A Real Adventure

We pulled up to the Fish Hatchery in Pisgah National Forest, ready for a backpacking overnight. In the van were four middlers, four seniors, and three staff members all ready and excited for the night that awaited us. We got all of our gear ready and spent time adjusting our backpacks before taking a picture and doing some basic introductions. Some of the girls were great friends while others just signed up because backpacking sounded exciting and new. After taking a ‘before’ picture, we were off to our campsite, Pickelseimer Fields (but at Rockbrook, we call it The Enchanted Forest) before heading to John Rock for sunset.

Hiking Buddies

On the way to the campsite, girls talked and laughed, but mostly stayed in their age groups. We stopped a lot for water breaks and bathroom breaks, and the question, “Are we almost there?” was commonly heard. This is normal: backpacks make every hike more exhausting, and going uphill is particularly challenging. In between, though, we also practiced a bird call that could help us get each other’s attention (coo-ee) and we sang a few camp songs because they make even the most exhausting moments better.

We were in no hurry at all, and during the flat parts, we enjoyed crossing wooden bridges and walking through muddy patches. On parts of the trail, the trees formed a kind of tunnel and it became clear why it was called The Enchanted Forest. As we stopped for a water break after a particularly tiring hill, we started talking about the three types of fun. One of the seniors explained. Type 1 Fun is like the fun of a roller coaster or a nice day at the beach; it’s easy fun that does not require much effort, but also does not give much personal satisfaction. Type 2 Fun is like a long hike. It may be challenging as it is happening, but afterward, you look back at it and would do it again because it was fulfilling and meaningful. Type 3 Fun is something you would not want to do again but it gets you where you need to be (portaging a canoe or waiting out a lightning storm). While explaining this, the senior suggested that this hike was Type 2 fun and ensured the younger girls that they would look back at it and be proud they did it.

Even with stops and starts, we were at our campsite within thirty minutes of the time that we left the parking lot of the Fish Hatchery. We found a great campsite near a creek that had a big firepit and plenty of room for camping. Each age group had their own tent, so we encouraged everyone to quickly pitch their tents so we could catch the sunset at John Rock. As the girls were preparing their tents, two of us found a perfect sourwood tree over the creek to hang the bear bag. After eating a few snacks and getting more water, we were off for our hike.

At first, the hike was easy as we did not have backpacks weighing us down. We climbed over fallen trees and crossed creeks, hoping the sun was still up, though we could not see it through the branches. At one point, we came across a bees’ nest, and a couple of girls got stung. Everyone was a little shaken up, but none of the girls were allergic, so we decided to take a break and regroup. We have been trained in wilderness medicine, so we treated everyone’s stings and mostly tried to calm down as a group. As we treated stings, the seniors kept everyone else distracted and calm by getting to know the middlers. In fact, one of the seniors mentioned to me later that she was quite scared of the stings, but she knew that if she was calm about it, the middlers would be too. They started playing a game, “pancakes or waffles,” and slowly, everyone started to calm down, ready to continue hiking.

We looked at the map and decided that, if possible, we should not go back the same way we had just come (because of the bees). The trail looped in such a way that we could get back to the camp site by passing John Rock and going around a different way. We continued hiking as twilight hit, and we made it to John Rock while there was still light in the sky. The view took our breaths away. We were astonished by the vastness of the forest and by our smallness. Instantly after stepping on the rock, we all agreed that the journey was worth it.

Nightime Overlook

It’s a truth that I have found in hiking: no matter how difficult a journey may be, reaching the destination makes every moment of tiredness and every obstacle okay. You realize that it was always going to be okay, though you could not always see it, and the immediate reward makes any past adversity almost vanish from your mind.

After getting a few pictures and taking the view in, we decided it was time to head back to camp. We continued following our loop, ready with water bottles and flashlights. We walked and walked, and some girls got tired and nervous as we continued to check the map. We always knew where we were, but the hike did take longer than we originally anticipated because we were walking around a loop. We talked to the girls and showed them where they were, but we also let them take care of each other. The senior girls stepped in again, keeping up good spirits and laughing throughout the hike. They played games and assured the middlers that they had no reason to be scared.

