JUL. 20, 2016
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
“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: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barred_Owl/id. 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
MAR. 3, 2015
Over the past 88 years, Eagle’s Nest has seen a lot of change in the Little River Valley. More is coming, right alongside our campus. Recently, the owners of a 31-acre tract along our border put their land up for sale. This property has beautiful long range views of the valley, a nice road already cut in, many wonderful building sites, and of course the most amazing next door neighbor!
ENF has worked for many years to help preserve and protect the rural feeling of the Little River Valley. Teaching our campers and students the importance of being good stewards to our land and community has been a key aspect of our mission to promote the natural world and the betterment of human character. As part of our long range planning, we have worked diligently for the last three years to place 100 acres of our own campus under a conservation easement. This measure will ensure that we protect our streams, forests, and fields for future generations. It will also help us create another teaching tool. As the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy assesses our land and monitors our management of it, our own campers and students will participate in the work of exploring and documenting its natural features.
Given the centrality of careful, informed land stewardship to our work, ENF knows the importance of good neighbors. So the Foundation is reaching out to our larger community with this news of transition—and opportunity—on our southern flank. Do you or someone you know have an interest in owning 31 beautiful acres next to a thoughtful and vibrant neighbor like Eagle’s Nest? The property would make an ideal private estate or could perhaps be subdivided into several parcels.
If you are interested, email ENF Trustee Cain Cox at email@example.com or call her at (828) 242-7707.
Cain Cox, Eagle’s Nest Trustee
DEC. 18, 2014
The US Forest Service is in the midst of revising the plan of how our local national forests will be managed. As someone who has hiked these trails, swum in these waterfalls and camped on these grassy balds, Eagle’s Nest thought you would be interested in voicing your opinion about how these public lands will be used going forward.
Under the current proposed plan, 70% of the forest (700,000 acres) will be open to logging (“suitable for timber.”) You can read more about it in the Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests Plan Revision
Public comment is needed by January 5th at either of the following addresses:
Email comments/ submit to: NCPlanRevision@fs.fed.us
Postal mail comments to: US Forest Service, 160 Zillicoa St, Suite A, Asheville, NC 28801
Pisgah Group, NC Chapter of the Sierra Club recommends:
The following areas are in the “suitable for timber” management areas. If you are writing, we recommend you choose areas/ trails that you love and ask that they be protected:
Art Loeb trail (south of BRP), Cat Gap, Farlow Gap in the Fish Hatchery area, Black Mountain, and the Black Mountain areas of Lost Cove Ridge ( Black Mt. Campgrond to Green Knob) and Colbert Ridge (Carolina Hemlocks campground, Celo) Couthouse creek & falls, Overmountain Victory Trail (west of Linville Gorge), Big Ivy (Coleman Boundary), Unaka Mountain, John Rock, Devil’s Courthouse Creek, Bluff Mt near Max Patch
The following areas should be recommended for Wilderness:
Craggy Mountains (Big Ivy)
Joyce Kilmer – Slickrock Extensions
Linville Gorge Extensions
Middle Prong Extension
Overflow Creek (Blue Valley)
Shining Rock Extensions; Snowbird WSA
Southern Nantahala Extensions; Tusquitee Bald; Unicoi Mountains
Speak up and let your opinion be known!
Noni Waite-Kucera, Executive Director