Henderson County camps bring $120 million to area

April 15th, 2012

Jane Cox Murray, executive director of the N.C. Youth Camp Association, speaks during Business Morning Update Wednesday at The Chariot in downtown Hendersonville.

PhotoLeigh Kelley/Times-News

By
Times-News Staff Writer
Published: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 5:34 p.m.
Youth camps have a significant and positive economic impact on Henderson County, a 2010 N.C. State University study found, as the county pulled in $120 million from its 17 camps.

Facts

Total economic impact findings by county

Henderson – $120 million from 17 camps

Transylvania – $126 million from 14 camps

Buncombe – $103 million from 7 camps

Jackson – $11.5 million from 2 camps

Jane Murray, executive director of the N.C. Youth Camp Association, said that in Transylvania County, $126 million was generated from 14 camps, and in Buncombe County, seven camps brought $103 million to the local economy.

The 10-week study conducted by N.C. State looked at 45 camps in Henderson, Transylvania and Buncombe counties, as well as two in Jackson County.

The estimated impact in the four Western North Carolina counties is about $365 million, Murray said.

She shared this data at Wednesday’s Business Morning Update at The Chariot in Hendersonville.

“Camp is part of the culture and is the life of the community,” Murray said.

In 2010, Murray said 13,053 families visited Henderson County when bringing their children to the camps. These families stayed an average of four nights in the county’s lodging facilities and spent about $2,300 each on shopping, dining and visiting nature areas and historic attractions.

In addition, 1,181 seasonal camp employees spend an average of $3,858 each during their stay in Henderson County.

The last economic impact study was conducted in 1999 and showed that camps in Western North Carolina generated about $96 million. The 2010 study indicated a 279 percent increase from 11 years before.

The latest survey included 53,238 families and 5,477 seasonal workers throughout the four counties.

The N.C. Youth Camp Association has 50 member camps in the state. For more information, visit www.nccamps.org.

Reach Schulman at 828-694-7890 or mark.schulman@blueridgenow.com.

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Asheville area camps add local food to their menus

July 5th, 2011

Striving for healthier menus, summer camps have one eye on sustainability

Written by Jessica Kennedy, Ashville Citizen-Times
Terra Summer camp director and founder Sybil Fix watches as students, from left, Keira Van Hanken, Abby Smith, William Coye and Matt Young help make a blueberry peach crumble at the camp in Mills River. / John Fletcher/

Terra Summer camp director and founder Sybil Fix watches as students, from left, Keira Van Hanken, Abby Smith, William Coye and Matt Young help make a blueberry peach crumble at the camp in Mills River. / John Fletcher/

ASHEVILLE — Every summer camp is different, and the food they feed their campers varies just as widely.

But many area camps are making efforts to provide fresh, local, healthy food for their campers to make camps more sustainable as a whole.

Terra Summer, a food-based day program in Mills River, educates children about food through food.

“Children are our future adults,” said Sybil Fix, founder and director of Terra Summer. “They’re the people who are going to be living on this planet for the next one year to 90 years.”

The children who attend Terra Summer work in the 16-acre on-site organic farm, work with a chef to cook their lunch each day, and have instructional time. Terra Summer uses only vegetables grown in its garden, very few animal products and no processed foods. The program is entirely vegetarian.

“We try to teach children about the healthfulness of food more through a discussion of the whole holistic approach to food rather than lecturing them about calories,” Fix said.

Denise Barratt, a registered dietitian in Asheville, said using local and fresh foods is a healthier option because kids will be more willing to eat them for taste and aesthetics.

“It has more flavor,” Barratt said. “It’s more attractive because it’s fresh from the garden. If you go to the tailgate market, you can get something picked that day rather than several weeks ago.”

The ‘picky’ problem

Exposing kids to a range of different foods is the key to making them less picky, Barratt said.

Hans Stader, of Asheville, said he signed his son up for the program for the last two summers because he “needed some more exposure to different foods.”

“We’re still waiting for him to grow up,” Stader said. “He’s a very picky eater.”

Stader said Terra Summer introduced his son to new foods and ideas and planted seeds in his mind that he hopes will flourish over time.

“There’s a stereotype of kid-friendly having to be what looks familiar to kids, but it’s very possible to introduce things to kids that they’ll eat,” said Genie Gunn, volunteer standards chair for the American Camp Association’s southeastern branch. “Camps just need to make a commitment to do it.”

Residential camps

Camp Carolina of Brevard and Camp Ridgecrest of Black Mountain have also been moving toward more sustainable camp models for their residential camp programs.

“We’ve been getting local food for about 17 years, but it’s easier now in the last couple years to get better food,” said Alfred Thompson, owner and director at Camp Carolina. “It’s still not easy, it’s just easier.”

Thompson is part of a community supported agriculture program and gets two cases of local, organic vegetables every week for his campers. It doesn’t feed the whole camp, but it helps, he said. He also recommends taking trips to the farmer’s market and purchases flour from a North Carolina mill.