The beautiful part of this story is that it worked. All of the girls who were nervous were able to dig in and keep walking further than they thought possible. At some point, everyone realized that asking how much further we had to go was counterproductive. We entered a point where we realized reaching our destination was something we would do together and only putting one foot in front of the other would help us get there. When we turned on to the bypass or realized we were at the final stretch, we all rejoiced together. When we saw the bear bag hanging over the tree on the creek, we cheered and hugged, relieved that we had all completed this adventure, supremely satisfied with the work we had just done. It was Type 2 fun (or as one senior said, Type 2.5 Fun), and we were filled up in a way that we had rarely experienced.

Hiking Food

When we got back to the campsite, we made a small fire and ate burritos. The girls roasted marshmallows and we read a few thoughts about teamwork that related to our journey. A former NOLS instructor, Morgan Hite, once reflected, “Life can be simple and this is a good place to experience that. We need to be tired and cold and hungry, and then make ourselves a hot meal and go to our sleeping bags to realize that life is complete and how rarely we experience that.” At the end of the day, we were tired and hungry, but we were able to work through these things because we were part of a team. We had everything we needed, but we never would have known it without going on such a journey.

The next morning, we ate oatmeal and effortlessly hiked out. There was lightness in the air as everyone talked and laughed, no longer divided by age groups, but bonded together by yesterday’s adventures. We no longer cared about wearing heavy backpacks or getting muddy shoes (it also helped that we were journeying downhill). The final thing we did was to take an ‘after’ picture, in the exact same positions we were in the day before.

Hiking Camp Girls

The picture was great, but could not accurately capture the journey we had been through together. We made an arc during this backpacking trip: we started somewhere and ended up somewhere different. Over the course of sixteen hours, the seniors were leaders and role models, pushing past their own tiredness or bee stings for the greater good of the group. The middlers became great team members and realized that, despite being pushed a little, they were able to accomplish whatever their goal was. The risk of real danger was low throughout the entire journey. We had a map, water, fully stocked first aid kit, and a lot of experience on our side.

Even so, our hike was real. The only way back was for all of us to work together, to pay attention, and to keep walking. We couldn’t take a shortcut or conjure a hot plate of food. But I think that is what makes backpacking such a profound experience. We work for everything we have, so even just arriving back to a tent site is cause for a celebration. We give ourselves a real-time challenge (getting to a destination) and we rely on each person we are with to help us solve it.

We got back a few days ago, and ever since we have been back, I have noticed the backpackers still look at each other a little differently. They still talk about their experiences, and we are making bracelets from the bear bag rope as a symbol of the bond. We all grew through the challenge, learned a lot about each other, and learned a lot about ourselves.

Hilarious Fun

The Nolichucky is a gorgeous wilderness river that stretches for 9 miles through North Carolina and into eastern Tennessee. It drops down through a gorge of rocks between the Bald Mountains and the Unaka Mountains forming an excellent, scenic and technical, whitewater run for kayaking. Today, Leland, Andria, Jamie and Brett led seven campers on a trip down the Nolichucky, spending all day kayaking on the water. With class III and III+ rapids most of the way, this is an intermediate kayaking river, and these Rockbrook girls were ready! They tackled the “Railroad” rapid, “On the Rocks” rapid, the “Quarter Mile” rapid, and the “Rooster Tail” rapid. They took time to play too, for example surfing a wave on the “Jaws” rapid.

Nolichucky Kayak Kid
Nolichucky River Kayaking

A couple of girls had to swim after flipping their boats, but both Marli and Anna Grace were able to roll back up, hitting a true “combat roll” (rolling up, not while practicing, but “for real” in the more difficult setting of a whitewater rapid). The girls were very excited to be able to take this special trip and to paddle so well. Take a look at this excellent group.

Nolichucky Kayaking Group
Shaving Cream Fight Girls

Maybe it was the fantastic dinner of pasta, roast chicken and green beans we enjoyed, or the blueberry cobbler (made from scratch with fresh blueberries) that showed up for dessert, or maybe the girls have now grown especially comfortable here at camp, but whatever the reason, we were all surprised by the explosive response that erupted in the dining hall when we announced an optional shaving cream fight for tonight’s Twilight activity. It seemed like every age group was excited to put on their swimsuits and in about 15 minutes, we had more than 100 girls on the landsports field armed with a can of slippery white foam. There are very few rules to a shaving cream fight. Essentially, you squirt and spray shaving cream on everyone nearby, and run around trying the smear it into someone’s hair, or into funny patterns somewhere on their body. It didn’t take long either for everyone to be mostly covered with the stuff. The girls absolutely loved it, and really spent most of their time laughing after “smearing” someone, or being “smeared.” With everyone slippery, we also pulled out a slip-n-slide to enjoy. This is all good, albeit a little messy, hilarious fun, perfect for a bunch of friends at camp.

