By Charles W. Waring III

Can a camp experience be more than s’mores, new friends and a pleasant way to mature while giving parents a break? Many of us have powerful camp memories, but those attending the Green River Preserve — one that has something to offer throughout the year ‑ may stand a better chance than most to become that potential leader who can change attitudes toward the environment but in a way that will resonate with all walks of citizens. The camp is rooted more deeply than what it promises:  “A place where bright, curious and creative children connect with the joy and wonder of nature.”

When Sandy Schenck left the corporate world more than 25 years ago, he arrived at his family’s North Carolina fishing and hunting retreat with a concept of instilling in youngsters the same passion he had — and still has — for hands-on outdoor experiences and an appreciation for land stewardship. Sandy’s parents purchased the property in the early 1950s. In awe of the human and natural history of this 3,400-acre preserve and the headwaters of the Green River, he instinctively put flesh on the bones of a concept that creates future leaders who have the capacity to resolve complex conservation issues. Of course, most of the camp experience is about having a great time in various activities, but the cumulative impact produces rugged and thoughtful persons with the ability to see the big picture in a spiritual and respectful manner.

Sandy and his Charleston-born wife, Missy, are entirely too modest to speak on their camp’s impact on public policymakers of the future; they would rather point out their talented counselors, the special Cherokee Indian rock carvings or the beauty of the Green River’s pools that hold plenty of fish — ones that bested this wretch’s angling efforts. Taking a larger view of the camp, one sees many small things done well. Then, one gains the certainty of being in the joy-filled camp of your dreams when witnessing the Schencks smile gleefully as the campers sing songs or participate in educational skits about environmental awareness. Thank you, but computers and electronic games are not welcome, unless you are an older student and need a laptop for writing.

Life’s leisure pursuits

GRP wants to impart learning skills that can become life’s leisure pursuits. Team sports are for other camps:  This is where rock climbing, canoeing, camping, fly fishing, pottery and drawing can become options for a child to pursue well into adulthood. As this writer experienced, Sandy Schenck teaches small-stream fly fishing in a practical manner that he calls “knife fighting,” getting up close and personal but in a stealthy manner.

This is always a catch-and-release experience, so don’t get the wrong idea about the teacher’s methods. You don’t have to be the best at casting a line but you sure better know what flies to use and how to lower your profile and avoid splashing or dragging your fly. The piscatorial Professor Schenck has great patience and grace in finding kind remarks for those challenging the wits of the rainbow, brown and brook trout found at GRP. Students might also learn from the master how to tie flies, especially when the rains come; after all, you have more good activity options than you have fingers and toes.

Options to fit all interested

This camp provides children from rising second graders to 12th-year students a vibrant path to turn what seems supplemental into the seeds of future success. With their own organic garden, they often eat what they grow; they also have an apple orchard. They offer one, two and three-week sessions and activities galore. Days are action-packed experiences; details of one sample day at GRP are best found on the camp’s best site.

B-B skeet, fencing, archery, rock climbing and canoeing are other sporting options. Fly fishing lessons begin with the basics in one of the spring-fed ponds and, when the child has progressed enough, will move to the actual Green River. Children may choose from nature art, creative writing, gardening, theater, painting and drawing or acting out living in a pioneer cabin. Perhaps, free time might tempt a child to swim or ride on the zip line over the lake. If you are on a bus ride, you will surely sing to heart’s content.

Turning to the older camper, the camp also offers expeditions for rising 9th-graders to seniors, sometimes taking them all the way to the Outer Banks of North Carolina or the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Indeed, they often go beyond their base situated southwest of Hendersonville, N.C. They have a home-field advantage with the Blue Ridge expeditions, where for two weeks they show campers how develop outdoor skills such as climbing, canoeing, low-impact camping and understanding mountain ecology. From a potential expedition perspective, the Schencks and their team are prepared to go just about any place where they can offer youngsters a special learning experience in nature.

The camp also offers a School of Environmental Education, a residential opportunity for school groups. Children from Ashley Hall, The Cooper School, Porter-Gaud, Buist Academy and Sullivan’s Island Elementary are regulars – often coming for fall break. In addition, they provide a Kids’ Agricultural Learning Experience (KALE) for K-12 groups; they can learn by doing and see planting and harvest up close. GRP also offers a family camp — a four-day weekend that opens up nature to discovery via the mentor hikes led by GRP naturalists. The family experience will also include and various outdoor activities and campfire time with singing.

Camp essentials

The campers live in cabins built from timber from the preserve; all the lodges, the infirmary, dining hall and more are built with nature’s nearby bounty. With groups up to seven per cabin, the campers are joined by a counselor who has a mentor and co-counselor to help, providing the individualized attention that is a hallmark of most successful education programs. The camper to staff ratio is 3 to 1. The mentor hikes are a way to learn about nature by doing. Yours truly attended one with Star Ellis, a talented senior mentor; this afforded an opportunity to photograph a hummingbird and learn about plants you may eat and others to avoid.

The camp embraces values, particularly personal responsibility, ecological respect and respect for others. They ask all to follow the Woodcraft Laws, first written by E.T. Seaton, a founder of the Boy Scouts of America. Beauty, fortitude, truth and love:  Each “law” has a long explanation, so let’s offer fortitude as an example:  “Be brave. Courage is the noblest of all attainments. Be silent while your elders are speaking or otherwise show them deference. Obey. Obedience is the first duty of the woodcrafter.” One does not have to think long before understanding the importance of such lessons.

Don’t just take the wretch’s word for the high standards at this operation; GRP is an American Camp Association (ACA) accredited camp. To attain this rating, a camp must pass more than 350 ACA standards to get the green light; that is on top of the health department’s standards.

So, you want to own a camp?

It is a glorious idea to run a camp in a high-country paradise and work with creative, curious and bright children. How did this process start for the Schencks? It seems that Missy and Sandy both dreamed of running a camp when they were teenagers. They like to say that they are  “passionate about protecting land for the future” and know they can’t do it alone. In 2006, they placed 2,600 acres of their property in a conservation easement, so they lead by example.

They are driven by much more than a love for the land. Missy, once as a young child, announced to the world that she wanted 100 children when she grew up. Instead, she and Sandy have six children together from previous marriages and some of them help with the camp. Golden retrievers, children and grandchildren go where they please, comfortable in every setting; it is a family-oriented operation from top to bottom.

She and Sandy have a sincere devotion to helping develop the character of these young persons. As much as this seems like heaven to the outsider, this is also hard work with long days. With great discernment, they also seek talented staff and provide ten days of training at the start of each summer. Each staff member carries a radio and has first aid training or advanced wilderness first aid.

The Schencks want parents to look at other opportunities and compare what various camps offer. They seek to be the right fit for all their campers; hence, they offer a plethora of information on their website about the nuances behind their operation. If you think your child, grandchild or a friend would want to be a part of something as intriguing as GRP, visit their website at www.greenriverpreserve.org. They are ready for more gentle footprints and minds open to what the wonders of nature can offer.

 

 

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