Camp Carolina tries to add healthy options to established kid favorites — meals like pizza, tacos and spaghetti.

“Kids tend to like finger foods,” Barratt said. “Kids will go for raw broccoli or carrots or cauliflower to put in a ranch dip rather than squash casserole.”

But Thompson has figured out his own way to get campers to eat vegetables. The pasta Bolognese, for example, has carrots and celery ground up in it, and the pasta Raphael has blended artichoke hearts.

“They don’t like to see the vegetables,” Thompson said.

Quality and price

“The stereotype is that it’s more expensive, but the yield is greater,” Gunn said. “There’s going to be a lot less waste because it’s fresher and tastes better.”

Gunn said it can be more expensive up front to hire skilled food service people and buy organic or local vegetables. But after the initial commitment, camps will find that it’s not that expensive.

“The impact is that a camper might go home and try to eat those things or increase the fruits and vegetables they take to school with them to augment their lunches,” Gunn said. “It also makes them more open to the changes we all hope are coming down the pipe for public schools.”

Barratt said the positive economic impact on the community from camps buying local food is huge. While one piece of produce may cost slightly more, the money that goes into the local economy adds up.

“It doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” Barratt said.

“The side effect is that if the food’s healthier at the camp, it’s going to help the child that week.”

Residential camps

Camp Carolina of Brevard and Camp Ridgecrest of Black Mountain have also been moving toward more sustainable camp models for their residential camp programs.

“We’ve been getting local food for about 17 years, but it’s easier now in the last couple years to get better food,” said Alfred Thompson, owner and director at Camp Carolina. “It’s still not easy, it’s just easier.”

Thompson is part of a community supported agriculture program and gets two cases of local, organic vegetables every week for his campers. It doesn’t feed the whole camp, but it helps, he said. He also recommends taking trips to the farmer’s market and purchases flour from a North Carolina mill.

Camp Carolina tries to add healthy options to established kid favorites — meals like pizza, tacos and spaghetti.

“Kids tend to like finger foods,” Barratt said. “Kids will go for raw broccoli or carrots or cauliflower to put in a ranch dip rather than squash casserole.”

But Thompson has figured out his own way to get campers to eat vegetables. The pasta Bolognese, for example, has carrots and celery ground up in it, and the pasta Raphael has blended artichoke hearts.

“They don’t like to see the vegetables,” Thompson said.

Quality and price

“The stereotype is that it’s more expensive, but the yield is greater,” Gunn said. “There’s going to be a lot less waste because it’s fresher and tastes better.”

Gunn said it can be more expensive up front to hire skilled food service people and buy organic or local vegetables. But after the initial commitment, camps will find that it’s not that expensive.

“The impact is that a camper might go home and try to eat those things or increase the fruits and vegetables they take to school with them to augment their lunches,” Gunn said. “It also makes them more open to the changes we all hope are coming down the pipe for public schools.”

Barratt said the positive economic impact on the community from camps buying local food is huge. While one piece of produce may cost slightly more, the money that goes into the local economy adds up.

“It doesn’t have to be all or nothing,” Barratt said.

“The side effect is that if the food’s healthier at the camp, it’s going to help the child that week.”

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Ton-A-Wandah sends area businesses to camp

May 20th, 2011

Chris Conard takes part in Camp Field Day at Camp Ton-A-Wandah Thursday. Team and individuals competed in events like archery, 22 rifle shooting, kayaking, rock climbing, table tennis and more.

Chris Conard takes part in Camp Field Day at Camp Ton-A-Wandah Thursday. Team and individuals competed in events like archery, 22 rifle shooting, kayaking, rock climbing, table tennis and more.

Buy Photo PATRICK SULLIVAN/TIMES-NEWS

By Jessica Goodman
Times-News Staff Writer

Published: Friday, May 13, 2011 at 4:30 a.m.

FLAT ROCK — Chris Conard released the arrow from his bow, sending it soaring toward the target at the end of the field. It struck solidly in the blue with a whack.

There was a lot of backslapping and friendly competition Thursday as bankers, directors and managers climbed towers, paddled kayaks or shot arrows at the second Camp Field Day on Thursday at Camp Ton-A-Wandah in Flat Rock. The event is held to educate area businesses about the impact of the region’s camp industry.

“There’s some good healthy competition between businesses,” said Ton-A-Wandah Camp Director Garrett Graham. “This gives businesses opportunity to experience camp.”

“Basically, there is no other event like this,” said Fair Waggoner, city president of United Community Bank and organizer of Camp Field Day.

Teams from 19 businesses competed in camp activities such as riflery, archery, rock climbing, ping-pong, cornhole, canoeing and horseback riding. The day ended with the traditional campfire and s’mores.

“Camp season is fast approaching,” said Bob Williford, president of the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce. “This is our opportunity to communicate the benefits of camp, both socially and economically.”