Camp Game Show Girls

Our evening program brought back Bill Grimsly and his “Game Show Mania.” A little prompting from Chase first sent the girls back to their cabins to invent wacky costumes… proving once again that everything is more fun in costume. Check out the photo gallery to see what they came up with. When they arrived at the gym, the girls found four game show podiums set up, complete with buzzers, lights, and scoreboards. After selecting random members of the audience, each round from a different age group, Bill presented a trivia question and answer game challenging the girls to name movie titles, musical artists, characters from books, and details from Rockbrook’s history (For example, What does the F.B.I. cabin’s name stand for?). Bill mixed things up occasionally by announcing hilarious “challenge rounds” where he would award extra points if a contestant could hula hoop the longest, or was willing to eat something “not so appealing” like canned sardines in mustard sauce. When a girl won a round of questions, her whole cabin received a giant cookie as a prize, which meant that the audience was always rooting for the contestants.

By the way, the answer is “Fanny Bell Inn.” 🙂

The Five Essential Qualities of a Rockbrook Girl

All Smiles in Needlecraft

“Rockbrook Girl” is a title that we throw around all the time here at camp. We call campers Rockbrook Girls when they help to clean up messes that they didn’t help to create, are friendly to a new camper, or come bounding in on Opening Day with a grin from ear to ear and a fervent (and usually vocal) wish for their parents just to be gone already, so camp can start. We even have a song (“Hooray for [blank], She’s a Rockbrook Girl”), which ascribes that title to anyone at camp that we want to celebrate.

Friendship Bracelet Maker

What is a Rockbrook Girl? Well—the lazy answer is that you just sort of know her when you see her. This is the answer that I nearly always lean on, since every time I put on my analytical hat and try to sum up the essence of a true Rockbrook Girl into a single, ironclad list of qualities, I run into this roadblock: there is such a wide array of thoroughly different Rockbrook Girls that there is an exception to nearly every trait I deem necessary.

Are Rockbrook girls talkative? Sure, plenty of them are. But what about the two that I saw yesterday, sitting on the Hill, not saying a word to one another, one sketching, the other reading? They looked incredibly happy to be there, and walked off when the bell rang for Evening Program with huge smiles on their faces. So what if they hadn’t said two words to each other through the whole of Twilight? They had enjoyed that hour with one another just as much as the most talkative girls in camp had.

Balloon Archery

Are Rockbrook girls outdoorsy? Sometimes they are. There are girls who go out on every paddling, rock climbing, and hiking trip that we offer. They want to learn every camping skill that we can teach them, and would happily eschew the allures of air conditioning for the rest of their lives. But what about the ones who like to stay in their cabins with their friends, making friendship bracelets or playing cards? They are no less Rockbrook Girls than the first sort.

You see the challenge. Yet still, I think I have come up with five qualities that sum up Rockbrook Girls, that still manage to allow for the myriad personalities that fit into that category. Some girls show up on their first day of camp, fully equipped with every one of these qualities, ready to take camp by storm. Some gain a little bit more of each of them each year that they come to camp, as Rockbrook helps to shape them into the adults that they will become.

Buddies in Folklore

1. Friendliness
Whether they are talkative or quiet, shy or outgoing, Rockbrook Girls are always friendly to one another. There’s no room here at camp for the cliques and exclusion that you can find at schools, and Rockbrook Girls tend to get that right away. In fact, it’s one of the qualities of camp that they relish most. Rockbrook girls view every person that they see as a potential friend, and will go out of their way to treat those people with kindness and respect.

