moment (I think there are four sets, currently), this theme for the day encouraged the girls to pick a friend and dress similarly. Matching t-shirts and hair styles were the most common way to identify your camp twin. In some ways, it’s easy to find a twin at camp. There are lots of other girls your age, and odds are, you’ve got some Rockbrook gear in common. Wear this year’s sweatshirt, put your hair in a ponytail, and boom! Instant twins! Even triplets!

challenge course climbing pair

Here’s a photo that might need some explanation. It’s two girls about 25 feet up in the air on our climbing challenge tower. Known as an “Alpine Tower,” this log structure forms two pyramids, one inverted on the other. It’s designed to have multiple climbers ascending at the same time, all trying to reach a platform 50 feet above the ground. There are different climbing elements and obstacles on the tower’s 3 sides, each requiring the climbers to lean, balance and pull up in different ways. This photo shows two girls leaning on each other’s hands while balancing on two poles that diverge as the girls step to their left. The goal is to make it to the end without falling. Of course, the girls are always on belay as soon as they leave the ground, so falling means being held up by a harness and rope. Reaching the ends takes balance, strength and nerve. It feels very unnatural to lean like that, especially when high in the air. But that’s the challenge! And these girls did it!

summer camp learning canoeing

Canoeing is one of those outdoor activities that can stick with a person and be something she enjoys the rest of her life. It’s been an activity at Rockbrook since day one, with generations of camp girls learning their strokes on our small in-camp lake and then venturing out for trips onto lakes and rivers nearby. Even for the youngest girls, the Juniors, can learn to paddle a canoe, keep it moving in a straight line and turning it on command. The girls who choose paddling as one of their activities work with the paddling instructors and do just that. Some of the canoeing trips are overnight trips where the girls pack camping gear in their canoes as well. This week a group paddled a section of the French Broad river closer to Asheville, spending the night before finishing their paddle the next day. Camping and canoeing together. An extra adventure!

By rope and by paddle, we’re seeing Rockbrook girls seize opportunities for adventure. They’re backpacking and hiking too, hitting the trails to explore and camp. They’re sliding down mountain streams to plunge into a chilly pool, and they’re flying through the trees on the camp zip line. Encountering adventure at camp is almost expected. Like opportunities to relax, to laugh and sing, and to enjoy the company of really good friends, it’s just what we do at Rockbrook. Eagerly and every day.

female summer camp pals