Traditional boys and girls camps in Black Mountain, NC
What I learned from my tour in July 2017.
Camps Merri-Mac and Timberlake are unique because the boys and girls camps are in the same location using the same facilities. Separation is maintained via masterful scheduling.
Director Adam Boyd believes there is a lot of value in single gender camps. Boys and girls approach new experiences differently. Girls tend to make friends first and then become more adventurous when they feel like they belong. Boys are more likely to dive right in and try everything regardless, and then make connections through the activities.
The camp is relatively small, with capacity for 235 girls and 105 boys. However, they just purchased a new property and will be the boys camp there for 2018, with room to grow.
Approach & Philosophy
The freedom to fail concept is described on the website. Adam says, “you need to try something that has a high probability of failure.” Whether it’s the climbing wall, hitting the bull’s eye with your arrow, or casting fishing rod, camp provides a safe environment for experimentation. Overcoming fears and developing new skills while being cheered on by supportive counselors and friends gives you a heightened sense of accomplishment.
Timberlake and Merri-Mac are Christian based camps, but are not Bible camps. Staff members are chosen for Christian leadership, but campers from all religious or non-religious backgrounds are welcome.
Individual recognition is important. Awards are presented weekly for skill rankings and effort shown. Afterwards counselors name qualities they see in each child’s life, such as “I noticed you were really kind when your friend was feeling homesick,” or “I’m so proud that you took the initiative to help your teammate over the wall.” They encourage behavior that makes the girls “strong but not rude, kind but not weak, and act in a way that inspires others to act."
You’d never know you were only one mile from the center of town. Immediately upon entering the property you feel like you’re enveloped by nature. Nestled in the Smokies, the footpaths go up and over hills, and mountains rise in the background.
This camp shows its age – in a good way. The main building that houses the dining hall and office has that quintessential traditional camp vibe.
The landscaping surrounds the buildings and cabins, partially obscuring them from view, and makes you feel as if everything has been there forever. I visited right after a rainstorm, so the greenery appeared especially lush.
For parents dropping off kids, the location is ideal. Black Mountain is easy to get to, and there is a cute downtown with restaurants and shops.
Facilities & Activities
Everything seems rustic yet upscale. You feel like you’re a part of the history, but nothing seems rundown or worn out. There is a small lake with a diving board, slide and blob, an old-school gymnasium, an outdoor chapel, a mountain bike track, a climbing tower, an airsoft/paintball course, and of course the horseback riding center.
A popular activity is the ‘puppy camp.’ A handful of the cutest golden doodle puppies you’ve ever seen bounce around a large pen. Campers have the opportunity to care for and train them; there’s nothing like a puppy to help cure homesickness. At the end of the season the puppies are available for adoption.
Food is one of the most important aspects of camp. Memories of bad food are unacceptable, so they strive to have nutritious food kids will like, and cater to special diets. You can sign up for cooking classes, and there’s an outdoor kitchen backyard grillers would kill for.
Owners & History
This is a family business. Adam has spent his entire life at camp and has been employed there since 1992. Merri-Mac was started as Camp Bridewood in 1945 and changed its name in 1950. Adam’s father Spencer started his first camp in college in 1954 and took over Merri-Mac in 1977. He created Timberlake for boys in 1983 (he had six sons!).
The Boyd family still runs the camps today. Adam’s brother, sister-in-law, wife, and daughter also work at the camp full time. His two sons are Timberlake counselors.
The family has made use of the location and the facilities: Adam was an expert equestrian, his dad was a diving champion (the camp used to have a diving focus), and his son was a junior Olympic kayaker.
Who Should Go
Timberlake and Merri-Mac are perfect for families looking for a smaller, more intimate camp experience. It’s a high-energy camp, so outgoing kids do well here; however, that doesn’t mean that introverts won’t find an opportunity to shine. These camps also fit those who appreciate the guidance of Christian principles but don’t necessarily want a church camp.
There’s also the benefit of a brother and sister being able to attend camp at the same place at the same time.
How to Register
These top-notch camps are hard to get in to. Return rates are over 80%, and there are already over 50 people on the 2018 waitlist. Putting your name on the waitlist often helps your chances of getting a spot the following year, and it never hurts to try.
The best option is to send your child as young as you feel comfortable with. Returning campers have priority.