Cracking Up in Hodge Podge

2. Laughter
Rockbrook girls laugh. They laugh when something is funny, of course, but they also laugh at themselves, when they do something silly or make a mistake. Sometimes they just laugh to fill the silences, to make sure that no one is getting too bored. Most importantly, though, they laugh when things don’t go right. They push through frustration and embarrassment, and find the humor in every situation, knowing that as long as they can laugh at it, no challenge is too difficult to tackle. Just the other day, during swim demos, I saw one of our youngest campers jump into the lake, and immediately ask the life guards to help her out. She climbed out of the lake and over to me with a grin on her face. She shrugged, and said “Well, that didn’t go so well!” I reassured her that the cold water can be a shock the first time you jump in, and that there’s nothing wrong with not quite getting it the first time. She laughed out loud, and said, “I’m not worried! I’ll just go again tomorrow.” And she marched off to join her new friends. That, right there, was a Rockbrook Girl.

gymnasitic leap

3. Daring
Every girl here has at least enough daring to leave the familiarity of home, and come to a place as crazy as this for a few weeks. That is impressive enough already. But, while they’re here, this trait can manifest itself in manifold ways. Maybe they go on every trip that we offer without looking back. Maybe they have to stand at the edge of the rock that starts the zip line for ten minutes before stepping off into thin air. Maybe they audition for the play on day one. Maybe they dread the Evening Program skits every night, but join in resolutely anyway, taking on a bigger and bigger role each time. Regardless of the form of their daring—whether effortless, or a quieter, more determined sort of courage—Rockbrook Girls always possess a bit of it.

Painting With Straws

4. Helpfulness
Every girl at camp has jobs to do. Whether they have to take out the cabin trash in the morning, clear the tables after a meal, or keep their area in the cabin neat for the sake of their cabin-mates, they are great about remembering their responsibility to help keep camp clean. True Rockbrook Girls, though, tend to go the extra mile. They offer to help a new camper find their way to their activities, they stay behind after craft activities to help clean up the supplies, they walk their friends to the deducky if they have to go in the middle of the night, they lend out their flashlights and costumes and stationery, they sit and listen and offer a shoulder to cry on whenever a friend is upset… there are countless ways that they find to help. This comes, I think, from being very aware that they are a key part of this community. They feel acutely the responsibility that comes along with that, and want to help in any way they can to make our community strong.

Superstar

5. Confidence to be who they are
This is a hard one. We all feel that urge to change bits of ourselves to fit in and be a part of the cool crowd. Rarely (though it does happen) do girls come into their first year of camp feeling entirely comfortable with who they are, quirks and all. But as they come back, year after year, something begins to change. They find it a little easier to be friendly to new or “uncool” girls. They find it a little easier to laugh when things get tough. They find it a little easier to call on that sense of daring when needed. They find it a little easier to lend a helping hand, even when it might inconvenience them. And, most importantly, after years of being surrounded by friendly, happy, daring, and helpful friends who love and support them in everything they do, Rockbrook girls find it a little easier to show the world their true selves, without apology.

Spontaneous Fun

Making authentic corn tamales at camp
Dining Hall Wheel

Two things come to mind when considering meals at Rockbrook. First, there is the food. Obviously, eating the fantastic meals Rick and his crew prepare for us is the ostensible reason we gather three times a day in the dining hall. For example, tonight everyone was giddy with excitement because dinner included a special Latin American dish, authentic Tamales. Made with finely ground corn, lime, oil and stock mixed into a paste, then combined with meats, peppers or cheese as fillings, each tamale is hand-stuffed into a corn husk. The kitchen crew shredded the chicken and cheese, made a Guajillo red sauce and a green salsa, spending hours stuffing, folding, and then steaming all of the Tamales. Such a delicious treat!

Beyond a time to eat excellent food, our meals are also events. They are special times when spontaneous fun is bound to happen. A whole cabin might come to lunch dressed for a beach party or ready to perform a song or short skit they invented. Naturally, there’s always a silly song to sing, often with hand motions, clapping or even banging on the table. Occasionally, we’ll have a dance break, where everyone stops eating, jumps up to boogie down to a recent pop song. Today lunch included Chase giving everyone in the dining hall a chance to “Spin the Wheel” of Fun. You can see the wheel in this photo, but it’s basically a clicker that when spun lands randomly on one section (think of the game show “Wheel of Fortune.”). Our wheel has things like “Candy” and “Muffins,” but also “Dress a Director” (devise a crazy costume for a Director to wear at the next meal), “Joy Ride” (ride around with Chase in the golf cart), and “Polar Bear” (jump in the lake early before breakfast). We spin the wheel only occasionally making it very exciting when we do. The whole camp stands up, and then using a series of criteria (for example, though these vary every time: hair in a ponytail, visited Europe, wearing green, have blue eyes, etc.) girls sit down or remain standing until only one person is left. When that lucky person finally spins the wheel, the whole dining hall holds its breath with anticipation and explodes with cheering when we find out the result. Spinning the wheel is a blast for everyone, even when it’s just one person spinning.

