By Elizabeth L. Harrison
Summer camp is a passion for Garrett and Erin Graham, who took their wedding vows on the property of a camp where they served as directors for many years. Last October, they purchased Camp Glen Arden for Girls, a 67-year-old summer camp tucked among the evergreen and rhododendron in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Tuxedo.
Erin says Camp Glen Arden “just felt right” before she even stepped onto the property, during a meeting with former camp owners. “I could just tell they were such good people,” she says, “and they had a program where campers and parents loved and respected them so much.”
Each summer, Glen Arden is home to roughly 125 campers per three- or four-week session. It is the only girls’ camp in Western North Carolina listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Once located at Christ School in Arden, the camp was founded in 1951 by Mary Bell. The Bell family operated Glen Arden as a sister camp to Camp Arrowhead for Boys for 45 years. In 1996, the camp was purchased under the leadership of longtime director Carol “Casey” Thurman.
Camps in WNC served roughly 53,000 children in 2010, according to an economic impact study commissioned by the North Carolina Youth Camping Association and conducted by business professors at NC State University. The study found that summer camps in four WNC counties generated $365 million in local spending and $33 million in tax revenue in 2010.
The Grahams are no greenhorns to the camping industry. Garrett served as the director of another historic summer camp for girls beginning in 2000, and Erin joined him after they were married in 2004, leaving her career as a high school English teacher.
They believe it is more important than ever for girls to find their voice in the world, and camp is the perfect place for that to happen. Today, Garrett says, spaces for kids to experience free play, where they can grow and learn from their mistakes, just don’t exist anymore—except at camp.
“Being able to do what we love—it’s not something most people get to do,” he says. “We get to create experiences for young people that are real. They challenge themselves and achieve things they can’t anywhere else.”
Glen Arden offers activity choices that serve a range of interests. Campers choose to participate in archery, pottery, tennis, swimming, dance, horseback riding, hiking, rock climbing, weaving, coppersmithing, drama or canoeing. Opportunities to earn progressions in each activity give the campers incentive to master skills while gaining confidence, allowing each girl the chance to experience growth physically, mentally and spiritually in a safe, fun and nurturing environment.
“Building a legacy is important for us as a family,” says Erin. “Our camp family is a direct extension of our own family, and every relationship is equally important to us.”
To learn more about Camp Glen Arden for Girls, visit campglenarden.com or call 828.692.8362.