Here’s something fun! You might be anticipating your camp session later this summer, or you might be feeling nostalgia about time at camp, but you are definitely needing a little dose of camp life to get you by. If so, it might be time to pull out a classic camp movie. But which kid-friendly movie to choose?
Thinking about the classics, Corrine Sullivan at Popsuger makes several great suggestions.
Troop Beverly Hills (1989)
The Parent Trap (1998)
The Parent Trap (1961)
Ernest Goes to Camp (1987)
Camp Nowhere (1994)
It Takes Two (1995)
The Baby-Sitters Club (1995)
Addams Family Values (1993)
Camp Rock (2008)
You may have already seen several of these, but take a look again and you’ll be reminded of what’s important about being a kid, and how that blends with life at camp. When you’re feeling “campsick,” it makes perfect sense to watch any of them again. Enjoy!
Among the many surprises at Rockbrook, the tradition known as the “Biltmore Train” has to be an all-time favorite. The tradition started years ago (before widespread refrigeration) when dairy products were delivered to camp from the Biltmore Estate’s Farm. On a regular basis, trucks from Asheville would make the trip to Brevard to keep camp supplied. Once a session, the Biltmore dairy truck would pull up to camp, and the girls would indulge in the sugary goodness of an ice cream cone on a hot day.
As the need for regular milk deliveries declined, the Biltmore Dairy closed (now it’s a winery and tourist destination), but both the ice cream tradition at camp and the name have carried on.
In recent years, “Biltmore Train” meant counselors would line up with tubs of ice cream, ready to serve hundreds of scoops to a long line of wide-eyed campers. At some point, a new tradition arose where the girls could finish the ice cream in their cone, and then get back in line to get a second scoop. As long as the cone survived and wasn’t eaten, they could continue to get refills of ice cream. With each trip through the line, the cone disintegrates making it impossible to get another scoop, but girls can end up with four or even five scoops if they are strategic (Don’t worry; the scoops aren’t all that big!). At the very least, it’s fun to get a second scoop and sample a different flavor.
This summer, we’re switching things up and returning the tradition to its roots, but with a fun twist. Dolly’s Dairy Bar, our favorite ice cream shop in Brevard, now has a food truck, an ice cream truck, that can arrive anywhere ready to serve up to 30 tubs of ice cream— the “Dolly’s Trolley.” So today, for the first time, our Biltmore Train was the Dolly’s Trolley serving the campers right under the same maple tree where the original Biltmore Dairy trucks served ice cream. It’s always a treat to have Dolly’s ice cream, but to eat it in the sunshine of the Rockbrook hill is even better. Super cool!
Tonight’s optional twilight activity was a high-octane, hilariously messy, shaving cream fight and slip-n-slide. The call was to meet at the landsports field dressed in swimsuits and ready to smear. As the girls arrived, we handed each a large can of plain shaving cream pointing them to the grass where the “fight” would take place. After about five minutes, 50 children were eagerly spraying, wiping and racing wildly after each other. Ten minutes later, another 50 had joined in and we had shaving cream everywhere! And while there were mostly Juniors and Middlers joining the slippery white commotion, there were plenty of Seniors too, enjoying the chance to style each other’s hair and pose for group photographs. The slip-n-slide became popular after there was no more shaving cream to squirt. Two by two the girls hurled themselves down the gently sloping hill covered with a sheet of plastic. Already slippery from the foam, all we needed was a little spray of water to make a surprisingly fast ride. As some girls slid, others continued to mess around with their shaving cream, everyone laughing and having a blast.
Two awesome surprises in one day— the Biltmore Train and a shaving cream fight. This must be Rockbrook!
At Rockbrook, we talk a lot about the friendships that campers develop as the days and years go by. Many campers, reflecting on what makes Rockbrook a special place to them, talk about the people that they meet here — people that will color their memories of camp for years to come. Often, the people that come to mind when thinking of camp friends are peers — the people who are in your cabin, that you take activities with, that you go on adventure trips with. Tonight in the dining hall, while listening to campers belt out an appreciation song dedicated to “counselors,” I realized that maybe thinking this way might be putting a limit on our experiences. There are many others involved in creating the camp experience special for campers, but the people with the biggest influence are counselors.
