Climbing-wall-camper

Free Choice: Camp-Code for, "The Boys Decide"

Remember the days when your son flatout refused to get dressed for pre-school? Fortunately, you were bigger and stronger, so you could wrestle him into an outfit and get him to school, pretty much on time. Try as you might, it was difficult to disguise how frazzled you were when you pulled into the parking lot 15 minutes late.

Camper holding a frog at camp.

Thank heavens for the calm, wise teachers back then, who advised, “It’s important to give your son some choices. Let him feel he has some control over his life — within limits, of course.” Needless to say, they didn’t mean, “Son, would you rather get dressed and go to pre-school or stay in your pajamas and watch TV all day?” The more appropriate choice might have been, “Son, do you want to wear your bulldozer T-shirt or your Panthers’ jersey today?” The latter was a simple, age-appropriate choice, with no right or wrong answer.

The pre-school teachers were indeed onto something. The ability to make wise, heartfelt choices is a vital characteristic of independent, successful teens and adults. Indeed, experts say that allowing children to make their own decisions can increase their confidence, feeling of importance, and personal delight. Child development experts say that teaching young people good decision-making skills is one of the most powerful ways to teach them responsibility and self-discovery, and to encourage them to be successful, happy, contributing members of society.

No Time Like the Present

Camper jumping a horse at Falling Creek Camp.

What does making wise choices have to do with camp? At Falling Creek, we have deliberately structured our activity schedule to provide our campers with numerous opportunities to practice making sensible, independent decisions that have no right or wrong answer. On Opening Day, campers begin to flex their “choice making muscles” when they design a schedule that is tailor-made to suit their personal interests. Each day consists of six “structured” activity periods, so each camper chooses his six favorite activities. With 28 activities on the roster, there are more than enough options to excite boys of all ages.

There are also two “free choice” periods each day, one before lunch and one before dinner. Free choice activities give campers an opportunity for free time. Boys might choose to hang out at the waterfront, catapulting their friends off the blob, zooming down the roller coaster, plummeting from the rope swing, or doing cannon balls off the diving board. Other free choice options include working out at Frank’s Fitness or getting involved in pick-up games of basketball, tennis, Ping-Pong, or indoor soccer. Some boys choose to play in the creeks, making dams. If a camper would like a slower pace, he can sit and play chess with a friend or simply read a good book. Regardless of personal preference, they all show up happy and hungry when the bell rings for meal times.

Camper enjoying the activities at one of our camp lakes.

Many boys bring passions from home to camp with them. For example, each summer there are boys at Falling Creek who excel at club soccer, AAU basketball, tournament tennis, and a myriad of other activities they already love. It’s up to the boys how much time they devote to those “main sports” while at camp. Experts argue that children who specialize in activities too young can get burned out and suffer from overuse injuries. Other coaches believe the opposite, that, “If you want to play at the highest level, you need to practice year-round.”

At Falling Creek, we respect each camper enough to allow him to be the “expert” for the summer. Your son will have the freedom to go with his gut and choose the combination of activities that feels right to him. That might mean choosing kayaking, rock climbing or riflery, which he can’t do back home, or it might mean pursuing his “main sport” as much as he possibly can so he’s a step ahead when he returns home. Boys often choose activities to be with their friends, or because the counselor teaching it makes it so much fun. He might want to try an activity that is brand new for him, because he knows camp is the perfect place to experiment and learn. There are truly no right or wrong decisions when it comes to choosing activities at camp. What is certain is that your son will have to make some tough choices. A camper can’t possibly participate in all 28 activities during a single summer. But isn’t that the way life goes? Boys are forced to prioritize, and what better place to practice doing so than at camp, where there are no negative consequences?

Decisions, Decisions . . .

After lunch on Opening Day, our counselors put on hilarious skits to introduce themselves to the campers and to sell “their” activities. It’s Marketing 101, camp-style.

Campers enjoying Sliding Rock at Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina.

After activity skits, the boys head up to the gym with their cabin counselors to sign up for their ideal schedules. Tables are set up for each activity in case the boys have questions. Cabin counselors make sure the process runs smoothly. Once each camper has chosen his schedule, he then gets to choose from a wide variety of out-of-camp adventures. It is not uncommon for 10 trips out of camp most days. Your son might choose a mountain biking trip in Dupont State Forest or Tsali, or a paddling trip on the Tuckaseegee River or the Nantahala. Or he might pick a trip to Sliding Rock or a trail ride on his favorite horse. On average, we have over 100 boys each day mountain biking, backpacking, paddling, sailing, and rock climbing in the mountains of western North Carolina during June Session (3 weeks) and Main Camp (4 weeks).

