Today’s 4-H campers enjoy nutritious meals from camp kitchens, and while 4-H still highly values volunteers, trained professionals direct camp activities. North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s five residential 4-H camps – now called education centers — also offer adult leadership programs and public retreat facilities.
These camps — one brand-new and four still occupying the same sites familiar to generations of campers — offer fun and learning to 4-H school groups, day and traditional week-long 4-H campers. As education centers, they also introduce thousands of potential 4-H’ers and community members to 4-H programs, while holding the budgetary bottom line, since the camps’ primary funding is through the revenue they generate.
These centers encompass about 2,127 acres and 150 structures. As many as 784 campers can now overnight at all the camps. That’s due to increase to almost 1,000 when more Eastern Center facilities are complete in 2007.
Except for our newest camp – the Eastern
Developing new programs and adding equipment and quality staff to develop curricula and plan and direct programs also take funding, but 4-H’ers are noted for their ability to rise to challenges.
“ We’re looking at creative resource development,” says Benita Budd, development director for 4-H camps. “That means more partnerships with businesses, nonprofits and the communities the camps serve.
“ Perhaps most important is the camp alumni base, the former 4-H’ers who participated in camp and had a wonderful residential camping experience,” she says.
As budgets tightened in the past several years, one camp — Swannanoa, near Asheville – faced an uncertain future. It bounced back due to an upwelling of community support and partnerships dedicated to excellent youth education programs, Budd says.
In 2001, Swannanoa, the granddaddy of North Carolina’s 4-H camps, was briefly closed when a funding crunch coincided with a vacant camp director position.
But, as Budd notes, “Community members heard they were going to lose Swannanoa and began a grassroots fundraising effort. In less than a month, they raised enough to hire a director to keep the camp in operation.”
That director, Chris Weaver, offers “self-discovery” programs that complement the camp’s mountain heritage center identity, with local experts teaching their skills. An advisory board of community members, 4-H professionals, retirees and camp alumni has developed a strategic plan to ensure Swannanoa’s success.
Farther east, but still in a mountainous setting, Sertoma 4-H Education Center is the newest incarnation of a phoenix-like institution in existence since the 1890s.
At the turn of the 20th century, the 800-acre site was a popular mineral springs resort named Vade Mecum (Latin: come with me). The original owner willed his property, including a two-story, wood frame fin de siecle hotel, to be used to “enhance the lives of children in educational, religious or scientific endeavors.” The Episcopal church sponsored camps on the sprawling, bucolic grounds until the Yadkinville and Winston-Salem Sertoma clubs bought Vade Mecum. Sertomans operated camps at the site for several years before deeding it to N.C. State University in 1981. The 4-H program, through the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service and the Sertoma Club, dedicated the facility as a 4-H Education Center in 1982.
In 1993, the camp welcomed another partnership: The N.C. Bankers’ Association helped develop and sponsor Camp Challenge, a nationally recognized program for high-achieving middle-school students from low-resource backgrounds. Youngsters spend a week learning leadership, financial management, literacy and other success-oriented skills, as well as enjoying all the fun of a traditional 4-H camp.
Hancock notes that Sertoma’s idyllic locale draws many “alumni” whose hearts forever nostalgically recall the hotel’s verandas and vistas. Work days and other donations by the Vade Mecum Society, 4-H Honor Club, Sertoma Clubs and the N.C. Bankers’ Assocation help offset the high maintenance and improvement costs that accompany such a historic property, he says.
Campers may not need to tote their own live food to camp these days, but, as always, the enthusiasm of camp alumni and community members still nourishes the 4-H camping program.
“ Their vision for the future,” says Hancock, “is absolutely vital to sustaining the critical resources that are our 4-H Education Centers.”
Here’s a look at North Carolina’s five 4-H education centers. While all offer camping mainstays like boating, swimming, crafts, campfires, songs and “s’mores,” each tailors unique programs to its history, location and educational niche.Swannanoa (founded 1929): 150 acres in the Great Craggy Mountains 15 minutes east of Asheville. Open spring to fall, with five miles of mountain trails, a large organic garden and apple orchard, its eight cabins can host 160 overnighters, as well as school and private rental groups and custom educational programs. Chris Weaver, director: 828.686.3196; e-mail: email@example.com
Local skilled instructors work with campers at “self-discovery” residential camps. Youngsters choose from several workshops daily with veteran instructors in visual and performing arts, crafts, outdoor adventures, science, nature and sustainable living.
In Swannanoa’s newly initiated day camps, enrollees enjoy a summer-long “barefoot science” camp or workshops in visual arts, drama and dance, outdoor adventure and sustainable living skills, led by many of the same instructors who teach for the residential camps.* Special treat: A 19th century Cherokee cabin in a forest-ringed living history “Indian settlement.”
Millstone (established 1939): Nestled on 360 acres of undisturbed forest within the 60,000-acre Sandhills Wildlife Management Gamelands near Ellerbe. Open March through November, with 14 lakeside cabins in the tall pines to host 140 overnight campers. From June to August, one-week general sessions for 8-to-13-year-olds provide age-appropriate, non-competitive small-group experiences. Gene Shutt, director: 910.652.5905; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Millstone’s name refers to the hand-quarried granite grinding stones once quarried from its grounds for Carolina gristmills. Programs center around a state-of-the-art shooting sports education building, two combination trap and skeet fields, ranges for small-bore rifle, 100-yard rifle range and archery and 3-D archery ranges. All ranges are controlled-access and use highly qualified trainers.
Six barns, 120 stalls and four riding rings support Millstone’s horse program. At the June Horsemanship Camp, 4-H’ers from age 9 to 19 with their own horses improve their riding and showing skills, guided by highly qualified instructors through lectures, riding lessons, judging contests, trail rides and training demonstrations.
Millstone’s annual Fur, Fish and Game Rendezvous in June (this year’s was the 21st) and its advanced component are two of the most popular 4-H camps, says Gene Shutt, camp director.
Kids ages 12
to 15 study wildlife, forests, aquatic biology and game management
snake identification, birds of prey, wildlife
photography, taxidermy and orienteering,
swimming and other
traditional camp activities.
Rendezvous graduates can learn more through
advanced classes. Campers ages 11
to 16 can participate in the Target Sports
Minicamp to learn firearm safety, skeet
and trap shooting,
archery and riflery — including
black powder — equipment cleaning and maintenance,
proper gun and archery equipment storage and a
lot of target shooting.
Betsy-Jeff Penn’s eight A-frame cabins can host 168 campers for
environmental education and team-building sessions. In fall and spring,
the camp features environmental education, team-building and high ropes
courses. Jeff North, director: 336.349.9445; e-mail: email@example.com
Sertoma 4-H Center concentrates on specialty camps, including Camp Challenge and the (Gen. Hugh) Shelton Leadership Camps, inaugurated in 2003, as well as the Sertoma Club’s Deaf Camp for hearing-impaired children ages 8 to 16.
Sertoma’s 4-H teen camper groups enjoy adventure-based activities: canoeing, a rock-climbing trip to nearby Hanging Rock State Park, and overnight camping. Younger campers, mostly at an outpost site, learn cooking, camping and outdoor living skills.
The center also
offers family, church, civic, professional or youth group retreats,
with cabin camping and residential living.
The Eastern Center
is open year-round. The center currently accommodates 108 resident
campers and will sleep 160 when additional youth lodges
are funded. In addition, 20 executive rooms accommodate 40 to 60
adults, and separate conference rooms, classrooms and dining halls
joint use by youth and adult groups in a climate-controlled environment.
Greg Hall, center