Camp Glen Arden is a girls camp located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Zirconia, NC. I spoke with camp director Erin Graham, who provided insights on what makes the program tick, and counselor Rachel Stukenborg, who explained what makes summer camp so impactful.
Glen Arden offers all of the activities you’d expect to find at a traditional summer camp, including sports, boating, horseback riding, gymnastics, fitness and mountain biking. The music program is top-notch, as the director emeritus had a background in voice and infused the camp with her singing expertise. Arts and crafts is a staple at all camps, and Glen Arden has woodcarving and weaving. Erin says the weaving course very impressive and extremely popular. They actually make small rugs!
Unlike some camps where you select your activities in advance, at Glen Arden campers go activity shopping on their second day after a presentation from all the counselors. They are therefore not influenced by parental guidance or pre-conceived notions of what each activity involves. Sign-up is completed in the gym, somewhat like college registration in the olden days.
There is an official progression system with five levels, and specific lessons are geared towards each level. Campers who achieve a new level are recognized at the Friday evening program. Those who reach the expert level in six activities are awarded the highly coveted Tender of the Flame badge.
Out-of-camp trips are offered about twice a week. You can go hiking, canoeing, camping, or on a horseback trip. An Appalachian Trail hike is available for older girls. Trips are announced at breakfast and then girls are given the opportunity to sign up if they are interested.
Campers come from all over the Southeast, with a strong contingent from Louisiana and central Florida. Some girls hail from New Yorkers, New Mexico, and Germany.
The staff to camper ratio is a low 3:1. Each cabin is comprised of four to six girls with one or two counselors. Auxilary staff includes the riding director and barn workers, a mountaineering coordinator, and head counselors who also teach activities.
Glen Arden is a Christian-based camp with a spiritual component. While there is a Sunday service in the space called the Green Cathedral, it is not affiliated with a specific denomination. Camp provides transportation for Catholic campers who wish to attend mass in Hendersonville.
A cabin and the open air gym
Founded in 1951, Glen Arden has strong traditions. Many daughters and granddaughters of alumni attend each year. The girls wear uniforms to dinner (blue shirts, shorts, and a tie), which gives them a connection to the past.
Erin says that when you come through the gates it feels like time stops, and there’s a sense of historical reference. It’s about the old-fashioned, simple, fun parts of life where you can feel connected to nature. Everything is handmade, and there is no emphasis on material objects or possessions.
Erin taught school in Columbia and Greenville, SC and spent four summers working at a nearby girls' camp with her husband, Garrett (who has worked in the camping industry since 2000). Eventually she joined him full-time at camp in 2009, and they bought Glen Arden in the fall of 2016. Erin and Garrett love the rich history and traditions of camp, including the music, Council Fire, and special programs. They are not looking to change any of these longstanding traditions but have made updates to the facilities.
Erin’s childhood camp experience was at a smaller, coed church camp, which she attended from age 6 to 13.
She likes the advantages of a single gender camp. It allows the girls more freedom to be themselves; appearance is not important, and you can be silly in a way you might not if there were boys around. Away from the pressures of home and school, you can really be who you want to be.
A counselor’s perspective
There was never a question of whether Rachel would attend camp, or at which camp she would spend her formative years. Her mom, a native of New Orleans, is an alumnus of Glen Arden and always knew she would send her daughters. Rachel grew up in California and started flying to North Carolina for camp when she was eight.
The first year she went for two weeks with her mom and sister. The second year she went for a month with her sister. After that she flew each summer across the country by herself.
She spent eight years as a camper, and then did the CIT program as a rising junior, became a junior counselor the following year, and is returning this year for her second summer as a full-fledged counselor. While she misses the magic of being a camper, she loves the way the little girls look up to her. It’s an honor to be able to influence their lives, and she looks forward to giving them the same love she received from her counselors. In fact, some of her campers have written to her throughout the year.
Rachel (middle of first photo) and friends
Why camp is so fabulous
When you speak with camp advocates, you find that they tend to use the same language. Phrases like “my most authentic self.” Traditional summer camps do their best to remove the pressures of every day life by encouraging kids to just have fun and try new things. No social cliques and no phones.
Rachel sums this up by describing Glen Arden as having a place for everyone. She knows she always has a home to go back to and believes camp has made her the person she is today.
Where else can you break into song in a dining hall and have the whole room join in by the second verse.
How camp prepares you for college
Rachel just completed her first year at Vanderbilt University, and says that the years of summer camp gave her a great foundation for success at college.
First, the fact that she started travelling by herself at the age of 10 to spend a month away from home fostered a strong sense of independence. Second, living with new people and sharing a small cabin space at camp made it easy to get along with a college roommate. Most importantly, with the social skills she developed at camp, she has no problem making friends.
What should parents know
Rachel feels that Glen Arden is The Best Place in the World. It may be daunting to send your kids away for so long, but it’s completely worth it. The cost may also be daunting, but it’s a lifelong investment; she knows that she always has a place to think of as home.
The emotional experience of camp is what sticks with you: the jubilation of arriving after being away for eleven months and greeting your old friends, the clan events, and the memories of fast-formed and long-lasting friendships. Camp is a constant in her life that she knows she’ll always be able to draw strength from.
Christmas in July
When to send your child to camp
Many parents worry that their children are not “ready for camp.” The most common starting age at Glen Arden is 9 or 10. They do, however, take 5- and 6-year-olds, who are usually a camp alumnus who knows how fabulous camp is. The younger ones may also be siblings of older campers or they may have attended a one-week camp elsewhere and are ready for a longer stay. The group of little girls who attended the two-week session last summer loved it so much that they are all returning for the four-week session this year.
Try it out
You can get a feel for the camp environment and bond with your daughter during the annual Mother/daughter weekend. Try out the most popular traditional camp activities, participate in evening programs, and experience mealtime in the dining hall. Attendees include a lot of prospective campers, alumni, and current year campers.
How to register
Glen Arden’s capacity is 162, with a return rate of about 75%. It’s important to register early!
Check out the dates and rates page for more information.