Local 4-H Camping Participation Increasing Across Iowa

AMES, Iowa—Camping experiences provided at the Iowa 4-H Center by the Iowa 4-H program are changing this year – what isn’t changing is Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s commitment to providing camp experiences for young people through its 4-H youth program.

“We understand the decisions at the Center impact Iowa families, especially those who look forward to attending camp every year, and camp alumni who serve as counselors and interns at the Center,” said LuAnn Johansen, assistant director for the ISU Extension and Outreach 4-H youth program, referring to a Feb. 25 ISU Extension and Outreach announcement.

“We want Iowans to know the Iowa State 4-H program remains committed to offering camps and other educational experiences throughout Iowa – and throughout the year,” she said. “The goal of 4-H is to reach as many young Iowans as possible – and that means offering programs closer to home, and at convenient times.”

Recent camp enrollments indicate refocusing efforts to bring programs closer to home for the campers represents the best use of Iowa 4-H resources and, in ISU Extension and Outreach’s view, will provide the greatest benefit to Iowa youth.

“Local 4-H camp programs are strong and growing – our focus needs to be on growing local programs,” said Johansen. “We have great examples of local residential and day camps in Iowa. Our 4-H youth coordinators across the state are doing a great job identifying local interests and offering camp experiences.”

Examples of local camps include GEAR TECH-21 day camps for youth grades 4–9.  GEAR TECH-21 focuses on robotics and is offered by multiple Iowa counties. Kossuth County 4-H held a Fantastic Food Fun camp for youth grades 4–6 last summer. Winneshiek County is home to Pinebluff 4-H Camp where many area 4-H camps and club camping adventures take place.

The good news is local camps across Iowa are experiencing increasing participation. More and more youth are attending day camps and other activities nearer to their homes. Last year alone, more than 5,000 youth attended local day and overnight camps.

Realities at the Center

The reality is only a small number of Iowa youth attend camp at the Center, and unfortunately, the numbers are decreasing. Fewer than 700 youth attended camp at the Center in 2012.

Twenty Iowa counties didn’t send a single child to the Center. Of these 20 counties, nine were in the northwest corner of the state, five were in the northeast corner and four were in the southeast corner. A specialty camp for children with parents in the military represented 11 percent of the total campers in 2012, but was discontinued because of expired funding.  

This trend is not specific to 4-H, or to Iowa. Residential camps across the nation are experiencing similar declines, and many have closed or scaled back their camping programs.

“Fifty Iowa counties sent two or fewer children to the Center last year,” said Sherry Glenn, assistant vice president for Extension and Outreach. “Of the nearly 700 youth who attended camps at the Center in 2012, 38 percent were from Boone County, where the camp is located, and the six bordering counties. These seven counties were also home to over a third of the participants of specialty camps available to non-4-H members.”

Three ISU Extension and Outreach regions will continue to host their annual camping events at the Center this summer. These three camps represented 25 percent of the total campers in 2012.

The Center is essentially serving as a regional camp. Registration fees don’t cover the costs of camping at the Center. Iowa 4-H, as a state-wide ISU Extension and Outreach program, must focus funds where participation is growing, said Glenn.