As we have grown and carved out our place in the world, all too often we have had to adapt our dreams and goals to the reality of the world we encountered. In the mid-1960’s, Bill Mayes found himself as the new owner of an old summer camp and realized that he had a unique opportunity to build a world that would bend to HIS reality. With a tremendous work ethic, old-fashioned values, athletic expertise and a childlike sense of play, he developed his world. That world, for many of us, was Camp Deerwoode.
I was a 13-year veteran of Camp Deerwoode and always felt that the camp was on another plane of existence — of this world, but not completely. There are many others who have felt this as well.
On your way to Camp, this feeling of otherworldliness started as your vehicle left the peaceful, paved Deerwoode Lane in Brevard, North Carolina and you thumped onto the dirt and gravel Riversedge Road. On your left, the mountainside filled your view and branches reached out to – and sometimes found – your vehicle. On the right, straight down, was the French Broad River. There were no guardrails, so as your knuckles turned white, you prayed that you didn’t encounter another vehicle heading out. You’d already experienced one of the key principles of Camp Deerwoode: you’re not going to be molly-coddled here.
After what seemed an eternity, you passed through a tall, rustic gate and were greeted with “The Land That Time Forgot”— a beautiful, unexpected valley of green, flat land. You wouldn’t have been a bit surprised to spy a brontosaurus peacefully munching on the walnut trees. The road was still unpaved, but there was a little more gravel and, blessedly, the river wound off to the right, with its flanking trees marking the distant horizon. It was truly another world.
The road has since been relocated away from the river, but that change is minor next to the other changes that have taken place in the valley of Deerwoode.
The Camp itself was established on the slope of Sugarloaf Mountain in 1923, and had served as a girls’ camp, coed camp, and boys’ camp over the years. Bill and Elizabeth Mayes arrived in the mid-60’s to work at Deerwoode and ended up purchasing the Camp in 1967. The magic that was Deerwoode happened every summer thereafter until Bill finally closed the Boys’ Camp business after the summer sessions in 1991. Bill, however, was not one to sit back and relax. He still had an astoundingly beautiful place, so he took apart the campers’ cabins and used the lumber to create modern cabins which still retained their rustic flavor, sprinkling them throughout the property. Of course, Bill engineered most of the modifications himself, even though he had help with the actual grunt work. He always had a vision of what he wanted. This particular vision became the Deerwoode Lodge and Cabins Resort. His PC Program evolved into a fitness center that he opened to the public. Additionally, he was able to have Deerwoode listed as part of the North Carolina Nature Conservancy Program. The beauty and tranquility of the valley attracted visitors from all over the country.
Beginning in 2003, the Resort also began attracting Deerwoode Old-timers who would assemble annually for a weekend reunion and remember when things weren’t so tranquil. The shared love of the land and the memories of the Camp experience has helped all the participants to reflect on whence we came and recharge us thanks to our shared camaraderie.
For many of us (literally thousands), Deerwoode was an integral part of our youth and our young-adult lives. We have left some blood, a lot of sweat, and a few tears behind while we developed strength of character and body. What became more difficult, as the years went by, was trying to describe Deerwoode to anyone who had not experienced it. Camp Deerwoode was many things–sports camp, arts-and-crafts camp, scout camp, boot camp; and yet it always defied categorization. Furthermore, elements of Deerwoode, taken out of context, are easily misunderstood. Explain, for example, the “Wild Ride”, “Farmers, Indians, Pioneers, Renegades, and Grunts”, “Crazy Jack”, the blade, the lanyard, and “shinny”. How does one fully describe Bill Mayes, Hank Lewis, or Bob “Boom Boom” Bradshaw?
This website will try to offer some insight through some artifacts, photographs, and stories. We encourage all those who have been a part of the Deerwoode family to contribute to this site and it shall mutate accordingly. Refer to the Contact page for more information.