A recent economic impact study on Western North Carolina camps, conducted by N.C. State University and commissioned by the N.C. Youth Camp Association, found the camp industry has a total impact of $365 million each year in Henderson, Transylvania, Buncombe and Jackson counties.

Camp Field Day allowed camp owners and employees to network with other businesses, and served as a team-building event.  The event also included a raffle to benefit the Henderson County Youth Leadership Program, which has helped 22 local students have full scholarships to 14 summer camps in the area.

“I’m here because it’s good to join the corporate world and the camping world to have an impact on children,” said Yates Pharr, co-owner of Falling Creek Camp outside Tuxedo. “Also, it’s fun.”

The event raises awareness for the Young Leaders program, added Paige Hafner, executive director for the program.

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Summer camps mean big bucks in Asheville area

April 18th, 2011

Study puts impact to WNC economy at $365M yearly

Asheville Citizen Times, 10:48 PM, Apr. 16, 2011, Written by James Shea

Mike Thiessen, a carpenter at Camp Mondamin in Zirconia, replaces old wood on a walkway Thursday morning. "There's always something to fix that's for sure," says Thiessen of the camp ground which has been open as a "summer adventure for boys" since 1922. Summer camps in Western North Carolina have a huge impact on the local economy. / Erin Brethauer/ebrethau@citizen-times.com

Mike Thiessen, a carpenter at Camp Mondamin in Zirconia, replaces old wood on a walkway Thursday morning. "There's always something to fix that's for sure," says Thiessen of the camp ground which has been open as a "summer adventure for boys" since 1922. Summer camps in Western North Carolina have a huge impact on the local economy. / Erin Brethauer/ebrethau@citizen-times.com

BREVARD — There’s more to summer camp than s’mores and silly skits. The summer tradition generates some $365 million in Western North Carolina economic activity, according to an industry group.

The N.C. Youth Camp Association funded a recent economic study that outlined the financial impact of 50 summer camps in Buncombe, Transylvania, Jackson and Henderson counties.

“Camping in Western North Carolina has a long tradition, but this quantifies (the economic impact),” said Jane Murray, N.C. Youth Camp Association executive director.

The study showed camps generated a $103 million annual impact in Buncombe County; $120 million in Henderson County; $11.5 million in Jackson County; and $126 million in Transylvania County. A 1999 study showed camps in Western North Carolina generated $96.2 in economic activity.

Summer camps created the equivalent of 10,335 full jobs — excluding staff — in the four-county region, according to the study, and paid $33 million in taxes. Out-of-state families spent $2,096 per camper and camp staff members spent an average of $2,402 during the camping season.

Robert Danos, director of Camp Mondamin in Henderson County, said a lot of people do not grasp the financial impacts that camps have in WNC. This is partially because the camps are in remote areas and local residents do not see them.

“Camps in Western North Carolina are a hidden business,” he said. “We are a green business, but out of sight.”

A long history

For a long time, people have come to WNC for summer camp. At one point, North Carolina had the “Camp State” on its license plates because of the large number of summer camps in the state, most in WNC.

“The tradition in the South of going to camp in this part of North Carolina has been going on for generations,” said Page Ives Lemel, Keystone Camp executive director.

She should know. Keystone Camp in Transylvania County was founded in 1916 by two Florida women. Lemel is the great-great-niece of the founder, and her family has directly owned and run the camp since 1942. She was raised around the camp and has been the director since 1984.

Lemel has seen young children come to camp and years later return with their own children.

According to the study, 42 percent of the children who attend camp in the four counties are the children of former campers.

Lemel said two of her current staff have been coming to the camp for 15 years. They started as campers and are now staff members. The camp is a huge part of their lives.

Besides working and attending, many former campers settle in the area after growing up. Some have started businesses. The French Broad River Academy in Asheville and the Cypress Cellar restaurant in Hendersonville were both started by former campers who grew up outside the area.

“It’s basically a delayed return on investment,” Danos said.

Staying in the area

The parents of campers are a main reason camps generate so much economic activity. They often rent a hotel or cabin for a few weeks or a couple of days after campers are dropped off and before they are picked up.

“Let’s face it: This is a beautiful area,” Lemel said. “It’s not surprising that parents would stay several days on both ends of a session.”

The majority drive, but some fly to WNC. A few even take the train or bus. They travel an average of 500 miles to camp, according to the study. The families spend an average of four days away from home transporting a child to and from camp.

These are people whose only reason to be in WNC is summer camp.

More than three-quarters of the study respondents said they would not have visited North Carolina if their child did not attend camp.

“The study shows what a dramatic impact camps not only have on children but also the impact those families have on Western North Carolina,” Danos said. “We bring numerous families to Western North Carolina.”

Shopping was the top activity of camp families during visits to the region, but hiking, sightseeing and fishing were also listed as activities.

“We are the steady rock that keeps tourism going,” Danos said.

