In 1975, Frank W. Fitch added cabins at Rock Eagle 4-H Center, but nothing like the ones you’ve likely stayed in. He built small wooden huts in the woods for a more traditional camping experience.
As I understand it, counselors worked at Rock Eagle’s Pioneer Camp for about five years, with just a handful of campers each week. Since that time, the camp has been used here and there for small group trips, like Newton County’s 4-H Exchange trips 20 years ago.
A few of the cabins have deteriorated to the point they cannot be saved; the little metal cots have been removed.
Today, 4-H’ers associate Pioneer Camp with the blue string campers at Cloverleaf Camp. Those second-year or sixth-grade campers get to hike out to the area for a special lunch and S’mores around the campfire one night each week.
But this past week, that all changed.
Thirty-seven high school students and six adults survived the first-ever week of Extreme Senior 4-H Camp at Frank Fitch Pioneer Camp.
I left Monday with Newton 4-H’ers Brianna Walker and James Williams, ready for adventure. As soon as the rain passed, they swam at Rock Eagle, then headed into the woods to eat grilled hamburgers and set up camp.
Most 4-H’ers stayed in the small wooden huts, but some brought tents for the week. There is a small pavilion and bathhouse for the campers’ use.
That night, we hiked to the Scott homestead and Rock Eagle effigy, before enjoying half a movie with popcorn and snow cones in the pavilion, thanks to the Parker family.
Tuesday morning, we hiked back to Rock Eagle for breakfast, then boarded a bus for Miller Creek Lake Recreation in Jones County.
After a fishing lesson from agricultural agents John Pope and Steven Patrick, campers spent several hours trying to win the fishing tournament with very uncooperative fish. We enjoyed a fish fry hosted by agricultural agent Keith Fielder.
That evening, 4-H’ers built leadership skills in the low ropes course, learned basic first aid from 4-H agent Robin Turi, and learned the difference between venomous and non-venomous snakes.
Wednesday, we headed out to Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center for a day of shooting sports.
After another quick fishing stop, we headed back to Rock Eagle for a canoeing class, dinner and the counselor variety show. We finished the evening off with a night swim and the rest of our movie.
Thursday morning, we headed out to Georgia College and State University to conquer the massive ropes course. We cooled off in the afternoon with a stop at the bowling alley before visiting the Rock Hawk effigy and Lawrence Shoals Park for dinner and more fishing time.
The rain clouds moved in and we headed back to Rock Eagle for the summer camp pageant. Thankfully, the storm passed quickly, so we were able to head back to Pioneer Camp for a last evening of music, S’mores and fun around the campfire.
For some of the teens, there was little this week they hadn’t done before. For others, it was the first time touching a shotgun or bow and the first time sleeping outdoors.
While I appreciate the air-conditioning I’m sitting in as I write this, I sure enjoyed falling asleep to the sounds of nature (and perhaps a little giggling and chatting from the hut next to me) this week.
If the enthusiasm of the 37 youths I spent the week with is any indication, there’s going to be a wait list for next year’s camp.
Terri Kimble is the Newton County 4-H Agent through UGA Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at 770-784-2010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.