From Aug. 19-24 in 1963, 27 high school boys attended the first Youth Range Camp at the then-new State 4-H Camp in the Nebraska National Forest near Halsey.
Last month, past and present organizers, camp directors, instructors and campers convened to celebrate 50 years of Youth Range Camp, at the same State 4-H Camp site that celebrated its own 50th anniversary last year.
Mary Reece, district conservationist at the Twin Platte Natural Resources District office in North Platte was emcee for the day.
She credits the range camp with helping ‘plant the seed’ for her future career when she was a camper herself.
“Nebraska Range Youth Camp was organized in 1963 when a group of ranchers got together with UNL and SCS to draw up a blueprint for a special camp,” she said. “The purpose of the camp, then as now, was to identify high school students with an interest in range management and to provide as much training as possible in five short days. The goals continue to be to educate the youth interested in range management, to create an awareness of Nebraska’s greatest renewable resource, instill appreciation for the value of range and livestock management and encourage leadership and rangeland stewardship.”
In the 50 years of its being, more than 2,200 students have attended, and more than 80 range professionals have served as directors and instructors, and 40 ranches have helped sponsor the camp.
There have been 110 dedicated professional “crew bosses.”
Shelly Taylor is the current camp director.
The day’s celebration began in the afternoon at the Reed Hamilton Ranch north of Thedford.
Dave Hamilton and his wife, Loretta — representing the fourth generation on the ranch — now manage the day-to-day workings with help as able from his parents, Reed and Rosa Lee.
The Hamilton Ranch has been a part of the camp from the start.
Reed helped to organize the first camp, providing a day trip for the students to get hands-on interaction with ranchers who utilize the best range management and stewardship practices.
That day trip continues for the campers, with Al and Sallie Atkins and Wayne and Sherri Rodocker — ranchers all from Halsey, alternating with the Hamiltons from year to year.
Dave gave a recap of what their ranch has seen in the 50 years, taking the some 30 attendees out to see some of their cattle and pastures.
Last year’s drought forced them to downsize their cow herd and dry-lot some from November to April of this year.
One of the pastures seen was where they had dry-lotted some 300 cows.
Thanks to this year’s moisture, the ground was revived.
After a mini range judging, the group went back to the camp for a slide show recap and remarks from previous instructors.
Sid Salzman was the first director and emphasized the uniqueness of the camp in that the organizers came from many facets — the ranchers, and a myriad of professionals from UNL, NRDs, SCS, as well as the Society for Range Management.
“I was no longer the director, but remember well in 1970 when girls were allowed at camp,” he said. “Irene Graves, from Ainsworth, was the first female attendee. Top campers were awarded trips to the annual Society for Range Management Conference, and I remember Irene going to Reno.”
Irene had traveled all the way from North Dakota, where she now lives, to the reunion.
Other instructors sharing their decade of involvement, included Ken Noonan and Pat Reece, as well as camper, Pat Peterson, from Gordon.
Camp T-shirts were given out and then supper provided by the camp staff concluded the formal activities, but people were slow to disperse, knowing a reunion like this only comes around once in a lifetime. ❖
Terri Licking is a Range Camp alum, attending in 1971 and 1972. She and Bruce Tinkham of Sargent, Neb., won trips to the 25th SRM Conference in Washington, D.C. — first times in airplanes for both teenagers. The SRM has an International Youth Range Forum in conjunction with the adult conference. While in Washington, Licking was elected secretary of the IYRF.