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WNC Business

Summer camps feed WNC’s economy while seeding ambassadors for the outdoors

Jun 17, 2023 12:36PM ● By Randee Brown

Buncombe, Henderson, and Transylvania Counties comprise the ‘Silicon Valley’ of summer camps in the country, according to Sandi Boyer, Executive Director of the North Carolina Youth Camp Association, a nonprofit that strengthens and expands the educational, environmental and recreational opportunities provided by organized camps in North Carolina.

Across the state, the summer camp industry brings $113 million in increased resident income, $42 million in new tax revenue, and 2,317 full-time equivalent jobs created, and the total economic impact to the Western region is $332 million annually.

The NC Youth Camp Association helps provide support to individual camps as well as a statewide voice with policy makers and business leaders, according to Boyer. Started by camp owners and directors, she said that  the Association helps interact with legislators who may not understand the camp industry.

“Laws can have good intentions with unintended consequences for the industry,” Boyer said. “The NCYCA helps give that voice to the industry as well as helps to give the industry a place at the table to discuss regulations. We understand the economic impact and the needs of the industry and every camp in membership contributes, wanting to be a part of educating outsiders of the industry about the importance and impact of the experience that it provides.”

The concentration of summer camps in Buncombe, Henderson, and Transylvania Counties make Western North Carolina the region of the state with the highest number of summer camps, as well as the region that receives the greatest economic impact from the industry.

“Western North Carolina makes the summer camp industry strong throughout the state,” Boyer said. “It’s why there is success in the other parts of the state — the mountain counties have created such a legacy and created the cornerstone of the industry. They’ve found their niche.”

A total of 20 camp directors, 2,976 families, and 474 staff from the Western region provided usable data for the economic impact analysis. Of the families that provided usable data, 80% were incremental visitors who traveled specifically because of their child’s participation in camp; they spent an average of $2,696 during their camp-related travels. Of the staff that provided usable data, 76% traveled specifically to/from their camp employment; they spent an average of $256 during their travels in the county and state.

Boyer said that summer camps in WNC provide the idyllic atmosphere and the right combination of exciting activities that brings campers to the area. She said that some camps like Camp Greystone and Camp Tonawandah have been around for decades with ownership that has passed down in the family to the younger generations, which allows for creative programming alongside traditional activities.

Both day camps as well as overnight camps offer opportunities for kids to explore outside, according to Boyer. She said that parents could always choose other options for their children, and that it’s great that parents have the choice in WNC to give the love of the outdoors and time to be in nature to their children.

Some camps also host family events - there are mother/daughter camps, father/son camps, as well as family camps that allow time for the whole family to enjoy the unique experience together.

“When people first started moving into WNC, they saw the land and the opportunity for respite here for their families from up north or further into the south,” Boyer said. “It’s the most beautiful place in the world, so of course this tradition has continued over the years.”

Summer camps attendees get a variety of experiences. Boyer said that kids get to use skills that are becoming increasingly rare — they get to take calculated risks, make decisions, think outside the box, and perhaps do something a little scary which allows them to practice determination. 

“Camps are also teaching children to be good stewards of the earth, and they can take these theories the extra mile,” Boyer said. “ They are learning how they fit into the environment and what their role is, and you can’t teach that without being outside. It’s impossible to imagine these concepts without being a part of or immersed into the environment.”

Boyer said that this immersion helps kids develop an understanding of how to have fun outside, and that continues to grow as they get older. She said that she finds many of the kids that attend summer camp here keep coming back, and even wanting to be a part of the industry themselves as staff and counselors.

“The digital age can make the choice to be outside more difficult,” Boyer said. “When they get to be outdoors, they are learning about nature, survival skills, and connecting with counselors that help to relate and uphold these values. They get to experience a throwback childhood.”