Checking In

Campers playing basketball in our camp gymnasium.

Parents sometimes ask, “Why isn’t my son choosing to do something other than what he initially signed up for?” Or, “Why is he not taking advantage of the trips and special sign-ups?” The boys are coached and encouraged regularly to sign up for the specific activities they want. Our counselors suggest activity options as a part of their normal discussions, especially during Evening Embers. Cabin counselors check in with the boys, and follow a series of specific prompts we require them to ask about activities when they meet with their campers individually each week. Trying new activities is also often a theme or topic during Morning Watch, Church, Campfire, and Morning Assembly. We make sure the boys know about all the opportunities for activities, special sign ups, and adventure trips. We make ourselves available after morning announcements and encourage them to ask any questions they may have.

You would think most boys would want to take immediate advantage of special sign-up activities, especially the outdoor-related ones. But many times the boys just want to stick with the in-camp activities they enjoy so much, even with all the prompting and encouragement they receive from counselors.

The Days of our Lives

Camper backpacking on our camp property.

With “sign ups” out of the way, it’s time for the fun to begin. Activities commence immediately on the first full day of camp, which means your son has yet another decision to make: how seriously will he pursue his activities? It is totally up to him. Some boys arrive at Falling Creek sick to death of being graded by teachers and evaluated by coaches. All they want to do is “chill.” They would rather focus on the fun, which is fine with us. Other boys want to participate in as many unique activities as they can while they are here, mastering new skills along the way. We love that, too. That’s why we have implemented a camp-wide progression system that gives campers the opportunity to build confidence as they advance through five levels within each activity: Level 1 – Scout; Level 2 – Explorer; Level 3 – Challenger; Level 4 – Ranger; and Level 5 – Warrior.

Each level has a set of criteria a camper must complete in order to advance. The level system is similar to the Boy Scouts’ rank program. Progressing from one level to the next is based on a camper’s effort, and includes leadership and service components. Some levels can be achieved in a few days, while others take several summers. Campers who reach the Ranger and Warrior levels are recognized permanently on the Hall of Fame Board on the side porch of the dining hall.

Flexibility: In our DNA

This is camp, so flexibility is in our DNA. We mention that because, as interests are discovered or developed, campers change their minds. When the boys want to tweak their schedules, they can do so each Sunday when they also sign up for new out-of-camp adventures. As you can see, we give the boys a great deal of freedom so they can follow their hearts and begin to experience making their own choices. Choice extends to other things — if you choose not to hang up your wet bathing suit to dry, you will have a cold, wet bathing suit the next time you need it. This is a natural consequence, but one without harsh or long-term, negative outcomes.

We believe it is never too early to practice making smart decisions, especially in an adult-supervised environment like Falling Creek Camp. As author and speaker Anthony Robbins puts it, “Our lives are shaped by the choices we make. Success and failure are not overnight experiences. It’s the small decisions along the way that cause people to fail or succeed.” We see successful young men all around us!

Campers enjoy the Blob at our camp swimming lake.
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50th Anniversary Alumni Weekend

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity”

For five decades, Psalm 133:1 has been recited to open each Sunday night campfire. The commitment to personal development and fun as the boys develop an understanding of their relationship with nature, their fellow man, and God remain our mission. It’s been said that who we are is a product of who we’ve met and where we have been. Falling Creek Camp is more than a camp, it’s a community of friends bonded together through the Spirit of Falling Creek.

The 2018 summer will be our 50th. To honor this milestone, we will celebrate. It will be an opportunity for past campers and former staff to join together and relive camp traditions, share memories, gratitude, and encouragement. Please plan to attend over the weekend of September 7-9. Reach out to your favorite FCC friends and encourage them to sign up via the link on the alumni page of the camp website . You can even request friends to room together in the same cabin. We will unveil at the event a commemorative coffee table book and video that celebrates our 50th anniversary.

We enthusiastically announce these Falling Creek alumni who are already planning to attend

Pack your trunk… you will want to be here when the bell rings.

For questions, please contact Yates Pharr – or Sam Clayton –

In Brotherhood There Is Strength

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John Bates joins FCC as Director of Staff & Camper Development

Alexandria, John, & Hala AnnAlexandria, John, & Hala Ann
John Bates has been involved with Falling Creek for 19 summers; ten as a camper starting in 1992 and nine as a staff member working primarily as an adventure paddling instructor. He has been a part of many of our Father/Son Weekends and returned in the summer of 2017 to manage the woodshop program. We are happy that this fall he joined our full-time staff as a director.

