Excitement was in the air as our school bus pulled into the entrance at 4-H Camp Cherry Lake. Rustic cabins, swimming in the lake, kayaking and archery were waiting for us! 4-H campers eagerly hopped off the bus, dropped their gear and joined other youth playing 4-square, gaga ball and 9-square in the air. We had been looking forward to this day all summer!

After choosing a top or bottom bunk and storing their gear in their assigned cabins, campers joined their counselors for a picnic on the hill, complete with blanket, basket of sandwiches and chips and active conversations.

“What type of fish are in the lake?”

“How late do you think we can stay up?”

“Will we get to play marshmallow paint war again this year?”

4-H campers left their cell phones, iPods, tablets and hand-held games at home. Instead of sitting quietly alone playing or texting on a device, they talked, laughed and told jokes with each other. Hiking to a stand of trees, they learned to construct a make-shift tent with just a tarp and rope. Youth were taught the basics of campfire safety and even practiced making their own campfires from kindling they gathered themselves. Roasting marshmallows over a campfire for S’mores was a camp highlight.

Water activities are always a hit at camp! Many campers enjoyed swimming in the lake and jumping off the dock or from the pontoon boat. Other campers leaned to paddle a kayak and raced around designated points to practice paddling skills. Early Birds awoke, grabbed a fishing rod, and with a worm on their hook, cast a line for almost an hour before breakfast each morning!

The classes were progressive, meaning that new skills were taught daily to each group of students. Students learned the names of the essential parts of an air rifle, along with safety rules for the range before they could handle one. Working closely with staff members, they followed step-by-step instructions and practiced shooting at paper targets.

Campers competed for the honor of being the first cabin at lunch by cleaning their cabins and keeping their personal items stored neatly. Wet towels and swimsuits were hung on clotheslines to dry in the Florida sun and beds were neatly made. Campers swept the floors and paired their shoes under their bunks in preparation for cabin inspection.

Science classes like Mad Scientist 101 were a favorite for hands-on activities that included launching a rocket, making Newtonian fluid, and drawing with homemade puffy chalk-paint. Another favorite was Maker Space. Youth were free to design and construct projects from assorted materials.

4-H residential camp is a wonderful opportunity for youth to learn leadership skills, practice team building activities and develop a “can-do” attitude. The 4-H slogan, “Learn by Doing,” accurately portrays our week at Camp Cherry Lake. Campers were energetic participants in classes, chores, games and even singing together before meals.

4-H Camp Cherry Lake is part of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Program for youth. Healthy living and active lifestyles are encouraged as youth are taught to make good decisions. Interacting with youth from different counties, campers made new friends that they will meet again at other 4-H events throughout the year.

More than 125 youth gathered at Camp Cherry Lake from Hamilton, Union, Columbia, Hernando and Suwannee counties during the week of July 22-26. Extension agents, camp staff, and volunteer leaders rounded out the group.

Generous donors from businesses and community partners made attendance to camp a possibility for many of our youth. UF/IFAS Hamilton County is grateful to Nutrien, Dr. Jerry Smith, Tropicana, Tractor Supply Corporation and Hamilton County Elected Officials for their generous donations.

For more information about 4-H programs in Hamilton County, call Beth Kerr at 386-792-1276.

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