Nebraska State 4-H Camp
Nebraska National Forest | Halsey, NE
Nestled in the Nebraska National Forests and Grasslands near Halsey, the Nebraska State 4-H Camp has been serving youth since 1959. The facility offers large and intimate meeting spaces and a full-service kitchen. Large cabins with bathrooms and a bathhouse can sleep up to nearly 200 campers. At the grounds, campers have access to a recreation field, sports court, archery, canoeing, climbing course, zipline, and teambuilding course.
The Nebraska State 4-H Camp, was dedicated in 1962 and was Nebraska’s first campsite for 4-H’ers and other youth programs. Friends of 4-H from every community in Nebraska contributed to the campaign for funds. The facility, has served youth and adults from nearly every community in the state as well as many out state guests. Eugene Horst, who was from Halsey, built the camp, while his wife Eleanor managed the camp activities and the facility for many years.
On May 4, 1965, a major fire burned through the Nebraska State 4-H Camp, destroying the boy ‘s bathhouse, six cabins, and many trees. Volunteers cleaned up the area and replanted trees. The cabins were rebuilt in the same year.
Since its dedication, the camp has reached over 30,000 young people through summer camp and fall and spring outdoor education programs that focused on environmental education, leadership and skill development, resiliency and the capacity for life-long learning.
On October 2nd, 2022, we received word that a forest fire (#Bovee Fire) in the Nebraska National Forest caused major devastation at our camp. The Eppley lodge as well as the cabins are a complete loss; it appears that the only structure remaining is the staff house. All of those on site were safely evacuated. We appreciate all of the efforts of the fire fighters, Forest Service, first responders and all that are working on the fire.
On January 3, Senator Mike Jacobson, representation from Senator Brewer’s office, Jeff Yost from the Nebraska Community Foundation, and representatives from the University of Nebraska including Extension and 4-H met to formalize a process and next steps. One result was a bill, LB 281, sponsored by Senator Jacobson, that supports appropriating $50 million dollars to the: building or renovating youth outdoor education camp facilities, including physical structures, equipment, and necessary infrastructure to ensure accessibility to the public. These are the kinds of funds that could be used to build facilities that could be used year-round, including lodging, conference and meeting facilities, and related infrastructure, to generate local and regional economic development. You can find more information on the bill at: https://nebraskalegislature.gov/bills/view_bill.php?DocumentID=50598 It is anticipated that the hearing on this bill will occur mid-February.
Simultaneously, we have been collaborating with the Nebraska Community Foundation to have conversations throughout the Halsey community to gain stakeholder input and establish local needs. While we know the 4-H camping experience is one piece of the picture, we also know there is a need for a community space and the sense of “place” that the 4-H camp provided. We are also working on an economic feasibility study to determine how the community could benefit economically from facilities and what would be sustainable. We are in conversations with the Nebraska Forest Service to seek their input and their plans for the future as they own the actual property where the buildings (which were owned by us, Nebraska 4-H Foundation) stood.
As you can imagine, there are many pieces of the puzzle; be assured that we have not been stagnant. Our goal is to develop the best plans for moving ahead with a vision for the future of what could best serve the needs of the community, the needs of a high-quality youth educational
experience, and capitalize on the unique features of the Sandhills. With a longer-term vision, we need to think about accessibility and how we can design a space that can best serve the need of many. Our goal is to think innovatively about how we can best serve young people and families for the long-term.