Preserving land

Besides the economic impact, there is also a positive environmental impact. The camps in the survey encompass nearly 50,000 acres, which have been largely preserved in a rural or natural state.

Adam Boyd, director of Camp Merri-Mac in Buncombe County, said developers still inquire about buying the camp — even after the real estate crash. He has no intention of selling and wants to keep the land preserved.

“The property for 65 years has not been developed,” Boyd said.

Many of the camps have conservation easements placed on the property and cannot be developed. The streams and woodlands are good habitat for wildlife and plants. Many of the camps in the study reported that they conduct conservation activities to preserve or enhance the land.

“We are a green industry,” Boyd said.

Camps also help preserve other land with the purchase of food from local farmers. The study found that 74 percent of the camps purchase food from local farms.

Making presence known

Murray recently went to Raleigh and spoke with legislators about the camping industry. She said the industry is not looking for a state subsidy or any special treatment, but she wants General Assembly members to be aware of the industry’s impact.

She said the school calendar and state building codes are two major concerns for the camping industry.

The school calendar has been a major issue within the General Assembly recently. Schools generally want to lengthen the time when schools can be in session and the camps want a shorter calendar.

Murray said staff people who work at the camps and attend high school must start working early in the summer. If the students start later, it can be difficult for the camps to have enough staff people. A longer school calendar also limits the number of weeks that camps can hold sessions in the summer.

State building codes can also be a problem for camps, Murray said. Many of the cabins are rustic and built years ago. If similar ones were constructed, they would not meet current code.

“If you followed the rules to a ‘T,’ you would almost be building a hotel room,” Murray said.

She would like to see camps receive an exemption for many building codes, partially to preserve the unique environment at the camps.

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WNC residents speak up about state regulation

April 17th, 2011

Legislative panel listens to public’s concerns, support for current rules

By Jessica Goodman Staff Writer
Hendersonville Times-News

Published: Saturday, April 16, 2011 at 4:30 a.m.

FLAT ROCK — About 120 people from Western North Carolina addressed legislators from the General Assembly Friday about state regulations they felt should be eliminated, maintained or strengthened. People began lining up at noon to sign up to speak, and the meeting went over its allotted time by an hour.

The General Assembly’s joint regulatory reform committee held the meeting Friday in the Bo Thomas Auditorium at Blue Ridge Community College. The committee was created earlier this year, charged with working to “create a strong environment for private sector job creation by lifting the undue burden imposed by outdated, unnecessary and vague rules,” according to the resolution that created the committee.

Friday’s meeting was the fifth of six meetings held across the state to hear citizens’ concerns. Topics included concerns about the impact of deregulation on the environment and child services, while farmers and small business owners were concerned about the impact of too much or outdated regulation and inefficient government departments.

“We take this seriously. We’ve learned a lot over the last week,” said Sen. David Rouzer, R-Johnston, co-chair of the committee.

Gibbie Harris, health director for Buncombe County, urged legislators to balance the necessity of regulations with the needs of businesses.

“There are rules on the books that are really good for us, but there are also rules that are outdated,” he said.

Speakers concerned about deregulation urged the legislators to “use a scalpel, not a meat ax” when looking at regulations concerning water and air quality, and health issues. They said regulations protect the natural heritage of Western North Carolina as well as the health of people in the area. Speakers also urged the legislators to continue to fund the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources in order to continue protecting the waterways.

“Our economy is tied to our natural heritage,” said David Weintraub, executive director of the Environmental and Conservation Organization in Henderson County.

Farmers and small business owners spoke about how regulations hurt business.

Regulations force business owners to spend more time on paperwork and inside government offices. Farmers said different departments with DENR will conduct inspections of their farms, which is inefficient and unnecessary.

Bob Williford, president of the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce, told legislators the primary goal of businesses was to stay in business, and owners can get weighed down by the “myriad of local, state and federal regulations.” He suggested they be streamlined — with antiquated regulations being eliminated. He added the major complaints from business owners that he hears involve the timeliness of responses from government agencies.

Small farmers sought the protection of agriculture in the area, adding that committees regulating agriculture should include people with an agriculture background.

Other issues brought before the legislators included preserving child care regulations in the state. Speakers expressed concern about how deregulation measuring quality child care centers would negatively impact their children.

Legislators attending the meeting also included Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Hendersonville, committee co-chair Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, and Rep. Roger West, R-Marble.

The statewide committee meetings began March 11 in Wilmington. The committee also has visited Charlotte, Jamestown and Winterville. The committee will meet next Thursday in Raleigh. For more information, visit www.ncleg.net/regreform.

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PRESS RELEASE: SUMMER CAMPS IN WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA REPRESENT $365 MILLION IN TOTAL ECONOMIC IMPACT TO THE REGION

April 8th, 2011
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 8, 2011

Black Mountain, North Carolina………Western North Carolina has one of the highest concentrations of summer camps in America. For generations, beautiful settings, ideal temperatures, and unspoiled terrain have contributed to the area’s popularity as a destination for summer campers from all over the world. Anecdotal evidence has long suggested that these visitors and their families have a significant annual impact on local economies. That impact has now been quantified with the release of an economic impact study completed in January 2011 by a team of researchers from North Carolina State University.

