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YMCA camp coming to Swain County

fr ymcaSwain County will soon be home to a YMCA camp. 

The camp — called YMCA Camp Watia — will be on land located near the Almond Boat and RV Park.

“Probably 5 miles from the highway,” said Swain County Manager Kevin King. “I think it used to be a tree farm.”


YMCA representatives were in Bryson City recently for a public hearing with the Swain County Board of Commissioners. Because the organization is pursuing recreation bonds to help finance the camp — as well as other ventures in Western North Carolina — a public hearing was required in Swain.

“Basically, it’s just an IRS rule,” King said of the hearing. 

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According to Jes Williams, vice president of Organizational and Financial Development for the YMCA of Western North Carolina, the property is “about 900 acres” located little more than a mile form the Nantahala Outdoor Center.

“It’s a beautiful piece of land and it backs up to the national forest,” Williams said. 

The YMCA plans to break ground on the camp in the spring of 2015. By 2016, the camp will be open. 

“We’re just going to be a summer camp,” Williams said. “We’re not going to winterize it.”

Initially, the YMCA plans to put in enough infrastructure to support around a third of its eventual capacity of about 300 campers and staff each week of the summer. There will be camps for boys and girls — each consisting of a half dozen cabins and shower facilities — as well as a two-story lodge and dining hall. 

Only about 125 acres will be touched at first. Future phases call for a welcome center and conference space, as well as additional living quarters. 

Currently, there are no plans for a pool — the property boasts a 3-acre pond — but Williams left the possibility open.

“If all the sudden momma said ‘We’re not going to let our kid swim in Earth-water anymore,’ we do have a space for it,” she laughed.

The YMCA camp will specifically cater to youth, ages 6 to 16, from Western North Carolina. While campers from out of the area will be able to come to the camp, the YMCA intends to focus on youth from the region.

“In Western North Carolina there are a Mecca of camps,” said Williams, pointing out that a high percentage of the area’s campers hail from out of state. “We want to kind of turn that stat on its head.”

The YMCA plans to work with local schools and other youth organizations in an effort to introduce the camp to pools of potential campers. The organization will also offer scholarships for campers unable to pay.

“Our goal is always to never turn anyone away for the ability not to pay,” Williams said.

The property for the camp was given to the YMCA — in the form of a charitable land lease — by Ken and Nancy Glass. The couple has owned the property for 10 years. 

“This property has a lot of attributes that would be conducive to a camp,” said King.

Williams described a landscape with a soothing slope — “like a really nice golf course” — that would require little grading or tree removal. She gushed about old roads used on the one-time tree farm that appeared custom-cut for hiking and mountain biking.

“The camp is just so miraculous. It is just perfectly laid out for a summer camp,” Williams said. “We’ve had hardcore camp nerds come out and say ‘You could not have found a better place.’”

And that’s not because the YMCA didn’t look for another place. Even with the donated land, the organization scouted around to make sure it’d found the right place before settling on the property in Swain.

“We didn’t take the idea of building a camp lightly,” Williams said, noting that the camp will be the YMCA ’s further-west outpost in the state. “We did a lot of research before we dove into this.”’

“Very cool,” said King. “They could have chosen anywhere, but they chose us.”

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