John, center of top row of campers, in 1993.John, center of top row of campers, in 1993.
John attended the University of the South at Sewanee, TN, graduating in 2006 with a BA in History. From there, he went on to pursue graduate studies in Youth Development Leadership at Clemson University. His diverse work history combines experiential education, independent living skills, recreational instruction, leadership development and team-building.

John, center with arm around Program Director Chris Stec, helped FCC win the the famous Bull Sluice award from a tough group of Camp Merrie-Woode paddlers in 2001.John, center with arm around Program Director Chris Stec, helped FCC win the the famous Bull Sluice award from a tough group of Camp Merrie-Woode paddlers in 2001.
Previously John has served as a teacher’s aide at a school in Mobile, AL, for students with intellectual disabilities, worked in a residential transitions program in Hendersonville, NC, and served as program director and staff trainer at a nearby special needs program. John is certified as a lifeguard, lifeguard instructor, Wilderness First Responder, and First-Aid/CPR instructor.
John teaching paddling at Father/Son WeekendJohn teaching paddling at Father/Son Weekend

In his free time John and his wife, Alexandria, enjoy hiking, gardening and spending time with their daughter, Hala Ann.

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Sacred Ground

On opening and closing days, loyal Falling Creek alumni — returning, sometimes after decades, to drop their sons off at camp — often remark about the relative sameness of life on top of the mountain. “This place hasn’t changed a bit,” they say. And they’re right, in some ways, it hasn’t. But they’re also mistaken, because in many ways it has.

Historic camp photos from 1969.

Certainly, the notion of stability seems incompatible with that of progress. However, after nearly 50 years in operation, Falling Creek continues to demonstrate that what is implausible is not necessarily impossible. For, the camp’s continued success is due to its time-tested ability to honor tradition while fending off stagnation, to progress meaningfully, not just for progress’ sake.

Founded in 1969, Falling Creek is a relative newcomer to the summer camp capital that is Western North Carolina. As neighboring camps begin to plan for their centennials, Falling Creek is poised to charge into only the second half of its first century. But what Falling Creek lacks in age it more than makes up for with its robust pedigree and storied traditions. While such heritage is varied in source, much can be attributed to Camps Greystone, Sequoyah, and Mondamin, established in 1920, 1924, and 1922, respectively.

The Falling Creek Camp bell serves as our camp clock, waking us up, shepherding us to activities, calling us to meals, and sending us to rest at the end of another full day. The sound of the bell is one alumni remember fondly.The Falling Creek Camp bell serves as our camp clock, waking us up, shepherding us to activities, calling us to meals, and sending us to rest at the end of another full day. The sound of the bell is one alumni remember fondly.

Jim Miller, III worked at Camp Sequoyah in 1967, purchased the property for Falling Creek, and opened its gates in the summer of 1969. When Jim established Falling Creek, he borrowed traditions from Camp Greystone, the girls camp his family founded nearly five decades before. Green and Gold competition, a source of friendly rivalry between cabins, and within activities, is one such tradition. Honor Council, a camper-led leadership development program unique to Main Camp, is another.

Camp Sequoyah, before it closed its gates in 1978, shared with Falling Creek both its traditions and, in some cases, its counselors. When Chuck McGrady, a Sequoyah alumnus and eventual owner-director of Falling Creek, began as a counselor in 1979, he remembered feeling oddly at home. “When I arrived at Falling Creek, it all came together,” he says. That feeling was hardly coincidental. Candlelight campfire, a time-honored conclusion to our longer sessions, is a product of Camp Sequoyah, as is Falling Creek’s Native American-themed tribal structure and Indian Lore program. Three times daily, the legacy of Camp Sequoyah lives on when the blessings are sung before each meal at Blake Dining Hall.

Still other traditions central to the contemporary Falling Creek experience harken from Camp Mondamin, another boys’ camp situated along the western shores of Lake Summit. From Mondamin comes Morning Assembly, a program following breakfast during which the entire camp community gathers for skits and songs. Falling Creek’s paddling program finds inspiration from Camp Mondamin’s distinguished whitewater heritage.

Signs commemorating the winners of our camp Ironman race.

For every borrowed tradition there exists more than enough unique to Falling Creek. Wild, Wild, West and Deep Woods Capture the Flag, two favorite all-camp games played several times each summer, are longtime favorites. A glance at the porch of the Landsports Hut reveals a list of names by year; these are the winners of Falling Creek’s Ironman triathlon, held annually during the camp’s longest session.

In appreciation of the importance of nurturing free choice and decision-making in the development of young men, Falling Creek stepped outside the box in a big way. To both campers and the casual observer, camp remains free of the distractions technology and social media can bring. Behind the scenes, however, Falling Creek has developed an advanced proprietary attendance, progression, trip planning, and medical tracking system.