The North Carolina Youth Camp Association (NCYCA) is a trade association formed by North Carolina summer camps to expand public understanding of youth camps and to represent their interests with local, state and federal policymakers. The Association seeks to strengthen and expand the educational, environmental and recreational opportunities provided by North Carolina’s camps. There are five key issues currently threatening the camping industry: school calendars, building codes, urban growth, taxes and public land permits.

According to the study, residential summer youth camps in four western North Carolina counties (Buncombe, Henderson, Jackson and Transylvania ) contribute $365 million in total economic impact to western North Carolina. The study also estimated a direct economic impact of $218 million, more than 10,000 full-time equivalent jobs created in addition to camp staff, $260 million in increased resident income, and $33 million in new tax revenues during the summer of 2010.

  • Buncombe County (13 camps represented): $103 million total economic impact, $61 million direct economic impact, and $9.7 million in tax revenue
  • Henderson County (17 camps represented): $126 million total economic impact, $84.5 million direct economic impact, and $11 million in tax revenue
  • Jackson County (2 camps represented): $11.5 million total economic impact, $7 million direct economic impact, and $0.8 million in tax revenue
  • Transylvania County (18 camps represented): $120 million total economic impact, $77 million direct economic impact, and $10 million in tax revenue

The study was completed by Dr. Michelle Gacio Harrolle and Dr. Samantha Rozier Rich of the Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism Management at NC State University, and was commissioned by NCYCA with funding support from Morrow Insurance Agency, Inc. (Hendersonville, NC) and the American Camp Association Southeastern.

The study collected data from camp directors, camp staff, and camp families based on camp information from the summer of 2010. A total of 45 camps participated with a total of 40 usable surveys representing 50 camps from WNC. From staff data, approximately 540 usable surveys were collected representing 5,477 total staff. Seasonal staff, who traveled specifically to WNC because of the residential camps, were shown to spend an average of $2,402 during their stay (before, during, and after camp) in WNC.

Visitor data (collected from camp families’ data) provided 4,600 usable surveys representing nearly 53,238 families. Total attendance at camps was estimated to be 53,238 over the summer, with 49,665 who were considered “incremental visitors.” These incremental visitors, who traveled specifically to WNC because of residential camps and did not live in the four-county WNC region, each spent an average of $2,096 during their multiple stays in WNC.

The study also examined families’ perceptions of the benefits of summer camps. More than 93% of camp families feel camps make a positive difference in their children’s lives, and 95% would not only recommend a camp experience but would send their child back to camp. The top three benefits of organized camps (according to camp families) include:

  • Gaining independence
  • Improving self-confidence
  • Developing new skills

Additionally, the study demonstrated a mutually beneficial relationship between summer camps in WNC and tourism. Specifically, when examining camp families’ travel behaviors, 82% of families traveled to WNC by car and those who stayed overnight stayed primarily in hotels for an average of four nights. A majority (69%) considered themselves to be tourists and participated primarily in four types of activities during their camp-related travel: shopping, visiting a scenic area, hiking, and visiting historical sites/museums.

Overall, findings from this study illustrate that camps generate considerable economic impacts and that these impacts have dramatically increased since the last study conducted in 1998. Additionally, camps are providing an opportunity to improve the lives of our children.

Please visit www.nccamps.org for the complete study.

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Rituals of Summer Camp

April 5th, 2011

tradition

 This article appeeared in Asheville Citizen Times on March 1, 2011, Written by Rachel Connor, WNC Parent contributor

Some of the oldest and most unique summer camps in the Southeast rest in the mountains of Western North Carolina. From tribes to uniforms to family-style meals, they are steeped in tradition. “Each one of us has a strength that makes us different from our neighbor,” Keystone’s Camp director, Page Ives Lemel, said. “So, we are [all] able to continue to be successful.”

Keystone Camp

The oldest camp in the region began when Florence Ellis and Fannie Holt transported a group of Florida girls to the Carolina mountains for the summer of 1916. Three years later, Ellis and Holt decided to make Brevard the permanent home for Keystone Girls Camp. The camp has remained in Ellis’ family for four generations; Lemel is the great-great niece of Ellis.

Horseback riding is a central characteristic in Keystone’s program, and it has been an activity since the foundation of the camp. Holt was probably the horse rider, Lemel said.

“Girls are classified by ability level when they get to camp,” Lemel said. “Every level we have something to offer the child, by riding every day…they make substantial progress.”

Camp Illahee

Brevard is also home to another camp where tradition is a trademark.

At Camp Illahee, every Sunday is a time of unity. From the way they dress to the songs they sing, the girls function as a community.

