Future of 4-H camp in Caldwell County uncertain

Oct. 29, 2013 @ 10:29 AM

A 4-H camp in Caldwell County is one of four in North Carolina that state officials say will close at the end of 2013, but that camp has been operated by an outside group instead of by 4-H since 2009, so the future of the camp is not clear.

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service announced last week that four of its six 4-H camps would close because they are losing money from the increasing costs of operations and upkeep. Anita-Alta, a primitive outpost camp in the Mulberry area, is one of them.

But Anita-Alta has not been operated by 4-H since 2009. Since then, it has been leased to the Blue Ridge Horseman’s Association, which operates the camp. During that time, Caldwell County 4-H clubs have used Anita-Alta for various club activities, and in 2011 and 2013 summer day camps were offered there, Caldwell County Extension Director Seth Nagy said.

In the immediate future, 4-H likely will continue leasing the property to the Blue Ridge Horseman’s Association, state 4-H director Marshall Stewart said. But no long-term plans have been developed for any of the camps, he said.

Since 4-H stopped operating Anita-Alta, its losses have decreased, but the camp still is not profitable, Stewart said.

“It’s not making money, I’ll put it that way,” he said. “The amount of loss has been lessening each year, but it is still not a profitable property,” he said. “But it’s not the worst of the group, in terms of the biggest debt load or anything like that.”

The land for Anita-Alta was given to 4-H in 1974 by Mr. and Mrs. Luther Robinson, the parents of two girls from the Mulberry community who died of polio. Their names were Anita and Alta.

Extension faculty and staff learned from a letter sent Oct. 16 that four of the state’s six 4-H camps would close for financial reasons: Anita-Alta, Swannanoa in Buncombe County, Sertoma in Stokes County and Betsy-Jeff Penn in Rockingham County. The letter was sent by three officials at N.C. State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, which runs the extension service: dean Richard Linton, associate dean Joe Zublena and state 4-H leader Marshall Stewart.

The four camps have a combined $400,000 deficit in operational costs, the letter said, and more than $3.7 million would be required to repair and renovate the sites.

“It is no secret that the financial challenges relative to maintenance of camp properties coupled with the economic hardships and limited discretionary income of many N.C. families for activities such as 4-H camp, has created a situation that is now calling for significant changes in the camping program,” the letter read. “As a result of these financial challenges several properties have had annual budget shortfalls, had to raise rates to keep up with operating costs and have faced tremendous repair and renovation challenges.”

Stewart told the Associated Press that after closing some camps, the state 4-H program plans to focus on upgrading its remaining facilities, the Eastern 4-H Center in Columbia and Millstone 4-H Camp in Ellerbe.

“This is going to allow us to have a higher-quality program by being smaller,” he said. “We want to give young people the highest-quality experience we can. It is not a decision that’s been come to easily.”