I was struck by our perfect circumstances as I walked down the hill to the office this morning. Basking in the warmth of another amazing morning in the mountains my heart is full of the goodness of this place. Happy campers were evident as far as the eye could see (spread out on the dining hall porch, lower road, pagent court, and canoe docks chatting away with friends). It is an idyllic setting and hard to convey how good it feels. A few things stand out as I consider how to describe things:
The list goes on, but suffice it to say, things are going very well and we are in a good place. It makes me think of ways that camp has adapted over the years. Probably the biggest adaptation that comes to mind is our program.
The Greystone program is different from that of other camps in that we do not ever leave our camp property. Most camps offer wonderful camping, climbing, and canoeing overnight trips out of camp. I love overnight camping but ironically do not offer such an opportunity at my own camp… why is that?
A good thing to consider, for historically we offered a very comprehensive overnight tripping program at Greystone. Campers could take 3-day whitewater canoeing trips, rock climb on Looking Glass rock, and even join a 100-mile club if they hiked a cumulative 100 miles in the summer! We had camp vans leaving camp on Monday and returning on Friday, many campers would only be in their cabins for a few nights a week. It was a lot of fun, but as time went on we found that participation in these programs was decreasing. Satisfaction in the programs (measured by camper surveys) was also decreasing. The campers who loved leaving camp also missed the bonding time with their cabins who would be talking about all the things that happened at camp while they were gone. Trips were negatively impacting these camper’s experience of our camp community. They were having a different camp experience than their friends… it impacted the entire camp.
So as fewer campers signed up for trips, we accepted this change without regret for we immediately saw the benefits that arose from having more campers in camp every day. The dining hall singing was better, the classes more engaging, the EPs got bigger, the cabin bonding more intense, and the overall camp experience more cohesive. Return rates rose, particularly in the Senior group. Wait lists grew. The “feeling” in camp improved.
For the past ten years or so we have not taken any overnight trips out of camp. Covid removed our few hiking day trips and we now only offer one out-of-camp experience (either riding or tubing at Thunderhead, our ranch on the Green River only one mile away). The campers do not mention the lack on their surveys and virtually everyone who comes to camp wants to return the next year. Needless to say, we are happy with the program but also carefully consider the overall picture.
The benefits of not leaving camp are many:
We understand that we give up a lot when we don’t do a tripping program. I know this more than most, for I was a counselor in the canoeing program at both Falling Creek and Greystone. I led multi-day canoeing trips to nearby lakes (Lake Fontana, Jocassee, and Keowee provided my favorite overnight trips of all time) and rivers (my favorites being the Nantahala and Chattooga rivers… wonderful in different ways). I loved taking trips… the friendships and bonding that occur when spending so much time together is wonderful. The beauty of this part of the country is hard to explain… it is a gift to share such beauty with others. Sitting by a campfire telling ghost stories under a star-lit sky surrounded by friends marks some of my favorite childhood memories. But my priority is to provide the best camp experience for this generation (not duplicate the camp experience that I had as a boy).
Will we ever have an overnight tripping program again at Greystone? I am sure we will. One thing that 103 years have taught me is that camp adapts to the times. We are quick to add programs and meet the changing needs of our community. Overnight tripping is an easy thing for us to do… we have a lot of experience with it and could add a top-notch experience if we thought it would make things better. In the meantime, we are very happy with the way things are going. This point of the summer makes us particularly grateful for the time we have with this wonderful group.
Thanks for checking in!