For the entire day, the campers and counselors wear Illahee-logoed white shirts and blue ties. The girls wear the uniforms during Sunday’s worship time, as well as when they eat and gather around the weekly campfire.

“Part of it [wearing the uniforms] is the worship service; it is nice to have everyone dressed alike,” co-director, Laurie Strayhorn, said. “It gives the camp a feeling of unity and makes it a special day…it is a fresh, unifying thing…and a noncompetitive environment.”

Another Sunday specialty occurs when lunch is served. The girls join together in singing the doxology “Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow” before sitting down to their customary Sunday meal, which always includes fried chicken, wild rice, rolls, broccoli and ice cream.

When Strayhorn first become co-camp director in 2002, she was unaware of the importance of Sunday’s traditions.

She substituted white rice for the wild rice one Sunday, and the next day a few campers wanted to talk to her about the importance of camp traditions. They told Strayhorn that they always had wild rice.

“Sometimes the things that you think are not a big deal are a big deal, and kids need to know that there are some things they can count on,” Strayhorn said.

Eagle’s Nest

Eagle’s Nest Camp, located in the Pisgah National Forest, is another site that uses mealtime to create a sense of community. For every meal of every day, the campers eat with their table family.

There are three boys, three girls and two counselors in every family, and the campers come from various age groups.

“It’s a very intentional, small community…and a wonderful way for staff members to check on the kids each day, three times a day,” Liz Snyder, assistant camp director said. “The table family becomes closer than the cabin community.”

Apart from their day-to-day camp life, Eagle’s Nest also has additional trips. One of the most popular picks is the Huck Finn adventure.

For seven days, a group of eight middle school-aged children drift down the French Broad River, reading Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and reliving Huck’s rustic-inspired lifestyle.

“The counselor reads the book, and they recreate the experience,” Snyder said. “A homemade raft is already prepared, and the campers paint the raft [before floating on it].”

Gwynn Valley Camp

Kids at Gwynn Valley Camp, on the outskirts of Brevard, also learn to respect the environment, as the site produces approximately 70 percent of its own food.

Gwynn Valley grows over 20 varieties of vegetables on its farm. Campers who choose the farm as a program are allowed to help with the harvesting of the produce.

“They get to plant a little bit, but they get to harvest most everything,” director, Grant Bullard, said. “They really love the harvesting of the vegetables — digging potatoes, picking tomatoes and pulling up carrots.”

The farm also has cows and chickens that the children help to feed. The chickens yield a portion of the eggs needed at camp, and the cows are raised for beef.

Gwynn Valley’s green efforts surpass the arena of nutrition. The camp has a water-powered gristmill that provides electricity for half of the cabins. The mill was built in the late 1890s, and Gwynn Valley revived it in the 1980s. Bullard says the mill implants the idea of conservation into the campers.

“It is a vital part of the camp…it teaches kids where food comes from and also teaches the kids to be aware of lights [left] on and conserving electricity,” Bullard said. “It’s like a living part of history.”

The gristmill is also used to grind cornmeal and make tortilla flour. The leftovers from the mill are sent back to the farm to feed the chickens, and the corn cobs are used to make toys. “Nothing is wasted from that process,” Bullard said.

Gwynn Valley has always valued simplicity and a close relationship to the land. “We were green before we realized it,” he said.

Timberlake and Merri-Mac

Northwest of Gwynn Valley, Camp Timberlake and its sister site, Camp Merri-Mac, call Black Mountain home.

Both Timberlake and Merri-Mac divide campers into tribes. On the first day of camp, each boy at Timberlake becomes an Iroquois or a Seminole. Each girl at Merri-Mac becomes an Iroquois, Seminole or Choctaw.

Throughout the summer, the tribes compete in evening activities like water balloon games and capture the flag. The counselors keep a tally of each tribe’s victories, and at the end of the session, the winning team receives the prized camp banner and bragging rights.

“We recognize that there is going to be competition in life, and we want to give them a framework for it,” Dan Singletary, director of Timberlake, said. “Teaching [that] healthy competition is part of growing up.”

Campers can also mark individual success by their “skins.” Each boy or girl receives a hide branded with his/her tribe’s emblem. The skin is a record of each Indian’s achievements. Every time someone excels in an activity, he is awarded with a Bronze, Silver or Gold symbol that is attached to his skin.

The campers remain in the same tribe each year and bring back their skins to add to their previous accomplishments.

“We offer different types of success… [and] we recognize those achievements,” Singletary said. “If they learned a certain kind of knot or got a certain score in archery, they get recognized in some way.”

Falling Creek

Falling Creek Camp, in Tuxedo,ties traditions together with its Boy Scout merit badge program, in which campers can earn badges that are hard to achieve during the school year.

“We let them tell us what they’d like to pass off, and they bring the merit badge book, the sign off card and a plan of action,” director, Yates Pharr, said. “We introduce them to the counselor that can help them pass that off…it is a mutual responsibility.”

