Guest post contributed by Gary Woodhurst .
I vividly remember my very first day at Camp Kanuga.
I remember riding up US 25 with my mom and brother past Jones Gap State Park in awe at the vastness of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I remember the smell of the crisp mountain air (you know, how camp is supposed to smell?) as my mom’s truck winded its way down Little River Road. I also remember driving through the gates to camp for the very first time and seeing the first person I met at Camp Kanuga, Ellen. She was the head female counselor and I was bouncing with excitement as she told me that I would be in cabin 7 and my brother in cabin 8.
In the lobby of the Hyatt Regency at the 2012 ACA National Conference in Atlanta, I saw Ellen again for the first time in 16 years.
Now I’m not here to tell you about my first experience at Camp Kanuga. Your own first memories of camp are probably far more compelling than my swim test mishap that afternoon, so I won’t bore you with the details. No, I’m simply confirming what you already know: From the very moment you go to camp, you begin to develop memories that you will recall for the rest of your life. In several ways, the conference reaffirmed the importance and value in the camp experience for me.
This was my very first ACA National Conference, and I went with the enthusiasm and the desire to make the most of the week in Atlanta. That is what I learned at camp: There are a lot of opportunities for you. It is your choice to make the most of the experience.
I have spent the last year and a half determined to make the most of my continuous camp experience as a young director. The conference served as yet another impactful moment in my continuing development as a lifelong camper. In fact, I left Atlanta with the same sense of wonder and excitement and stories to share as I did when I left Camp Kanuga!
I also remember my first day back at school after my first summer at camp.
All I wanted to do was to tell everyone how I had the best summer ever, that we could play the same games and sing the same songs from camp . . . but you know just as I do that the other children in my class really didn’t understand.
I went through a positively transformational educational experience that was possible through the unique setting of a residential summer camp.
Most of my classmates, though, spent their summer facing a daunting schedule of play dates, pool parties, and family vacations at the beach. Not that you should turn up your nose at a classic American summer, but as Tim Huchton said in his session at the conference, debriefing the activities we do at camp is the difference between education and recreation.
Articulating the value of camp is difficult enough as a young director, and I certainly could not do my experience justice by trying to explain it to my classmates as we swapped tater tots for pudding in the cafeteria.
My experience at the national conference this year is similar. You will not really know how impactful the conference is unless you attended. I took away a lot of great ideas that have instantly made their way into my program, networking that has already turned into action plans to improve my camp, and moments of professional development that will carry me to, through, and beyond this coming summer.
People who attended this year and others who attended in the past can surely relate. If you have not yet attended, I will tell you that it is absolutely essential to your professional development.
I returned from my first summer at Camp Kanuga with a renewed optimism to face the day-to-day, and that optimism was refreshed in each successive session year after year. I returned from my first ACA National Conference not only with an overflowing inbox and a long to-do list, but also better connected to a strong network of quality professionals and better equipped to develop youth through positive camp experiences year after year.
Gary Woodhurst is the director of Camp Bob , a program of Kanuga Conferences Inc. in Hendersonville, North Carolina., chair of ACA Southeastern’s EPIC  Western North Carolina, secretary of the Legislative Affairs and Alliances Committee for the North Carolina Youth Camp Association, as well as co-chair of the Leadership Experience and Development Committee, weekend camp director, and advisory committee member for the Henderson County Young Leaders Program.