We are always so proud of the staff that we hire to be counselors at Rockbrook. Every year, Sofie works hard to hire a group of women who are confident, strong, and empathetic, as well as fun and silly! These women are the role models and beloved leaders for our campers. They do so much for everyone here, and at the end of the session, campers get to show their gratitude in classic Rockbrook style…with a skit!
The Monday before camp closes (today!), the theme for Evening Program skits is “Counselor Impersonations.” In these very special skits, cabins get to reflect on their favorite memories with their counselors. Campers work together to recreate moments when their counselors made them laugh, comforted them, or any other special memories they share. Because of this, these skits are always incredibly unique and unbelievably touching. I got to watch some of these skits tonight, and from the silly moments that juniors chose to share to the sweet moments that seniors chose, I loved getting to see the relationships that campers and counselors have formed over their time at camp. As the song goes, WE LOVE YOU COUNSELORS!
One of the questions we ask parents in our post-camp survey is to identify the most important factor that led them to choose Rockbrook as their daughter’s camp. There are more than 28 residential summer camps in this area of North Carolina each with different strengths, program opportunities, and traditions. With all these options, it’s interesting to learn what parents see as distinctive about Rockbrook, and to think about why that distinction matters.
The last few years of results show a trend. The top reason people have selected Rockbrook, according to the survey, is that they received a trusted recommendation about the quality of the camp; a friend or family member loved Rockbrook and highly recommended it. That’s good to know that we have “happy campers” heading home after camp, and that their parents find Rockbrook remarkable enough to tell others about it (though I’ve also heard parents say they wish they could keep RBC a secret!), but that’s somewhat predictable. It’s easy to imagine that parents would select a camp after receiving a “word of mouth” endorsement that reflects the camp’s positive reputation.
The next reason is more surprising. Parents said they selected Rockbrook because they valued the camp philosophy, much more, in fact, than the camp’s program opportunities. So parents aren’t choosing Rockbrook only because we offer amazing outdoor adventure trips, excellent horseback riding instruction, or an array of really cool craft activities (though we clearly do). They aren’t drawn, at least most importantly, to Rockbrook’s vintage camp setting with its log cabins, stone lodges, dense forests with rock outcroppings and waterfalls (though the natural beauty of RBC is very special). It’s not the staff members, the food, or even the directors that make Rockbrook their choice. Overall, it has less to do with the “amenities” of camp than you might expect.
Instead, according to our survey, parents appreciate the ideals and values that guide the Rockbrook community. The “Spirit of Rockbrook” and how it affects their girls is important to them. It can be difficult to describe this philosophy— I’ve tried many times writing this blog —but the feeling of camp, Rockbrook’s culture that emphasizes kindness and generosity, mutual respect, and inclusion, is what makes this place stand out. Here too, I’m glad that our parents seem to be making this subtle distinction. They seem to understand how our camp philosophy matters when comes to insuring that Rockbrook girls gain many of the benefits of a summer camp experience. To their credit, many of our parents appreciate all the excellent outward features of Rockbrook, but value even further many of the principles guiding it along the way. Thank you parents!
Tonight we enjoyed an outdoor concert by Clint Roberts, a local singer, songwriter and musician. Clint writes and plays Americana music both as a solo act and with his band, The Foxfire. Recently, he released an EP entitled “Where the Heart is.” Starting at dinner time and playing into the “Twilight” period, Clint entertained the whole camp with his original compositions as well as several covers of songs by Lyle Lovett, Ryan Adams, and the Tallest Man on Earth. With Clint playing, the girls enjoyed a picnic of grilled hamburgers, potato chips, lemonade and watermelon with key lime pie for dessert. Sitting in their crazy creek chairs while they ate and listened, the girls had a great time chatting quietly, working on friendship bracelets, or just lounging with their friends in the evening shade. The whole event was delightfully relaxing… a memorable, special event together at camp.
Even in the driest weather, like that of the last few days, there are two creeks that flow through the center of Rockbrook. One is known around here as “Rockbrook Creek,” despite not having an official USGS name. It forms far above the camp, and as it descends the mountain, forms a 50-foot waterfall (“Stick Biscuit Falls”) just a short distance up the trail behind the new office building. It continues down under the dining hall, past the front of the Goodwill cabin, behind the back porch of the Curosty cabin, eventually making it into the French Broad River below. The other, much larger, creek is named “Dunns Creek” after the very large rock outcropping on the camp property called “Dunns Rock.” It too forms several impressive waterfalls on the property as it cascades down into the river valley. “Quentin Falls” and “Rockbrook Falls” are two of these waterfalls that are hiking destinations for the campers. We divert water from Dunns Creek, passing it along an aqueduct, to the Rockbrook lake, keeping it constantly supplied with clean, clear mountain stream water.