The camp’s traditional father-son weekends, offered before and after the summer camp sessions, focus on strengthening the relationship between a father and his son through adventure.

“For boys to be able to have a good, positive experience with their father…is really important,” Pharr said. “When you mix in adventure, you discuss things you wouldn’t normally discuss.”

Family is an essential part of this Falling Creek’s programs, as Pharr says, “We are a compliment to any family’s intentions to raise strong, young men.”

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N.C. youth camps band together, touting economic impact and seeking influence in Raleigh

March 16th, 2011

From North Carolina Public Press
Written by Jon Elliston on March 15, 2011 in Children and Families, Jobs and the Economy, Politics, Top NewsNo comments

Long a haven for popular children’s camps, Western North Carolina is now home base for a statewide trade association that seeks to give the camp business a voice in the N.C. General Assembly. The group argues that state laws already on the books — and a slew of newly proposed ones — could shape the future of North Carolina’s 175 camps at a crucial time.

So far, 40 of the state’s 175 camps have joined the nonprofit, year-old North Carolina Youth Camp Association. The Black Mountain-based organization is working to market the camps to prospective customers while forging a campaign to sway state legislation on issues ranging from school calendars and building standards to food-safety and land-use regulations.

Its annual budget, roughly $46,000 for 2011, is derived from dues, donors and grants.

The association formed after a late 2009 meeting between local camp owners and the area’s state-legislative delegation. Republican state Rep. Chuck McGrady, of Hendersonville, a camp director for 20 years who was then serving as a Henderson County commissioner, expressed concerns at that meeting about state regulations that can make camps harder and more expensive to run.

The legislators responded by telling camp owners, he recalled: “You’ve got a good story to tell with these issues, but we don’t know who you are. You need someone communicating your issues to us in the General Assembly on a regular basis.”

McGrady would become the association’s first executive director, serving for a year before passing the torch to Jane Murray, who owns a marketing company in Black Mountain and formerly worked as a counselor at Camp Ton-A-Wandah, in Hendersonville.

While most of the initial member camps were based in Western North Carolina, Murray said the association recently picked up a number from points east.

“This represents our first major expansion toward the coast,” she said. “While it was logical for our association to begin its grassroots work in Western North Carolina, where there is such a high concentration of organized summer camps, it’s crucial that we expand in order to live into our mission to represent the entire state.”

Report: camps generate $365 million economic impact

As the association builds its membership and wades into legislative debates, it’s brandishing newly collected data that suggests how camps pump money into the state’s economy. Last year, two recreation-business professors at N.C. State University conducted a study for the association, measuring economic impacts in a camp-rich part of Western North Carolina.

Only basic information about the study — which gathered information from 50 youth summer camps in Buncombe, Henderson, Jackson and Transylvania counties — has been released. The full study will likely go public in a couple of weeks, Murray said.

A summary issued in January reported that within the past year nearly 50,000 families visited the study area specifically for camp, staying an average of four nights in hotels and motels and spending an average of $2,100 each during their visit and their children’s camp experience. All told, the four counties’ camps generated an estimated $365 million in direct and indirect spending by camps, campers, staffers and visiting parents.

(Click here to read that summary, along with a newly released county-by-county breakdown. Only one of Jackson County’s camps responded to the study survey, leaving the county’s figures substantially lower than those of the other three.)

Camps hire lobbyist, develop legislative agenda

Page Lemel, director of Brevard’s Keystone Camp for girls, is vice president of the NC Youth Camp Association’s board of directors and heads its legislative affairs committee. Photo courtesy of Keystone Camp 

Armed with that information, the association is urging member camps to share it with their legislators and impress upon them the camps’ role as an economic driver. What’s more, the association has formed a legislative affairs committee.

Page Lemel, director of Brevard’s Keystone Camp for girls, is vice president of the NC Youth Camp Association’s board of directors and heads its legislative affairs committee. She said the move to organize camp owners and focus attention on relevant state laws is long overdue.

“Summer camps operated in this idyllic situation, in our own little world, for a long time,” Lemel said. But in recent years, she said, a host of state laws have crept up on camps. “Now, we’ve started looking at what’s been happening over all those years while we were minding our own business, and we realize that we’ve missed some opportunities to identify ourselves as a unique industry that brings a lot to the state.”

The association’s legislative goals include: ensuring that public-school start dates don’t shift any earlier into August, which could pull potential campers out of the end of camp season and into class; stripping back what the association views as unreasonable health- and building-code regulations that hold camps to the same standards as food-service and lodging businesses; opposing any new proposal that lodging-tax regulations include summer camps; and backing various initiatives supporting conservation easements and land trusts.

Many of the objectives address camp owners’ longstanding concerns, but with the new Republican majority in the General Assembly, some fresh issues are coming to the fore. Most recently, Lemel said, she’s paid the closest attention to House Bill 63, which is backed by gun-rights advocates and would require most North Carolina businesses to allow employees to keep firearms in their locked vehicle on company grounds.

