By Joanna Dodder Nellans
|Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier|
Campers at Camp Corral display a catch this summer. The camp, which Henry and Linda Dahlberg owned since 1968, has been sold to the Arizona 4-H program.
After decades of dreaming about having its own camp, Arizona's 4-H program has turned that dream into a reality on top of Mingus Mountain here in Yavapai County.
"4-H here in Arizona has had a 30-plus year dream to own its own camp," said Kirk Astroth, director of the state's 4-H Youth Development Program. "The nice thing is, it's so central."
Henry and Linda Dahlberg, who owned the historic Mingus Springs Camp since 1968, expressed an interest in selling the camp to 4-H after seeing 4-H natural resource camps there, said Jeff Schalau, director of the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Office in Yavapai County.
"He really liked the type of camps we did," Schalau said of Henry, because they emphasized conservation education for youth.
"We were so excited that Cooperative Extension had an interest in running their 4-H camp there, because it really ties in with our environmental education theme we've pushed for four decades," Henry Dahlberg said. "It's a great learning lab, and they saw that."
He noted his wife had cooked more than 11,000 camp meals.
"I think she said something like, 'I will cook no more forever,'" Dahlberg joked, making a parody of the famous "I will fight no more forever" quote from the late Nez Perce Chief Joseph.
The Dahlbergs were beyond generous by selling the 55-acre, $1 million camp to 4-H for only $425,000 last year, 4-H leaders said.
"Henry is the hallmark of a guy who is very gracious and humble," Astroth said.
Some of the buildings date back to the mining days of 1899, and the camp itself dates to 1950. It can accommodate as many as 110 campers and includes recreation and dining halls, rustic stone cabins, a two-acre swimming and fishing pond, numerous sporting facilities, and a portion of Ash Creek.
The James Family from the Prescott area added another substantial donation of $250,000 over five years. So the 4-H program needs only about $200,000 more to pay off a loan from the University of Arizona Foundation.
The camp has been renamed the Harold and Mitzie James 4-H Camp & Outdoor Learning Center at Mingus Springs.
Noting 2013 is the 100th anniversary of 4-H in Arizona, the 4-H Youth Foundation is kicking off a four-year fundraising campaign for the camp and scholarships, said Tanya Baker, a Dewey rancher who is president of the foundation. People can go online or call her at 928-713-3700 for more information.
Local 4-H members such as Baker's 16-year-old daughter Mikayla and her 16-year-old friend Mikayla Bradshaw of Chino Valley are perhaps the most excited about the new camp. They've gained their first experience as counselors there.
"It is the most beautiful place I've ever been," Mikayla Baker said, citing the pine forest, wild mint, Ash Creek, and cute little stone cabins. "It's like being in a fairy world."
Mikayla Bradshaw said she's grateful the 4-H program has its own camp now.
"Now we have a place 4-H can call a 4-H camp, and we don't have to borrow one from anybody," she said.
The camp also is open to other groups such as the Golden Corral Restaurant chain's Camp Corral for children of members of the military who were killed or injured, said Kristin Wisneski, camp facility director. Some local 4-H leaders including Mikayla Bradshaw and MaryJo Moncheski helped lead that camp.
"That was probably the highlight of my summer to provide that experience for kids that never had that before," said Moncheski, who works in the 4-H Youth Development program for the Yavapai County Extension Office through the AmeriCorps VISTA program. "Their faces light up when they catch their first fish."
The Yavapai County Extension Office's water and science experts have taught children at the camp, too. The campers have helped with wildlife improvement projects such as wildlife watering holes and creek restoration.
Campers also learn sporting activities such as archery, gun safety, swimming and kayaking.
Grants already have helped 4-H install low-flow toilets and showers, as well as some solar facilities to replace some of the diesel generators.
The best thing about 4-H camp is getting to know all the campers, Mikayla Bradshaw said. Kids run up to her when they see her around town and remind her how much fun they had.
"Everybody accepts everybody for who they are," she said. "That's what a lot of these camps are about, just getting along."
Mikayla Baker agreed they have learned much about leadership in their new camp counselor roles.
"We're learning to work with people who don't necessarily think the way you do," she said. It inspired her to run for president of her Lonesome Valley 4-H Club, a position she now holds.
Follow Joanna Dodder on Twitter: @joannadodder.