Summer proves adventurous for Camp Timberlake
As the days get shorter and school bells start ringing again, millions of children around the country are still blissfully recounting fresh memories of summer camp in the mountains.
While visions of sunny days filled with hikes and dips in lakes fill the heads of campers, the owners of a Black Mountain camp are reflecting on an adventure of their own.
Summer camp has always been a huge part of Adam and Ann Boyd’s lives. Adam’s parents bought Camp Merri-Mac 41 years ago, over three decades after it first opened its doors. His father, who had six sons, opened Camp Timberlake in 1983. Adam was a counselor that year and four years later met and fell in love with Ann, who was working as a counselor at Camp Merri-Mac, which was adjacent at the time.
With Camp Timberlake holding a special place in the couple’s heart, they didn’t take lightly the decision to move it from Black Mountain to just outside of Marion. The McDowell County facility, which just wrapped up its first summer, was built specifically to serve as the camp’s home.
“An adventure is any time you do something and you’re not sure of the outcome,” Adam said. “So Disney World is not an adventure, because you know the outcome. You don’t go climbing so you’ll end up 300 feet off the ground on a 12-inch ledge in a thunderstorm, but the fact that you might, makes that an adventure. This was our adventure.”
Every year the waiting list for both camps grows longer and longer, the couple said, and a new home to accommodate the increasing number of new campers and the steady stream of returning campers became necessary.
“We’ve been trying to do this for years, but we hadn’t found the right place,” Adam said from inside his office at in Merri-Mac, which was founded in 1945. “Dad and I looked at property for 20 years and this is the first piece of property I walked on and thought ‘this can be Camp Timberlake.’”
Adam and Ann found a 214-acre former cattle ranch in McDowell County, just outside of Marion. They purchased the property in April of 2017 and contracted Domokur Architects out of Brevard to design the camp and Asheville builder Robert Sulaski to construct it.
As Sulaski’s crews worked diligently to complete the project in time for the arrival of the first group of campers at the new location, relentless rain at the end of May into the early days of June, put the first session in jeopardy.
“I think we got the certificate of occupancy the day before we opened,” Ann said. “We had to open because we made the call in March to pull down from the Merri Mac waiting list, so the facility here was full.”
Their efforts paid off, according to John Menendez, who co-directs the Camp Timberlake with his wife Catherine. He described the first summer in McDowell County was a “monumental” one.
“In 20, 50, 70 years we’ll reference this summer and the opportunities it opened up for our campers,” Menendez said. “Essentially what it allowed us to do was to take all those things that make Camp Timberlake what it is and take it with us, we didn’t lose any of that. Now we just have a bigger area to grow this program.”
As it is with the Boyds, the camp is a special to Menendez, who began attending it when he was 10.
“I was a camper for seven years and was on staff for four while I attended college,” said the Vanderbilt University graduate. “I started as a junior counselor and graduated in 2013, before working elsewhere for a couple of years. I came back, full-time, as the program director in 2016.”
The camp, which Menendez describes as a "traditional, Christian summer camp," allows kids to thrive in a social setting free of everyday distractions like smartphones, he said. Campers interact socially in a safe environment where they're encouraged to try things they haven't tried before.
The results are meaningful long-lasting relationships forged by shared experiences.
"My camp friends are still some of my closest friends," Menendez said. "I'm almost 30 now and when I got married there were multiple friends from camp in the wedding. At least once a year a bunch of go on a trip together."
While faith is the foundation upon which the camp is built, he said, it's the staff who work closely with the children who make the experience meaningful for campers.
"We have a quality of staff, from top to bottom, that's unmatched," Menendez said. "Any camp is only as good as the staff they bring in to the front lines to interact with and care for the kids."
The staff fosters a culture that promotes community and has helped children from all over the world learn valuable lessons, the owners said.
"Children need four things to grow," Adam said. "They need a community. They need a role model. They need a sense of adventure. They need an opportunity to overcome adversity. Those four things are important, and they happen at any great camp. They certainly happen all over Black Mountain at the camps here every summer."