“To be told, as a business owner with children on my property, that I have to permit loaded firearms being kept on my property but outside of my control, is petrifying,” she says. “You know, we won’t allow guns in cars on school grounds, so why would we allow them at summer camps?”

As it crystallizes its agenda, the association is working to make its voice heard.

“Right now, we’re encouraging all of our member camps, and all camps, to contact their legislators and tell them what’s important to us and why,” Lemel said. The association also recently hired veteran lobbyist Ken Melton to press its concerns., she said. And, Lemel said, “we already have a friend in Raleigh.”

That “friend” is McGrady, who’s now a freshman Republican legislator in the state House of Representatives and no longer works for the camp assocation. McGrady sits on five legislative committees, including ones covering the judiciary and the environment, which are likely to touch on proposed laws this session that could impact camps.

“Camps can be and are affected by things that occur here (in the General Assembly) — sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally, and sometimes in ways that can catch us off guard,” he said.

And while it’s too soon to tell how the association’s lobbying push will fare, McGrady said, “camps have come to recognize that they need to keep an eye on — and a finger in — public policy debates.”

Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more on the findings on the economic-impact study as it becomes available. Visit the NCYCA website for a directory of member camps.


About the Author

Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is a contributing reporter for Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jonelliston@gmail.com.

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NC CAMPS HIRE LOBBYIST

March 16th, 2011

The following is a brief post regarding an interview on local NPR affiliate, WCQS, 88.1 in Asheville, NC

The North Carolina Youth Camp Association, a membership organization of summer camps and adventure programs, has commissioned a study of the impact camps have on the state’s economy. The preliminary results show the camps have a large economic impact, particularly in Western North Carolina. Duncan McFadyen spoke to Jon Elliston, a contributing reporter covering the story for the Carolina Public Press.

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Study Looks At Camp Impact

January 18th, 2011

The Transylvania Times, Brevard, NC, Monday, January 17, 2011

By Mark Todd, Staff Writer

The total economic impact of organized youth camps in Transylvania and three adjoining counties is $365 million a year, according to a new study by N.C. State University

Members of the North Carolina Youth Camp Association commissioned the study a year ago.

The association has a strong presence in Transylvania, Henderson and Buncombe counties, while also representing two camps in Jackson County.

There are 50 residential camps in four counties.

Highlights of the study, which will be released in its entirety in about two weeks, were presented at a conference last week of the association and its business friends in Flat Rock.

The economic impact study is the first done of area camping in  13 years and shows that the impact has increased dramatically since then.

The total impact includes direct spending and additional spending, which takes place as the money circulates in the economy.

Paige Lemel, an association member and director of Camp Keystone in Brevard, said inflation is just one reason that the financial impact has increased.

“Many of us have made incremental increases in our camper capacities over the past 13 years,” she said. “We have seen a dramatic shift in the number of families choosing to drive to camp for drop-off and pick up.”

Lemel attributes the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the overall impact on the airline industry, and changes in unaccompanied minor policies for several major carriers, US Airways in particular more parents are driving their children to Lemel said.

When people travel more than 500 miles, they stay in the area for one or more nights, she said, increasing spending.

Another factor, Lemel said, is the coming of age of camp alumni children.

The study found that 42 percent of parents are former campers/staffers.

The total number of families represented in survey results was 53,238.  Families’ visiting the region specifically for camp were 49,665.  The number of camp staff represented in survey results was 5,477.

The N.C. State University team found that the number of full-time equivalent jobs created beyond camp staff was 10,335.

New tax revenues created by the industry were an estimated $33 million and the annual direct spending of camps surveyed totaled $61 million.

County Manager Artie Wilson attended the meeting.

“Camps are definitely one of the key economic building blocks not only in our county but the surrounding counties,” he said. “It will be interesting to see the study itself and hopefully numbers by counties if it is broken out that way. The $365 million figure is quite an impact financially.”

Another attendee was county Planning and Economic Development Director Mark Burrows.

“The camp industry in Transylvania County is significant and the information helps to reinforce that importance from an economic development perspective,” Burrows said. “I’m looking forward to actually seeing the full report.”

Not only is the camping industry a huge contributor to the economy, but it is also environmentally sensitive, Strayhorn said.

“Many camps are pursuing conservation easements, with over 3,000 total acres in permanent easements. We are very green,” he said.

Camps utilize recycling and careful land use techniques, he added.

Starr Teal, a board member of Young Leaders, a Henderson County initiative that is working with the camps to promote youth development, also spoke to the audience.

“What we are trying to do with Young Leaders is provide camp to county kids who otherwise couldn’t afford it so that non-traditional education complements the traditional school year,” Strayhorn said.

Another speaker was Steve Baskin, the owner/director of Camp Champions in Texas. Baskin said camping is more important than ever because of the increase in obesity and electronic diversions for young people

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