A Great Day to “Meet” the Farm!

Camper perfects backflip on the Tarzan Swing at Camp Illahee
Perfecting the back flip is a favorite challenge for July campers!

Hannah Ford Farm has exceeded every expectation I had for this beautiful piece of property about four miles from camp situated on the headwaters of the French Broad River. This is the same river that attracted both Sierra Nevada brewery and New Belgium Brewery to announce this past year that they will locate their east coast operations between Brevard and Asheville and in downtown Asheville respectively. And our property “fronts” almost a half mile of it. Beer doesn’t interest us a whole lot (at least this time of year), but clear rivers for tubing, canoeing, kayaking and swimming do. The property was a diamond in the rough when it first caught my eye. A local builder bought it at the height of the boom, thinking he was going to “flip” the 60 acre tract. As it turns out, it was exactly the wrong time for him. I hope this story doesn’t conjure up any bad memories as the same thing happened to a lot of folks. I caught wind that he was in trouble after it was on the market for a year or so and approached him to see if I could help him out of his pickle, but he was too far under water with this and other properties. Long story short, we were able to buy it in foreclosure, and spent the last year moving earth, building ponds, stocking them, growing grass and gardens, renovating the barns and outbuildings, and even…burning down the old farmhouse that had been neglected so long that it was falling down itself. The neighbors are thrilled, and even more so, Camp Illahee girls.

We have always thought it important for even non-woodsy girls to spend the night out under the stars (or at least in a barn loft) once or twice per session. For years, we have rented a group site in Pisgah called Kuykendall, which the girls loved to hate. Character building we called it. Actually a beautiful big field along a rocky brook 10 or so miles from camp, it is rented and empty tonight as the reviews from June session girls overwhelmingly favored the farm overnights…so it will be. There are lots of advantages. It is closer. The long range vistas North to the Parkway are incredible. Sunsets are nice. There is the river and the ponds for fishing. The one “downer” for the June session was the rooster crowed at 4 in the morning. He is no longer in residence. His ladies are still there laying 6 big brown eggs a day. Oh yeah, and the big one: there is a real bathroom and running water…instead of a pit toilet that did smell pretty ripe. So…Hillbrook is going tonight! The entire hill. They will be greeted by the trips staff who have been out there grilling burgers and hotdogs. Watermelon will be waiting to finish a great picnic. As twilight falls, the campfire will start, and s’mores will be built out of expertly (or hastily) roasted marshmallows. Yummm. Songs and skits, games of frisbee and kickball. A perfect summer evening.

I have to pick one day that is the Best Weather Ever, so I guess that was yesterday. The untrained may have picked today. Really, the only reason I pick yesterday is that it was such a delightful first pass with this weather. Today was just as great. Beautiful cloudless blue skies that reached perfection early in the morning and late in the afternoon. I’m sure tonight was delightful for our youngest girls out at the farm. Gretchen, our Associate Director, and Hillbrook advisor is with that crew and we will have lots more pictures to post tomorrow or late tonight. Our kitchen crew is in the groove and greeted us this morning with warm buttermilk biscuits, sausage, eggs, cheesy grits, and the usual cereal, yogurt and milk. At my stage of the game, I forego the sausage, but the grits are too much to resist. Our climbers went to the South face of Looking Glass rock today and had the run of the most popular climbs. Kayakers were on the French Broad, getting used to moving water before moving on to more challenging rapids offered by the Nantahala, French Broad, and Pigeon. One of the other things we have revamped this year is our sign-up trips program. There will be opportunities every day to join a trip out of camp…hikes or tubing trips…maybe a canoeing trip. This area is too spectacular not to offer those opportunities.

Lunch was another favorite. Chicken tenders, corn, salad, ice cream. These aren’t just any chicken tenders. There are lots of different options out there in the food world, and we always gravitate toward the top of that bell curve. Think Chick Fil A. Lots of girls were making chicken salads…and at least one boy. Wednesday is the night we let our hard working kitchen staff take a break. We call it Bag Supper. The Hillbrookers were at the farm eating burgers and dogs. Heigh Ho and Pineview stayed at camp and made sandwiches from turkey and ham, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, chips and a candy bar. And milk…always milk. Each bag supper night, and especially on one this beautiful, cabins enjoyed sitting out by the swim lake and listening to James Taylor croon. No other artist is allowed. It’s just that way. Always has been. Well, maybe not always, but since I can remember. Carolina on my Mind indeed.

Heigh Ho and Pineview are on adventures tonight too…of their own choosing. Each cabin chose an adventure tonight in camp. Some tie dyed t-shirts. Others made S’mores and enjoyed a campfire. There were overnights at shelters around camp, “spa nights,” games and swimming. Camp was a beehive of activity. I understand that we may have some warmer weather coming in a couple of days. Bring it on. The memory of these two will remain as some of the best camp weather I can remember. And there’s always the swim lake.