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NOV. 17, 2016

Supporting the Natural World

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Recently, a friend and camp parent posted this to her Facebook page:

“Friends, I’d like to hear from those of you who are involved in environmental organizations. We do a lot of volunteering in various organizations and give what we can to them, but have not been involved in any environmental causes and it’s a particular area of concern for me. Tell me where I should get plugged in.”

At Eagle’s Nest we care deeply about the natural world, and we are passionate about helping kids connect to and enjoy time in it. That’s one of the reasons that we were so excited to put over 140 acres into a conservation easement, protecting the land in perpetuity. We believe that through immersion in the natural world, we are able to instill a sense of place, lifelong curiosity, and a passion for stewardship of the earth to our campers.

So, reading this post, and seeing the comments and suggestions that followed, warmed my heart.

I have lots of ideas for my friend, and from the comments that kept popping up, it looks like other people do too. It’s nice to see that lots of people are interested in getting outside and in being active with organizations that support the environment.


If you are interested in supporting the natural world, following is a list of ideas for you to pursue:

  • Get involved with a local outdoor club or organization. Most communities have outdoor clubs that go on regular hikes, birding adventures, or paddling trips. You can also find organizations that organize stream clean ups or Earth Day events. Local outdoor stores typical know of outdoor clubs and organizations in your area and often have links to those organizations on their webpages.
  • Get outside! Make time each day, week or month to spend time outside. Invite friends.
  • Explore a new hobby that helps you spend time appreciating the outdoors: bird watching, gardening, star gazing, photography, landscape painting, etc.
  • Appreciate nature through art. There are so many artists and writers who have been inspired by the natural world. Pick up a book by Mary Oliver, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard or Wendell Berry, or follow a great nature photographer on Instagram. There are also lots of inspiring blogs by people who love to work and play in the outdoors.
  • Join a national organization like the Sierra Club or the Audubon Society. Both have wonderful publications that help you understand more about the natural world and protecting it.
  • Make a donation to Eagle’s Nest Foundation! Eagle’s Nest is a non-profit foundation. Your financial support helps fund initiatives that include providing scholarships for children to spend time connecting with nature. By supporting our campers, you are supporting future environmentalist and inspiring them to have a lifelong love of protecting the natural world. Your donations also support our conservation and sustainability efforts. You can make an online, tax deductible donation here: GIVE NOW.

This morning, I watched the following video, Trail Angels, from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Eagle’s Nest has been taking campers on 3-week backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail for over 40 years. I was inspired to see the people in the video who headed out to The Appalachian Trail for the first time for 4-days of trail work that would help preserve the AT. I got the sense that many of the crew members had never camped out before, much less spent days camping while working hard on a project to stop erosion on one of America’s most famous foot paths. As one of the crew members said “stepping outside your comfort zone broadens your mind a little bit.” I’m sure that these trail crew members came away from this experience with more confidence in themselves, a deeper appreciate of nature, and a greater desire to protect it.

If, like my friend, would like to get more involved in the natural world, pick an area that interests you and make a plan today.

Paige Lester Niles, Camp Director 

OCT. 24, 2016

One Hundred and Forty Three Acres Protected #ForeverOurNest #ENF4evergreen

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After six years of planning, grant writing, surveying, baseline indexing and countless hours reviewing documents, Eagle’s Nest is very proud to announce that 143 of our 182 acres are now officially under a conservation easement.   For generations to come our students and campers will enjoy the same woods, streams and pastures that we do today.  Our forest friends will forever roam their Eagle’s Nest habitat. Our streams will always run fresh and clear into our very own Little River and on to the French Broad.  The plant species that grace our lands will be forever protected, rooted in their little corner of the Southern Appalachians.

Deep gratitude goes out to our friends at the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund for providing the funding and the expertise to bring this all to fruition.  Their vision and guidance in protecting spaces throughout North Carolina is exemplary.

I can’t think of a better way to honor our Nest as we enter into our 90th year.  Please look for our Fall Eagle coming in November for more detail about this exciting project!

Noni Waite-Kucera, Executive Director

JUL. 20, 2016

Finding Perspective

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Liz Snyder, Assistant Director

It’s an overcast afternoon, raining off and on, and much chillier than I’d expect in mid-July. Clouds are swirling around us, moving quickly to and fro on the strong breeze. Regardless of the weather, the beauty of this area, the Roan Highlands, is breathtaking. Our X-Craft group is made up of three instructors and ten 13-15 year olds, and on our backs we’re carrying everything we need for a three day journey on the Appalachian Trail. This crew is impressive, remaining positive despite being a bit soggy.