Teen Camp Girls at High Falls
Rock Climbing Teen Camp Girl

One of the climbs on Castle Rock, the big outcropping of granite above the dining hall on the Rockbrook property, is called “Dragon Tail.” It’s a short climb (maybe 25 feet), but is quite difficult because it requires a strenuous climbing move called a “layback.” You can see it in this photo. The climber lays back pulling an edge of the rock with her feet out in front of her. Dragontail is even more challenging because it requires you to switch from the layback position to a very small edge at the finish. For our intermediate and advanced climbers, it’s a tough, but exciting route.

The Hi-Ups took an impromptu waterfall hike today in the Dupont State Forest. We hiked about 4 miles altogether and along the way stopped to check out Hooker Falls, Triple Falls, and High Falls (where this photo was taken; click it for a larger version). This part of Dupont Forest has become a very popular tourist destination, so recent improvements have made it easy to view these Falls from a distance and climb down to the base where you can feel the powerful, constant spray created by the falling water. It can be challenging to make your way over the slippery wet rocks— two girls slipped slightly, completely sinking one foot in the water! —but with extra care, we all made it past each obstacle… and now have some fantastic photos to prove it!

Camp Play Practice

At the end of the session, on Wednesday afternoon (8/13), the campers will present a musical based on the movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (which was in tern adapted from the 1964 novel by Roald Dahl). With auditions complete, now the main cast members are rehearsing during the first free swim periods before lunch. This photo shows them meeting in the Hillside Lodge and sitting in a circle while reading through a scene. The story of Willy Wonka has lots of characters (all those Oompa-Loompas!), some that sing, others that also deliver specific lines, and a few supporting roles. The directors have reserved a few of these roles for the mini session girls who will arrive on Sunday, making sure that we will have a full cast for the performance. Members of the tech crew have also started painting scenery, just as the vocal soloists are rehearsing their songs. It’s going to be a great show! If your daughter is one of the performers, our office will contact you so that you can make plans (if possible) to attend the camp’s performance (we nevertheless will also distribute to everyone a video recording of the performance).

Winter Wonderland Camp Party

Two other special events happened today, both of which were spontaneous, optional for everyone, and really fun for the girls who chose to attend. When cool, misty weather arrived during second free swim, the lifeguards announced a “Winter Wonderland Party” instead of swimming. Inside the Hillside Lodge, they built a glorious fire in the fireplace, had hot chocolate to drink, and broke out marshmallows to roast for s’mores. They played winter holiday music, cut snowflakes from colored construction paper, and had a wonderful time together, cozy in the Lodge. After dinner, during the “Twilight” period of free time, Kelly the camp gardener held a “Garden Gathering” down at the flower and vegetable garden. She introduced the girls to the plants growing and let everyone pick a few things. Soon we had a nice basket of carrots, squash, green beans, and a few cucumbers. Several girls also made bouquets of flowers to decorate their cabins back up in camp. It’s marvelous to stand next to a sunflower towering high above you, or to reach into the ground and pull out something you can eat. By the end, the girls were loaded down with produce and a true appreciation of gardening.

Here’s Amelia showing off what she gathered from the garden.

Camp Garden Girl

A Full Slate

Camp girl rock climbing
camp girls in NC hiking in high altitude

In addition to the regularly scheduled activities at camp, the four hour-long periods during a typical day when every corner of the camp is busily occupied with girls and activity instructors working on craft projects or improving athletic skills, for example, there are also outdoor adventure trips going out. Some might be up to rock climb on our very own private Castle Rock or to hike on the camp property along the trail to Rockbrook Falls (a multi-tiered waterfall formed by Dunn’s Creek), or perhaps out of camp to one of the nearby rivers (e.g. the French Broad or Tuckaseegee) or into one of the public Forests (e.g., the Pisgah, Dupont or Nantahala). Whether in camp or out of camp, we often announce these trips during breakfast either the day before or on the very day they will happen. In this way, if a camper wants to climb Looking Glass Rock (as was offered today), she would sign up and then miss her regularly scheduled activities while gone. With several kinds of trips offered every day, this creates a dilemma of sorts for those girls who want to “do it all.” They have to choose… Kayaking or gymnastics and horseback riding… rock climbing or Needlecraft and archery, and so forth. It’s a great exercise in decision making, but also something that gives each girl even more power to set her own schedule while at camp, to customize it according to her newfound interests or in sync with her newly developed friendships. The girls can sign up for these special trips if they want to, but it’s also just fine if they prefer to stick with their schedule of activities in camp.