All this water, splashing down over and around the rocks of Rockbrook, which are really boulders strewn below Castle Rock and Dunns Rock, makes it a snap to discover amazing water creatures like, small fish, tadpoles, crawfish, worms, and salamanders, not to mention an array of bugs. That’s why during periods of free time around camp you can count on seeing girls stomping through the water, paper cup in hand, turning over rocks and staring intently into swirling pools. During activity periods, the “Nature” counselors will hand out small nets before heading out to explore one of the streams. There are wondrous discoveries all around us at Rockbrook.
Just the opposite of “Nature Deficit Disorder,” Rockbrook girls experience firsthand a superabundance of the Natural World. There are the impressive rocks and teeming creeks of camp, but there are also old growth trees, dense ferns and other forest plants, fauna, fungi and insects to encounter everyday. Spiders in the shower, crickets somewhere in your cabin, an owl or a bullfrog calling out at midnight: life at Rockbrook is immersed in Nature. The organic feeling of camp enriches our experience, calling the girls (sometimes literally) to dive in and ultimately providing the simply joy of loving the outdoors.
Tonight we held the closing campfire for our mini session girls. Like for all of the camp sessions at Rockbrook, we gathered everyone around the fire pit near the lake to reflect on our time together, and recognize what we’ve enjoyed, accomplished and learned at camp. The campers and counselors dressed in their red and white uniforms, and following a traditional program, sang songs and took turns speaking about what this session of camp has meant to them. One by one, from the youngest girls up to and including a few staff members, we heard sweet stories about how camp helped conquer fears, and allowed hidden talents to emerge. Mostly, the speakers recognized all the people, young and old, they now consider friends, and how they love the feeling of being at Rockbrook. Sarah spoke at the end reminding everyone that even during the school year, we can enliven some of these camp feelings…by being kind and generous, maybe a little silly and courageous at the same time. She reminded us that being outside with friends, away from our favorite flickering technology, is something we can do at home. We closed the program by lighting a white candle and sharing that flame with everyone, each camper and counselor holding their own small candle. Singing softly, the girls and their counselors spread out facing the lake, illuminating everything with golden candlelight. “Day is done; gone the sun…” It was a calm beautiful scene, and a perfect ending to a wonderful session.
The day after the banquet turns everyone’s attention to end-of-session events and practicalities because today was our last full day together. We found ourselves fighting the forces of camp entropy (the inevitable scattering of things that go along with kids playing) by sorting through piles of lost and found items, collecting what we could identify and packing it all into trunks, suitcases and duffel bags. We also celebrated all the great horseback riding accomplishments this session by holding a “barn party” were girls could ride their favorite horses, watch a few riding demonstrations, and decorate Cool Beans (a white Welsh pony everyone loves) with colorful finger paint. Late in the afternoon, we all enjoyed a performance of Willy Wonka, our musical this session. Using simple scenery and homemade costumes, the girls presented a fantastic show. It was at times funny, heart warming, and delightful, even as the performers seemed so relaxed and happy to be on stage. Almost equally, our dinner was a work of art with Roasted Turkey, Mashed new potatoes, stuffing, asparagus, cranberry sauce and homemade caramel brownies for dessert… A Thanksgiving dinner in June to mark our camp session.
The most significant mark, certainly the one most packed with emotion, is the closing campfire we held tonight, our “Spirit Fire.” Sessions have closed at Rockbrook every year since its founding in 1921 with a special campfire focused on the experiences we shared together at camp, the solid relationships likewise uniting us, and the fundamental values and principles that have sustained the spirit of Rockbrook for these generations. The Spirit Fire program includes traditional songs interspersed with short speeches presented by new and returning campers and counselors representing each age group. Here is an example given by Caitlyn tonight:
“This was my first year at camp. Here at Rockbrook my days were filled with laughter, smiles and really great hugs. Being away from my mom and dad and brother for three weeks was hard, but here at camp I have a new family of sisters. We’re all family here and it’s a good thing too because we need it. I’ve made a lot of friends and learned a lot about friendship. Here at camp, there’s this vibe that you get from everyone that’s so outgoing and loving. And it feels really great. Everyone here really made my summer so wonderful. Camp was an amazing experience. I’m gonna miss everyone so so much, and I’m gonna remember all of our fun times. I love you guys.”