Camper and staff getting muddy in our camp mud pit.

In a world that is becoming increasingly structured in the neighborhood and schoolyard, the implementation of this tablet-based camper management system allows boys the freedom to choose their own adventures — a hallmark of Falling Creek — while remaining accounted for during the day.

For many Falling Creek alumni, the Candlelight campfire is among their most cherished memories. Here, campers are reminded that a single candle — representative of one’s talents and abilities — light the world. Though deference to the sanctity of this ritual remains important, there is value in striving to keep camp both fresh and meaningful. In a nod to both storied tradition and meaningful progress, we have introduced a candle-lit procession at the conclusion of each week’s campfire.

Camper gazing at his candle during our traditional candlelight campfire.

Adaptation of the Honor Creed into the Falling Creek Code; a creative solution to the maintenance of a balance between autonomy and safety; the inclusion of candlelight in campfire on a weekly basis. These are just three examples of Falling Creek’s relentless effort to adapt for an exciting future. There are countless more, many of which are illustrated throughout this publication. Falling Creek’s success demonstrates that such progress can coexist with longstanding tradition. And together, they will carry camp into an impactful future with our prime purpose in mind: the development of great young men.

There is a place in North Carolina where my friends and I like to go, and my spirit never leaves there. -Verse from the FCC version of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”

Campers in a tandem canoe on whitewater at Falling Creek Camp.
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Stings n' Storms

How can we change and control our attitude when stings and storms hit?

By Dusty Davis

“Owww, I’m hit!"

“Michael and John are hit… keep moving, NOW!”

I barked orders, like repeating the lines of a Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson movie. “Yellow jackets, run!”

Campers climbing at camp.

Our camp climbing crew of seven fled up the rooty path. We regrouped on a slab of granite around the corner and out of the strike zone from our flying enemies. Breathing hard and pumped with adrenaline we did a casualty count… only two boys, two stings, non-allergic and we can save that valuable epi-pen for another day.

Pisgah National Forest was especially humid on this mid-July day and the morale of our normally aspiring climbers began to weaken.

“I got stung—come on man—you carry the rope”

“Can we just go extreme wading and then get Dolly’s?”

“Chicken wraps for lunch…again?”

By three o’clock a shroud of clouds rolled across the top of the Parkway eclipsing Looking Glass and our climbing plans. Classic pre-storm gusts, temperature drop and the smell of rain had us thrashing through our packs for rain jackets.

Our soaked and disheveled army trudged back to the trail head and to the big white van. We passed out some morale-boosting Teddy Grahams, put on a bluegrass playlist and buckled up to head back to the “The Creek.” Before the boys’ heads began to bobble with sleep, we began a trip debrief. The standard, “what did you like or not like,” questions soon gave way to a crucial code-cracking discussion.

Camp climber looking out over Pisgah National Forest.

“How can we change and control our attitude when stings and storms hit?” I asked.

A smallish voice from the back of the van piped up. “Maybe we should just get better cell service and a weather radar app that warns us before we get soaked.”

“Fair enough,” I said, “but don’t you guys think its part of the adventure to get caught in a mountain storm and taste fresh rain?” My gray-haired wisdom knew that the struggle made the sunshine sweeter.

“John, I noticed you didn’t make a big deal about getting stung—are you in anaphylactic shock or did it not hurt that much?”

“Nah, it stung bad, but really, I’m just thankful it was on my leg and I didn’t get more stings—like on my face,” he said with a laugh.

Thomas chimed in, “You sound like your gunning for the Positive Attitude Award.”

Trying not to sound preachy I added, “I’m liking that John. Seriously, you tapped into the gratitude attitude and shifted your focus to what you can be thankful for—that’s MEGA.”

It grew quiet in the van as bodies slumped and the boys succumbed to the cumulative exhaustion from our three-day excursion.

The van lumbered up Bob’s Creek Road and I pulled over to put in the gate code. A voice from the back said, “You know why I’m thankful?”

I was thinking, “Great! They are really getting this live with Gratitude Attitude.”

Then the voice from the back said, “I’m thankful because, I call first shower!”

Campers enjoying the blue ridge mountain view.

Have a “MEGA” Thanksgiving from all of us at Falling Creek Camp. We are thankful to God for each one of you who make up our huge camp family. Our prayer is that this Thanksgiving would be a time that you can shift focus and be filled with gratitude even in the midst of the Stings n’ Storms of Life.

We invite you to leave a comment and share a story or something you are grateful for!

Every breath is a gift from God. —Acts 17:25

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