Well, that’s a long introduction to report that today we offered a full slate of adventure trips. While Andy took a group rock climbing to the Nose area of Looking Glass, Andria and Leland guided another group of 8 campers kayaking on a section of the French Broad River. Meanwhile Clyde introduced a group of Seniors to a feature in Pisgah by hiking to “Devil’s Courthouse” (elev. 5670 ft.) and Emily led a backpacking excursion to one of our favorite secret campsites in a different section of Pisgah. Rounding out the options, Rita and Jenny also offered trips down the Rockbrook zipline throughout the day. There were plenty of options for everyone to scratch their itch for adventure today.

Pottery Glazing child at summer camp

At camp, both pottery studios today were happily pinching, rolling and coiling lumps of clay to make different pots and sculptures. Some campers have chosen to make slab mugs with different patterns pressed into the sides, creating textures with lace, leaves, or combs. They’ve cut shapes, for example different letters, scored and applied some “slip” to fuse them to their vessels. Several girls have been making face mugs complete with eyes, ears and eyebrows, as well as a nose and obvious lips. Other campers are sculpting realistic forms, for example dogs, rabbits, plenty of turtles and even a penguin. The last step, before firing them, is to chose different colors of glaze for the finishing touch on the projects.

Take a look at this short video Emily produced about the pottery program at Rockbrook. It shows campers working with clay and Michelle helping them throw pots on the wheels.

Camp girl learning to drum

Our twilight drum circle returned tonight when Billy Zanski arrived with his array of different Djembe and Dunun drums from West Africa. Billy has played with Djembe master Bolokada Conde from Guinea, and teaches regular drumming classes in Asheville. Tonight he led us through several rhythms up in the Hillside Lodge with campers and counselors taking turns on all the drums. Sitting on benches arranged in a circle, several girls danced while others played.  The Djembes produce both high, mid and bass notes depending how your hand hits the head of the drum, and with almost 20 of them being played together it produced a really fun sound.  The Dunun (or Dundun) played alternating bass and mid tones setting the core beat.  There’s something infectiously fun about hearing group drum rhythms like this. We had the doors of the Lodge open so the whole hill was filled with cool drumming music, inspiring everyone outside to be more upbeat and dance a bit. For all of us, it was a fun musical evening. Cool stuff.

We have very exciting plans for tomorrow’s 4th of July celebration. It’s gonna be great!

Why Girls Love Rafting

Camp Rafting Crew

Of all the outdoor adventure trips offered at Rockbrook, whitewater rafting continues to be the most popular. More than kayaking, canoeing, rock climbing (though that’s a clear second), day hiking and backpacking, leaving camp to raft the Nantahala River inspires campers to sign up, even as that means missing their regularly scheduled activities. In fact, I’d estimate 90% of the girls old enough to go —Middlers and Seniors only, due to a Forest Service restriction— elect to take a day trip down the river, or to raft and spend the night at our outpost camp located near the river in Swain County. Rockbrook has been guiding these whitewater trips since the early 1980s, when it received one of the few Forest Service rafting permits awarded organizations. Rockbrook remains the only girls summer camp authorized to guide its own trips like this.

Why, though, is rafting so popular with our campers? If you ask the girls, they’ll say things like “It’s just so much fun!” Or, “It’s a thrilling ride.” As you can see from these photos, they are really enjoying it, but is there something special about rafting that makes it so “awesome?”

Camp Whitewater Rafting Laughter

Beyond the cool gear you get to wear (a helmet and PDF), the excellent Rockbrook guides steering the rafts down the river, and the sheer novelty of the experience, my hunch is that whitewater rafting is particularly fun for our girls because it is foremost a lighthearted social experience. More so than other adventure sports, rafting is a group event. All down the river, the girls in each boat are together, chatting with each other, singing songs, and reacting to all the bumps and splashes. In particular, each rapid of the river provides an opportunity to laugh hysterically when someone falls into the boat, or even bounces out into the river unexpectedly. Rafting, especially with a group of girls, is simply fun and funny in this way.

