Camp Riverlea is heaven on earth, 100 acres of rolling fields and woodlands bordered on two sides by the Little River in northern Durham. Betsy Umstead’s summer mecca for kids aged 5 to 12 celebrates its 30th year this season. Counselors lead daily activities ranging from archery, tennis and swimming to drama, music and kayaking. While the children all love the sunshiny action, they especially enjoy sharing stories from the rainy days when counselors have to ad lib a bit. Those folks must be real charmers.

Each morning, rain or shine, the kids run to the vans at the bus stop, hardly pausing for doses of sunscreen and bug-spray. Parents wistfully wave goodbye, most of them wishing that they, too, could be going to Riverlea for the day.

The whole-camp sleepout is the summer highlight. Nestling in sleeping bags under the trees and stars, campers sing dozens of traditional (and non-traditional) songs. Everyone packs a deck of cards and a flashlight. At dusk, Betsy announces that “sometimes Indians come to the bonfire.” Sure enough, a brave appears out of nowhere. He waves his hand and calls out, “Fire, light!” As if by sorcery, the bonfire flames leap up–and the campers’ jaws drop.

How special is the Riverlea staff? At dawn, following a full night of storytelling, singing and s’mores, two little boys wake up early, looking around at all their sleeping campmates. As if on cue, a counselor yawns, rolls over from his sleeping bag and whispers, “Hey, guys, anyone want to play cards?”