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.
Comments (0)

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

Comments (2)

Camp Improves College Admissions

These days, colleges look at more than just grades and school activities, but how students utilize their summer.

friends, falling creek camp

CNBC did a segment on how Summer Camp May Improve College Admission Odds back in 2014. Although high school grades and standardized test scores are still the main influence for admission, extracurricular activities, particularly those during the summer, are the next big factor.

What students choose to do during the summer tells the colleges what they will do while on campus. Do they want to be involved or rather spend their time sleeping and playing video games.

Steven Infanti, associate vice president for admissions at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, said, “when I look at an applicant who has a 2.5 [GPA], which would be kind of a borderline admit for us, but I see on his application, I participate in this camp… that shows a lot of initiative and someone who has a passion.”

woodworking falling creek camp

Camp relationships are another huge interest for college admissions. Campers who become counselors, for example, show positive qualities like leadership, resilience, and decent social skills, which are very attractive to any college or employer for that matter.

Camp also grows a child’s independence. Not only is this attractive on a college application, but it also PREPARES a child for college. Overnight camps offer a sense of independence that is important for the college atmosphere.

Something unique about Falling Creek is the Waypoints progression system and the freedom of picking activities on a weekly basis as well as the option to go on out-of-camp trips daily. Waypoints creates a goal-making process for the boys to strive for and progress through multiple levels in any activity they want to gain particular skills in. The boys also gain decision making skills as they set their own schedule. These are both valuable skills for colleges as well.

progressions falling creek camp

Summer camp is an exciting experience for boys as they experience, learn, build long-lasting friendships, and gain many skills that are crucial for college, careers, and life.

Comments (0)

Taking it to the "Max"; FCC in the Schools

Max from Greenville, South Carolina, has been a Falling Creek camper for several years. One of his favorite activities at camp was cooking the “Longenecker Lumps”. When I took a raptor program to Christ Church Episcopal School last year, he all but begged to become my very first “Lump Assistant” (LA) when we cooked them at the end of June Camp.

Max from falling creek

This school year, Max became a different kind of assistant as he helped me with several fifth grade raptor programs when I visited Christ Church Episcopal School. All together, we taught five classes, then an after-school class for CCES parents and siblings who were curious about what their child learned that day. Max is currently in the sixth grade.

During this past summer, Max was a member of a group at Falling Creek called the Falconers of Falling Creek Camp or FFCC, a six-day program for boys of many different ages, all willing to feed the birds daily, check on them each night and teach others at camp what they’ve learned when they present a program to the other campers on their last day with the birds.

Max had a number of roles as my Assistant Teacher at his school. Perhaps the hardest one for him was explaining to children only one year younger, just WHY he was there and acting as my helper. They had no idea that he had spent an entire week the summer before, learning-about birds of prey!

Connecting both the sight and sound at the same time is a great way to remember birds that you usually don’t see except in videos.  Here is Max at the class’s computer station, taking the place of Mr. Levin, the regular science teacher.Connecting both the sight and sound at the same time is a great way to remember birds that you usually don’t see except in videos. Here is Max at the class’s computer station, taking the place of Mr. Levin, the regular science teacher.

We wanted the students to hear the vocalizations made by each of the different raptors as they were displayed to the audience. A WiFi link was made between Cornell University’s Bird Lab and the school, with the bird calls running through the school room’s speakers. When a specific sound was required, Max accessed the website and then everyone heard the sound of the bird as it was carried around the classroom.

Another, often under-appreciated role that Max undertook, was taking care of the enclosures that held each of the birds. Untying the leashes, removing the lock, holding the box steady while the bird is removed, then reversing the process when the bird has been shown to the class…

Max falling creek

…Six birds for each of six classes, each time seeing to it that all safety precautions were taken for both the birds and the students. That’s a lot of repetition and concentration, all the time being watched by students only one year younger than Max. If I were his classroom teacher and giving him a grade for the day, you can bet it would have been an A plus!

Written by Steve Longenecker

Comments (0)

Mentors Matter

By Dusty Davis (FCC Chaplain)

Has it really been thirty-three years since I first ground the gears on my old Jeep to make it up the narrow gravel road to Falling Creek? I had just wrapped up my first year at Auburn University and driven up for staff training on little sleep, but with plenty of post-exam euphoria. For a flatland Alabama boy, I was in very new territory. The cool evenings in the Blue Ridge Mountains off of Bob’s Creek Road were a welcome change from the sweltering heat back home.

Falling Creek Camp Chaplain Dusty DavisFalling Creek Camp Chaplain Dusty Davis

I hardly knew anyone, but my intimidation evaporated as quickly as the morning fog on the upper lake when I saw how friendly and welcoming everyone was. By the first campfire, I knew that not only did I have some great adventures in store, but I had dozens of new brothers to experience them with. I showed up that first summer relatively inexperienced in many of the mountain sports and camp activities, stuff we jus’ couldn’t do back on the farm in “Bama!”

Typical for a twenty year old counselor, I looked forward to my days off and to session breaks. I was constantly dropping hints in the dining hall to see if some of the more veteran staff members would be willing to take me out on an adventure.

The climbing legend of all Carolina rock, Mr. Steve Longenecker, was kind enough to oblige. He took me, a complete newbie, up his classic route called, “The Nose” of Looking Glass Rock. The Brown brothers, David and Bucky, let me tag along with them on the French Broad and Chattooga rivers. And Garrett Randolph often hunted me down for a sunset trail run through the rhododendrons. I felt included and valued.

Steve Longenecker giving a Birds of Prey presentation at Falling Creek Camp.Steve Longenecker giving a Birds of Prey presentation at Falling Creek Camp.

Now when I look back, I realize that in each of these scenarios and many more, the senior counselors chose to drop down to a level below their expertise, so they could bring me along on their adventures and help me improve. What an unselfish thing to do! Longenecker didn’t need to burn his one day off climbing Looking Glass Rock for the umpteenth time…but he did. And I’m sure David and Bucky would rather have paddled more challenging sections of the rivers than the routes they chose for me, but each of these men, my mentors, wanted to pass the torch to me. They wanted me to love climbing and paddling and trail running as much as they did, so they selflessly taught me the skills they had spent years mastering. From them, I learned the importance of sharing my passions with the next generation of Falling Creek brothers.

What a perfect example of a Servants Heart.

Taking the initiative to help others is one of our core-values at camp. I was lucky enough to be the recipient of LOTS of help that first summer and, believe it or not, many of the activities that my family enjoys to this day have their roots in what I learned at Falling Creek way back then.

So, in this New Year, don’t just let your resolutions be about self-improvement, but set out to improve others. Take some less-experienced kids out with you in the same way my FCC brothers did for me a quick thirty-three years ago.

Comments (3)
More Posts