For most of us, the Spirit Fire evokes these same feelings. Surrounded by friends, stars poking through a canopy of oak leaves high above, the quiet rush of the nearby waterfall into the lake, it feels really good to be here. A twinge of sadness colors the evening now and then when we recall that camp is ending, but that too arises from the meaningful connections Rockbrook has built for us. As we light our individual Spirit Fire candles, stand shoulder-to shoulder around the lake singing softly, the bright reflections of candlelight add even more shine to our faces. It shows everyday, but tonight we felt it even more strongly— We love this place. We love camp.
We’ve written before about how to make a s’more, and even discussed the history of s’mores, but now the folks over at REI have put together a cool infographic explaining what s’mores are, a few tips about making them, and some great ideas about variations you can try (adding peanut butter, for example). Take a look!
Getting excited for camp? We sure are! There are so many reasons, but seeing this picture really gets us looking forward to campfires and roasting marshmallows. It’s such a great classic summer camp experience… searching the forest for just the right roasting stick (the right length, thickness and stiffness, etc.), gathering around the fire, and carefully holding the marshmallow near the coals or over the flame to turn it that ideal shade of brown/black. Golden brown or charred to a crisp?
Did you know that marshmallows originally were made from extracting a substance from the root of the marshmallow plant, Althaea officinalis, and were primarily used as a remedy for sore throats? Later, candy makers in France began whipping it with sugar and egg whites to make a yummy dessert, and then in the 1940s marshmallows were mass produced and distributed as we know them today.
Around here, it seems like a bag of marshmallows goes on every overnight backpacking trip. We’ll definitely be doing some roasting! Can’t wait!
Do you know about the “Camp Fire Girls” of America? This is a drawing taken from the inside cover of their handbook (the 1947 edition), The Book of the Camp Fire Girls. The history of this organization is really cool. Founded in 1910 in Vermont, it’s as old or older than the girls scouts in America. It later became coed, and has since changed its name to “Camp Fire USA,” but it originally sought to help girls gain important skills for living a “well rounded life—a vivid, intense life of joy and service.”
As you can see from the drawing this included all kinds of skills. Some, like boating, camp craft, nature lore, gardening, dramatics, dancing and art, are still part of the camp experience at Rockbrook. Others are more specialized, like aviation, science and business. Click on the drawing to see a larger version. It’s really great.
The Camp Fire Girls valued spirituality, beauty, service, knowledge, trustworthiness, health, work and happiness, and provided opportunities for girls to form, as Luther Gulick the founder put it, “habits making for health and vigor, the out-of-door habit, and the out-of-door spirit.” It’s neat to realize that this was “in the air” when the first summer camps were forming in America, and how Rockbrook too shares these ambitions. Camp really is a place to grow… in some really important ways!
What makes the best girls summer camp? It’s funny, but you see that claim now and then. “We’re the best girls camp ever!” or “Welcome to the best girls camp in North Carolina.” Most of this can be considered akin to team spirit, the folks from a camp expressing how much they love their particular camp, how proud they are of it, and how they know their camp really is excellent.
Of course, in reality, you can’t say objectively which girls camp is the best. Here in western North Carolina, there are so many great girls camps, each with dedicated and experienced directors, outstanding counselors, beautiful facilities and diverse fun activities. These camps also have very strong supporters, families who have found the camp perfect for their children. You will certainly find happy enthusiastic campers at all of these camps.
So is there really a best girls camp? Only to the extent that a camp is right for you. The subtle differences between camps, their particular strengths or emphases, will probably make you feel more at home at one girls camp or another. To put it differently, there are of course differences between camps but they do not distinguish which camp is “best.” That is something that follows from how much you love your camp, and that’s what makes it best.
So yes, for many reasons, generations of girls believe Rockbrook is the best girls summer camp. They believe it because they’ve experienced it and love it as their own.