We round a bend in the trail and are greeted with a spectacular view of Hump Mountain in the distance, standing at 5587 feet. This area is a treeless, wide-open bald, affording a clear view of the trail ahead of us. Being able to see where we’re going is equal parts exciting and daunting, and something rarely experienced in the heavily wooded seasonal rainforests of the southern Appalachians. As the kids look toward the climb ahead of them, many of their faces drop. The ascent is tough – nearly a mile of steep terrain, which will undoubtedly be made more difficult by wind and drizzle. Head’s down, they push on, excited by the promise of a peanut butter and jelly lunch on the summit.

x-craft fire

As we’re hiking later on, one of the campers mentions that the climb up Hump Mountain really wasn’t so bad; that it only looked intimidating from the bottom. Another camper states that she can’t believe we’ve already walked six miles today, and that after this trip running a couple miles at home every day won’t seem so hard. A couple others agree that hiking in the rain isn’t as miserable as they’d expected. As we debrief the day around a roaring fire hours later, they’ll say that they actually kind of enjoyed it.

These conversations were organic; not facilitated by instructors or forced in any way. On their own, our group’s perspective shifted. They realized that if they could do this (and do it well), that the difficult things they face at home aren’t necessarily as hard as they thought. Or, as a camper pointed out, maybe they are really hard, but they have the ability and confidence to succeed in tough situations.

x-craft big

Listening to our campers discuss perspective with their peers made me want to do cartwheels down the trail. It’s these exact conversations that have made me passionate about taking people into the wilderness on professional and personal trips alike. These are the things I’ve learned (and continue to learn) when I venture into the wild. Witnessing others discover them on their own is nothing short of magical.

Our Session 2 campers have returned to their respective homes now, but I have faith that many of the things they discovered about themselves over the past three weeks will stick with them well beyond these hot summer days. A new crew of young people has settled into this home on Hart Road, eager to learn and grow in the shadows of the wise, old mountains that surround us. Three weeks of magic await them, and hopefully they’ll return home with a fresh perspective of all they’re capable of.

JUL. 7, 2016

Blackberry Cobbler, Cabin Camp Outs, Fireworks and More

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Paige Lester-Niles, Camp Director

It’s hard to believe that we are now half way through Session 2. The days are full and wonderful at camp, and time seems to take on a magical quality; it is all at once expanding to allow us to do as much as we possibly can, and also rapid and fleeting. At some point we try to forget about time, move from place to place when we hear the bell telling us it’s time for a change, and embrace each opportunity in front of us.

In the week and a half that we’ve been together we have certainly made the most of the time we’ve had together. On the first full day of camp our new campers were placed into tribes – Migisi, Natseeho, Wohelo and Winnesquam. These tribes will always be a supportive community belonging for our campers (and a group of people to play Capture the Flag with). The following night each cabin performed at “Air Guitar”. I love watching the campers who were initially timid on the first day starting to “bust out”, laugh and be goofy at Air Guitar. This is a perfect cabin bonding activity. By the middle of the week we were well into classes and into the routine of camp.

cooking class wiht kids

The weekend brought time for a change of pace and some celebrations. On Saturday after the morning activities the counselors created a water park for the campers. The kids enjoyed cooling off while racing with greased watermelons, building and floating boats, and have water fights. That night we the Junior Counselors prepared a cook out for us – complete with hamburgers, hot dogs, grilled corn, coleslaw and Cho Chos (the tasty camp dessert). After our bellies were full we headed off to a square dance. The kids loved following the caller as they danced the Virginia Reel and others square and line dances to live music. By the end of the evening I think that just about all of the campers had danced at least one dance. They were certainly happy to be able to sleep in on Sunday morning! Sunday started off with pancakes and a game of Quiditch (the Wohelo and Natseeho won) and ended with Tribal Village.

Monday, July 4th, was a special day. We had a picnic lunch in the Quad, barbeque and blackberry cobbler for dinner, and then a cardboard box derby and fireworks in the evening. I’ll let your campers fill in the blanks with some of the details. It was a very fun day.

This week classes have started to get off campus for activities. The paddlers have been on several river trips, the climbers went on a three-day trip to Cedar Rock, the horseback riders have been to a horse show, and the X-craft class is currently on a three-day backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail in the Roan Highlands. I can’t wait to see the pictures and hear the stories when they return.


Over the last two nights all of our campers have headed out to the woods for cabin campouts – the girls all camped out on Tuesday night and the boys were out last night. Some of the cabins camped in the woods at Eagle’s Nest, and others ventured out to the surrounding forests off campus. Cabin 10 ventured all the way to Black Balsam where they watched the sunrise this morning. At Eagle’s Nest Camp, we believe that every child should have the chance to have a special camp out in nature. We want them to experience the joy (and courage) of sleeping outside, under a tarp with the sounds of nature all around them. During the cabin campouts, campers all had the chance to tell stories and eat s’mores around a campfire, before climbing into their sleeping bags to fall asleep to the sounds of the night. We’re excited that they get this opportunity because we know the providing a safe, fun experience in the natural world will give them the chance to step out of their comfort zones, stretch their minds, and connect them to the beauty of the world around them. Is there a better way for us to meet our mission of “promoting the natural world and the betterment of human character”?

We’ve still got another week and a half left of camp, and we’re planning to make the most of it. The weekend is approaching, with lots of surprises and the promise of more laughter…

MAY. 5, 2016

Sense of Place

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Liz Snyder, Assistant Director

The sun shone brightly at 8:30am, making a bold reappearance after nearly 24 hours of soaking rain. Clouds sat just beneath the summits of mountains on the horizon, stretched out like wispy cotton balls lazily drifting from peak to peak. Trees stood tall against a deep blue sky, showing off their first greens after months of bare existence. I lowered my sunglasses to take it all in, smiled, and kept running.

