Camp Hidden Meadows is aptly named. The 250 acre tract of land tucked away on the edge of Thornwood, just off of Rt. 28, is easily overlooked by anyone not searching for it – and sometimes missed by those who are.
During the fall, winter and spring, only a handful of people live and work here, outnumbered by the chickens, sheep, goats, rabbits and the lone donkey that reside on the property year-round. The loudest sound usually heard then – other than an occasional bray from the donkey – is the babble of the East Fork of the Greenbrier River.
From June to August, however, the camp bustles with a population greater than all of Bartow.
Tom Bryant, the camp’s owner and director, says that this place was not always the beautiful, exciting kids’ retreat it is today.
After receiving his B.A. in Business Management and Master’s in Experiential Education, he and his soon-to-be wife decided to try developing their own summer program. Bryant had worked at other camps and environmental education centers in the past. Though originally from Elkins, he decided to come to Pocahontas County in 1993 to start a camp on some farmland his family owned.
“I made an agreement that I would clean it up,” Bryant said. “It was a mess. I mean a complete mess – junk everywhere.”
Part of the agreement was that Bryant would buy the property, if things went well. So they got started and ran two programs the first year. In the early days, his business was called Greenbrier River Outdoor Adventures, and they led multi- adventure trips that included backpacking, white water rafting, rock climbing, mountain biking and caving.
“The following year, we added some more,” Bryant said, “and we did that for four summers.”
Tom eventually stepped back from the program and got another job in order to buy the land from his family. Then his life became a little more complicated when he and his wife found out they were going to have a baby. He kept the land but sold the business in 1997 to four staff members.
But he couldn’t stay away from it for long.
The staff members dissolved their partnership, and Bryant became “re-involved” in 2004.
Greenbrier River Outdoor Adventures became Camp Hidden Meadows in 2006.
Since then, he has expanded the camp, thanks to his conservative DIY philosophy.
“Initially we built the cabins – literally built them,” Bryant said. “Just growing gradually, I think, that’s the secret. We just grew a little bit – add a cabin, add a cabin, that kind of stuff. Not taking out a big loan and hoping that it all works out. I’m adverse to taking out loans.”
Now, thanks to Bryant’s leadership and strategic marketing, Camp Hidden Meadows attracts campers from all over the world.
During the summer, the camp houses between 150 and 200 children each week, as well as around 60 adult staff. Some of the summer staff come from other countries, creating a multicultural experience and introducing many new people to West Virginia’s unique beauty.
Clotilde is a counselor from France. While she has visited Boston, New York City and parts of Maine, this is her first time in West Virginia.
“I’m from the city, and I’m not used to the countryside,” she said. “I’m not used to being surrounded by a lot of forest.”
Before she arrived, Clotilde thought the camp was closer to Washington, D.C.
“It was a surprise to be so far, but it’s a good surprise.”
Mark is a Senior Staff member from Oak Hill, but his family has always vacationed in Pocahontas County. He said a college girlfriend got him interested in working at a camp a few years ago.
“I looked up summer camps in West Virginia, and one popped up in Bartow, and I said, ‘Well, I know where that’s at.’”
This is Mark’s third summer at the camp.
In addition to working with the young campers, Mark enjoys meeting people from all over the world.
“I’ve never been on an airplane or anything like that,” he said. “Never travelled anywhere, really, outside of West Virginia. [Working here] has given me the opportunity to be a part of a lot of different cultures. We’ve got English – a lot of English here – Australians, New Zealanders, Germans. Really, it’s been good to get to know people from different parts of the world and to spend time with them. A lot of them I consider very close friends now, and it’s really cool.”
Camp Hidden Meadows boasts a robust array of activities to keep campers engaged. A complete list can be found on the camp’s website camphiddenmeadows.com Some highlights include mountain biking, fishing, arts and crafts, various sports, organic farming and a 1,000 foot zipline extended above the cabins, fields and river. Staff also take campers on off-campus trips to Lake Buffalo, Seneca Rocks, and even to the New River for white water rafting.
Camper Kat cradles a chicken in her arms as her new friend Riley nervously tries to catch one of her own. She gets close, but as soon as her fingers touch the unsuspecting hen’s auburn feathers, she jerks back. The chicken hardly moves.
It’s Kat’s second summer at Camp Hidden Meadows, and Riley’s first. Both girls are 10 years old. As one might expect, Kat’s number one camp activity is farming, but she doesn’t have a one-track mind. In addition to the farming program, Kat also counts the pond, culinary arts and the zipline among her favorite camp pastimes.
Riley, quieter and still distracted by the chickens, says she enjoys pottery and high ropes the most.
“I like how you have different activities every day,” she said.
Kat is a people person as well as a chicken person.
“The counselors are really nice,” she said, “and how they mix the cabins every year, you get to meet a lot of new people. It’s really fun.”
Kat lets go of the hen. It squawks and flies away, prompting a squeal from Riley.
Will and Jackson, ages 12 and 11, sit back from a small fire, satisfied with their work. It took them half an hour to get it going, but now, Will said, “You just have to keep feeding it.”
They are participating in the camp’s outdoor living skills (OLS) activity period, where counselors teach girls and boys to build safe fires, cook outdoors and compass navigation. Both of the boys are back for their second year, and they love the sense of freedom they get at camp.
“At home,” Jackson explains, “you have chores and stuff. Here, you have chores, but they make it fun.”
“And then you can do stuff!” interrupts Will.
Jackson continues without missing a beat.
“Then you can go outside and play in the pool, or jump in the pond, or play with the goats, or something.”
OLS and mountain biking are Jackson’s favorite activities here, while Will prefers horseback riding and radio. When asked if they intend to return to Camp Hidden Meadows next summer, the boys reply in unison: