Eagle's Nest Camp

Eagle's Nest Camp - 1922 to present

Location: Hart Road, Little River Community
Owners: Carol Purse Oppenheimer
                 Dr. Alex & Hannah Waite, 1945
                 Moseley & Helen Waite
                 Noni Waite-Kucera & Eagle's Nest Foundation
Current Director: Paige Lester-Niles
Other Info: Miss Mary Gwynn rented the camp in 1935




Eagle’s Nest Camp did not originate in Transylvania County; rather its origin was near Eagle’s Nest Mountain in Haywood County.  The owner, Mrs. Oppenheim (Bailey) moved the camp to its present site in the Little River Valley in 1927.  It was an all girls program accommodating about 60 campers.  It flourished until World War II when it was forced to close for the war effort.

A group of individuals, interested in child development, led by Dr. Alex and Hannah Waite, purchased the camp from Mrs. Bailey and opened the campus for the summer of 1945, a major achievement considering that the war in the Pacific was still ongoing.  It was important to create a coed camp to meet educational goals of the founders.  Eagle’s Nest was one of the first coed camps in the area.  The next summer was also a challenge as most of the campers were from Florida which had been hit by a major outbreak of polio.  The result of this outbreak was a quarantine which prevented these campers from traveling by train to Hendersonville.  This was circumvented by chartering a bus that brought them almost nonstop to camp; however, they were quarantined on campus for two weeks along with all camp personnel.

Eagle’s Nest grew over the next few years, adding cabins and new activity facilities. Four of the cabins were army surplus, taken apart at their site in Florida and transported to the Little River Valley where they became home to campers rather than soldiers.  The number of campers increased to above 100 coming from new areas as the reputation of the programs at Eagle’s Nest grew.  Eagle’s Nest also offered courses in psychology and education to staff.  College credits were given by Rollins College where Alex was a professor of psychology.

In 1950 the founders decided that Eagle’s Nest should be reincorporated as a not for profit organization to insure that the educational program would be preserved.  A Board of Trustees was created with Jack D’Albora as President. The Board was responsible for overseeing the operation of the Foundation.  Following this restructuring of Eagle’s Nest more full time staff was added and the camp grew to about 150 campers, roughly the current size.

In the early 1950’s a large group on campers from Cuba came for most of the summer adding an international flavor.  Their participation in Eagle’s Nest programs continued until the current government made it impossible for them to travel.

The next major change that occurred at Eagle’s Nest was the introduction of programs for children with diabetes.  This program was originated in the late 1960’s by a dedicated group of parents from the Greenville, SC area.  These parents saw the need for children with diabetes to learn to care for their condition and to have secure futures and fulfilling lives.  Together with a large medical staff led by the director’s from Duke (Harry Delcher, Jay Ellis and Jay Skyler), Eagle’s Nest ran The Carolina’s Camp for Children with Diabetes for well over a decade.  Much of the leadership for this program came from Helen Waite, Alex and Hannah’s daughter-in-law.  When Alex and Hannah retired in the late 1970’s, the Trustees named Helen as Director.

Helen embraced the educational philosophies developed at Eagle’s Nest for the previous three decades.  Helen was a student of experiential education, and Eagle’s Nest was the ideal venue for her energy and creativity.  However, her work had to spread beyond “The Nest”, bringing in new programs and exploration.  With the full support of the Trustees, Helen developed The Hante program, journeys out of camp for teenagers running three to four weeks during the summer.  The first Hantes were 100 mile hikes on the Appalachian Trail.  Next Hante took a trip to Canyon de Chelly in Arizona to live and work with Navajo families, and then to Mexico to work on restoring a colonial hacienda while learning Spanish.  The programs have now circled the globe while maintaining the true meaning of the name Hante, “I went away and learned”, a Native American term.

Another program Helen initiated, The Paleo Man Experiment, won the American Camping Association award for innovations in camp programming.  Campers, mostly 10 years old lived for 10 days as closely as they could to life 40,000 years ago.  The paleocampers smoked meat, caught crayfish, ground their grains and camped in a tundra-like environment.

Believing that the campus could be used for her educational dreams beyond the 9-10 weeks of the summer, she developed the Birch Tree Program.  Both public and private schools brought students and staff to Eagle’s Nest for 2 to 5 days to participate in this outdoor experiential education program each fall and spring.  These school groups came from as far away as Florida and Ohio. 

However, Helen believed that the biggest step forward in the Eagle’s Nest educational dream would be the addition of an academic semester school program.  To move forward with this dream, another organizational restructuring occurred; Eagle’s Nest Foundation was created, and Eagle’s Nest Camp became one of two programs within the Foundation.  After two years of hard work and significant fund raising by Helen and Ted Wesemann, the first Head of School, The Outdoor Academy of The Southern Appalachians (OA) opened in 1995.  The Outdoor Academy accepts up to 32 tenth grade students in each the fall and spring semesters.  This school which is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) blends academic work with outdoor education.  The Outdoor Academy has been the perfect program to complement Eagle’s Nest Camp, meeting the Foundation’s educational mission of “experiential education for young people, promoting the natural world and the betterment of human character.”

Helen remained the Executive Director of the Foundation until 2000 when she retired.  The Board then named Noni Waite-Kucera, Helen’s daughter and Alex and Hannah’s granddaughter, as Executive Director of Eagle’s Nest Foundation.  With mature educational programs established, Noni turned her attention to the acquisition of much needed property and building new facilities.  In 2001 the Foundation purchased 125 abutting acres from the Gladfelter Corporation.  This purchase, along with staff housing acquisition, brings the contiguous land available for programs to almost 200 acres.

Over the past decade a strong emphasis has been placed on the “greening of the Nest” which includes not only practicing environmental sustainability within our program, but also in educating our participants on how to be good stewards of the earth.  A focal point of this emphasis is The Outdoor Academy Student Environmental Summit (OASES) which brings school groups to campus each spring for hands on workshops on a variety of environmental issues.  In the spring over 100 8th and 9th grade participants travel with their schools from as far away as Miami to have fun learning about their natural environment.

Currently, Paige Lester-Niles is the Eagle’s Nest Camp Director and Dr. Mark Meyer-Braun is Head of School for The Outdoor Academy.






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