Camps for girls and boys in the NC Blue Ridge Mountains
I spent some time speaking with owners David and Anne Trufant and then toured Kahdalea with two counselors in July 2017. Here’s what I learned.
When David responded to my email requesting a tour, he said they had a most unusual pair of camps. My thought was, what could be that different about a traditional summer camp where you sleep in cabins and do outdoor activities. It turns out that it definitely does have a different vibe and sensibility.
The drive to Kahdalea makes you feel like you’re going back to nature. The camp is surrounded on three sides by Pisgah National Forest and sits at an elevation of 3000 feet. The entrance to camp is at the end of a somewhat residential country road; I had to stop and check the map to make sure I was in the right place. After the unassuming gate you meander up a gravel road. One of the first buildings you see is the camp office, which sits across from the dining hall. Beyond that a path takes you past a small lake and up towards the cabins.
Everything here feels very authentic. Nothing is contrived to resemble what parents think a camp is supposed to look like. This is camp, and what you see is what you get. The girls are here to experience nature, try new adventures, and bond with friends. Kahdalea allow them to do that without any pretenses.
These camps are small, with only 95 boys (Chosatonga) and 115 girls (Kahdalea) in each session. This means everyone gets to know everyone else.
Cabins are also on the small side compared to some other camps, with 4-5 campers and 2 counselors.
Philosophy & Approach
Kahdalea and Chosatonga aim “to create a place where children can grow physically, spiritually, and emotionally within a consistent framework of Christian ideals.” Faith is central to their approach, but it’s not a church camp. Character is of the utmost importance. The mission is to connect with children and pull out gifts that others may not see. They expect a lot of growth, and the focus is on the “whole child.”
While one- and two-week options are available on a limited basis for younger campers, the main sessions are three or four weeks. David feels that three weeks is really what you need to build a community and achieve a sense of family.
Camp becomes the place which holds your core identity and where you can be your best self. To settle in and figure this out takes time, so longer sessions help kids to obtain the maximum benefits.
The directors take a personal interest in each kid. Anne explained that she felt like she wasn’t getting enough time to hang out with the girls and just talk. So she implemented morning “coffee talks.” This means she drinks coffee and the girls talk. She was surprised how many got up early to come down at 7:15 and chat.
One topic that often comes up is how to deal with going back to the real world when summer is over. The kids have concerns about how to transfer their camp selves to an environment where people aren’t always as generous and kind. They talk a lot about social pressures and the difference between camp and school.
Further insight came from a Camp Mom I met in the dining hall. Camp Moms do odd jobs around camp and help out as needed; they get a slightly reduced rate, but mostly just love being at camp. She said she loved Kahdalea for the inter-age bonds that form when girls are able to interact with kids both older and younger. She also mentioned that David and his team made the environment less competitive and were good at catering to each child’s personality.
Adventure abounds. These camps are perfect for kids who want to focus on adventure sports. There is a strong whitewater paddling program, and they do a lot of mountain biking and climbing. Campers also have the opportunity to go on lots of overnight excursions.
David says there’s a great value to working through a challenge; kids realize they can do difficult things, which is a tremendous confidence builder. Age groups comingle for activities, so kids can participate in anything if they have the ability.
Boys’ activities are chosen daily. Girls can choose activities once they get here.
Owners & Staff
David and Anne Trufant have run the camp for 28 years. After a career as a professional photographer, David decided he wanted to do something with more meaning. He likes that the impact of summer camp on a child lasts forever. With seven of his own children, he’s had plenty of first-hand experience.
Anne has a background in social work, and attended summer camp throughout childhood. It was in fact an old camp contact who suggested she buy Kahdalea and Chosatonga. She and David moved from New Orleans to Brevard in 1990 and used their own camp experiences at Glen Arden and Mondamin (both are also in the NC mountains) to add to the traditions of their new venture.
Having great counselors makes all the difference in a camper’s experience. I would have loved to turn over my 8-year-old to the two I met with. I also met a counselor/instructor who was covered in mud. She explained that she had spent the afternoon jumping off steep hills and practicing falls because she wants to be a stunt woman. Where else but summer camp are you going to meet people like this?
Counselors attend a two-week training program, which includes how to use Kahdalea’s philosophy while guiding the campers. While most counselors are former campers, they are a diverse group, coming from the southeast, China, and France. The return rate is 75%, which is huge considering most of them are college kids who have to move on to other things.
How to Register for Camp
Space is very limited! Sign up early.
An early bird discount is available until November 1.
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