Likewise, even though some might wish for something warmer, I think rafting on the Nantahala river is extra fun because the water is always about 53 degrees. It makes every splash more intense, and if someone gets in the water, you can only imagine how that can produce quite a shocking scream!

We’ll be doing more rafting as the session progresses, but for now you can see more photos in the online gallery. It was a great day on the water… Warm and sunny weather, 7 Rockbrook rafts, almost 50 people, and a special experience for everyone.

Camp Rafting Cheer
Girls Whitewater Rafting

Colorful Treasures

Child glazing a pottery teapot

The glazes are out! In both pottery studios at camp, the girls have now finished many of their pieces— the bowls, soap dishes, textured tiles, cups, mugs, and plenty of sculpted animals —and are excited to give them a little color.  There are 25 or so different colors to select and then paint onto their clay creations before Katie and her pottery staff carefully stack them into the kilns for firing.  That’s where everything is transformed into beautifully shiny (now colorful) works of art.  Glazes blend together, maybe drip and run a little, and change color quite dramatically, so it’s never 100% predictable what a glazed piece of pottery will look like when it emerges from the kiln. It’s so exciting to find out! Later in the week, after everything is fired, we hold a big “Pottery Pick Up” day for the girls to come claim their work.  All the finished pieces are laid out on tables so everyone can relish the creativity and see the huge variety of items the campers have produced over the session.  Don’t be surprised if you have a box of pottery treasures to transport home next week.

Kids Camp Canoe Trip

The weather this morning was so wonderful, Emily decided to announce a canoe trip on the French Broad River. Warm sunshine is always an inspiration for a paddling trip and today that was true too because it took very little time to fill the trip with 12 excited Juniors. Also, the girls were enthusiastic to get out on the river after learning their canoe strokes on the lake. They paddled a section of the river right near camp, a short section that kept them on the water for about an hour and a half… just about the right amount of time. Canoeing is one of the adventure activities that Rockbrook has offered since its founding. It’s one of the classic outdoor pursuits that, with this kind of introduction, can become a lifelong treasured hobby.

Children at summer camp square dancing

After last week’s Saturday night dance, we changed it up tonight and held a square dance with the boys at Camp High Rocks, which is located just up the mountain from Rockbrook. You might think that going to a square dance would require less primp and prep, but there’s still hair to braid, plaid to find, and for some, boots to brush. We held 2 dances simultaneously, one at our gym for the older girls and the other outside on the High Rocks tennis courts. The idea of square dancing with boys can cause a little anxiety… not really knowing how to do it… having to hold hands! …but everything is lighthearted, and after all, part of the fun is making mistakes and laughing when you spin the wrong direction or grab the wrong hand. The counselors are dancing too, so this also helps the campers relax and enjoy themselves.  In the end, despite being a little new to everyone, and maybe a little challenging as a result, we had a wonderful evening.

Healthy Kids Get Outdoors

Canoe kid in the water with canoe outdoors

There’s a new bill introduced in the US Senate that authorizes “the Secretary of the Interior to carry out [state and local] programs and activities that connect Americans, especially children, youth, and families, with the outdoors.” It’s called the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act of 2011 and was introduced by Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, and co-sponsored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin.

Prompting this legislation is a growing concern that American children are increasingly sedentary, spending most of their time indoors, and overweight. A wide range of studies show our kids are addicted to electronic media, watching on average 7.5 hours per day. Obesity and its related health problems are closely related to this. And now, seeing that kids are spending on average less than 10 minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play, an alarming trend is appearing. There’s even some worry that an unhealthy American population would be a national security threat given how many overweight people would be disqualified from military service.

The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act would combat these trends by funding state and local organizations in their efforts to get kids outdoors, to encourage active outdoor experiences. Here too, studies show outdoor activity yielding incredible public health, local economic and national conservation benefits. Seeking these benefits, this legislation would provide up to $15 million dollars of matching funds to sponsor programs and infrastructure that effectively connect Americans, especially kids, with outdoor experiences.

Of course, we are cheering this legislation! At an outdoor summer camp like Rockbrook, we know and celebrate the wonders of outdoor experience everyday. We spend most of our time (not just 10 minutes!) outside, actively engaged in dozens of activities.

At camp, we know all about the benefits to kids of outdoor activity. It’s nice to see those same benefits being championed nationally.