The third and final leg of the Smoky Mountain Relay took me through a sleepy valley surrounded by Nantahala National Forest. My team of 11 other runners and I had been on the move since 10:15am the previous day, making our way across 208 miles of western North Carolina’s trails and roads. When it was time for my final run I was sleep-deprived, sore, and expecting a seven-mile-sufferfest.

Telico Gap

But something wholly unexpected happened when I started running. Yes, my hamstrings and calves wailed in protest, and yes, it hurt, but I quickly entered a state of mental euphoria. The “runner’s high” is a well-known phenomenon brought on by the circulation of “happy” chemicals throughout an active person’s body and brain. I’m lucky to feel that high often, but this time was different. I was transported into a meditative state not by the movement of my body, but by the space I ran through.

I was overwhelmed with joy. The sunshine, the mountains, the sky, the river rushing by next to me, the cows’ confused stares as I moved past them, the country road called “Happy Lane”. All of it swirled around me and ignited my sense of place. I didn’t think about the finish line or check my watch to see how fast I was running. I felt each step. I lived each moment. I was present.


I don’t remember seeing North Carolina’s mountains until I was 10 years old. My family loves the ocean, so we traveled east from Raleigh to the coast for our vacations. I found my place in the mountains independently when I went to camp the summer after 4th grade. I recall looking out across the Blue Ridge for the first time and feeling my heart swell. My feet were rooted in the soft ground, and it seemed as if the earth’s electrical pulse ran up my legs and through my body. I felt small and humble, curious and calm. Those mountains lit a fire in my soul that has yet to be extinguished.

In fact, my infatuation with the Blue Ridge Mountains has intensified over the past two decades. I’ve come to know them intimately, and I’ve come to know myself intimately through the time spent in their grasp. I’ve experienced joy, heartache, failure, and growth while they stood witness on the horizon. In a life full of transition, they are constant. I know that I can run to the mountains when my perspective gets fuzzy.

Western North Carolina, and the Blue Ridge especially, is my heart place. This is the place where I feel physically, emotionally, and mentally connected to the landscape. Sometimes the logistics of life act as blinders and I forget how fortunate I am to have made a home here. My painfully beautiful run through the Nantahala valley reminded me of the magic that lives in these hills and in my soul. It brought me back to the feeling I had as a kid, to that spark of electricity running through me. Calm and curious, humble and small. It helped me remember that I can leave, but this place will always be home.

In just over a month, children from all over the world will come to Eagle’s Nest. They’ll walk through frigid mountain streams, sleep on the soft ground, and watch as embers from an evening fire disappear into a sky full of stars. They’ll laugh and learn and grow, and the mountains will stand watch on the horizon. Campers will discover their heart place here, and it will live with them forever. I can’t wait to see their faces light up when they witness a sweeping vista or hike through the forest. I can’t wait to see them connect to this landscape. And, more than anything, I can’t wait to share this place with them.

By Liz Snyder, Assistant Director


MAR. 3, 2016

What’s in Your Backyard?

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Noni Waite-Kucera, Executive Director

“Who Cooks for You” can be heard every evening this time of year at my house.  Each time it makes me stop and give thanks that these beautiful creatures are able to live so closely with us humans in a very urban area.  The Barred Owl has moved in and stayed in our neck of the woods.  What a gift.

Moving toward twilight we’ll hear the song birds and squirrels put up their warning calls.  Our dog Quoddy hears this too and fixes his eyes skyward.  Without fail, a pair of Barred Owls will glide silently from the front of our house to our backyard where they will set up for the evening hunt.

From their perch in our maple and nearby poplar trees they call to each other and to others across the park defining who is in the neighborhood that evening. They linger 5- 10 minutes, then off they go to the hunt.

This time of year is mating season which we know will soon bring owlets to our backyard.  Last year we had two who made it from their nesting cavity in the beech tree in the park behind our house all the way to our yard.  These young birds can’t fly but they can glide for a long way.   From their cavity they will glide out until they land on another tree or on the ground.  This leads to a long climb back up a tree using their beak, feet and flaps of the wings.  It is unlike anything I have ever seen but it is efficient and with each climb the wings strengthen for their soon to be flights.


I am excited and hopeful for more owlets this year climbing our trees and calling to their parents for more food.  They are hungry little things!

I encourage you to head out an area near you, maybe even your backyard and see if you can spot an owl or two. Their preferred habitats range from swamps to stream sides to uplands, and may contain hemlock, maple, oak, hickory, beech, aspen, white spruce, quaking aspen, balsam poplar, Douglas-fir, lodge pole pine, or western larch.  If you would like to learn more I encourage you to check out this site:  If you are at camp or OA this year certainly you will hear these guys as well as the Great Horned and Screech Owls.

Here’s a cute video of a little owlet perched just outside my window.

These pictures and video were taken of the owlets growing up in our backyard.

Noni Waite-Kucera, Executive Director