Camp Needmore provides fun, friendship and learning for 4H youth
Dawson County Extension agent Bruce Smith works with kids at 4H camp.
By Jason Stuart
Nestled among the rolling hills and towering ponderosas of the Long Pines outside Ekalaka is Camp Needmore, where each summer dozens of kids from the region come together for three days of fun and adventure.
This is the site of the Southeast Montana 4-H Summer Camp. The camp draws 4-H members from third through sixth grade from 10 surrounding counties.
Eight southeastern Montana counties send kids here — Dawson, Prairie, Wibaux, Fallon, Powder River, Rosebud and Custer. 4-H members from Golden Valley County in North Dakota and Harding County in South Dakota also make the trek to Camp Needmore for the summer camp.
Sharla Sackman, who is Prairie County’s MSU Extension agent, has been coming to Camp Needmore for 14 years as a camp counsellor. She believes it’s bringing those kids together from such a vast region and varied backgrounds that makes the camp worthwhile.
“The main point is the combined counties coming together, and recognizing that the friendships you make here carry over,” Sackman said.
Dawson County Extension agent Bruce Smith, who first worked the camp in 1996, concurred with Sackman’s assessment of the camp’s benefit to kids.
“It’s an opportunity for kids to connect and make friendships that can last,” Smith said. “It’s an organized activity where they get to meet a lot of kids from a lot of different places. It’s about socializing and learning to socialize and getting to interact with other kids from different places and backgrounds.”
While socializing and making new friends may be the main point, there’s plenty of fun and learning that go along with it.
“They get a lot of skills here too,” Smith said.
Here kids can learn to rappel on the camp’s rappelling course, an activity both Sackman and Smith described as being unique amongst the summer camps available in the region.
There are an abundance of other outdoor activities. There are nature walks and plant and wildlife identification sessions. Activities like orienteering are sometimes offered.
The camp also has its own stocked fishing pond and trap range. Smith noted that a lot of campers have neither ever held a shotgun before or “thrown a line in the water,” and at Camp Needmore, they have the chance to be taught how to safely do both.
Unfortunately, the day I visited, heavy rain had driven the campers indoors, so outdoor activities were off the schedule.
But they were all busy doing different kinds of learning and crafts activities, and thoroughly enjoying themselves in the process.
Smith was teaching and helping one group of campers to build bluebird houses.
Sackman was leading a class in country-western dancing.
Prairie County Extension agent Sharla Sackman leads
a group of girls through a country-western dancing activity.
A Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks employee was doing a show and tell using animal skins to teach kids about the region’s wildlife.
Another group were making “seeker cases” in keeping with this year’s “Harry Potter” camp theme. Fans of the Harry Potter series will easily get the reference to Harry’s chosen position in Hogwarts students’ favorite sport.
Despite the wet weather, Smith was enthused by the turnout for camp this year. He estimated it was “probably the most we’ve had in 10-15 years.”
Sackman said the camp had more than 150 kids attend this year.
The camp is generally only open to 4-H members, but for those in 4-H clubs, Smith said there’s no beating the value of Camp Needmore.
“Where else can you send your kid for three days for 40-50 bucks,” he said. “I’d send my kids here for three days of fun in the sun.”
And whether it’s making a new friend, sliding and bouncing down a rope, catching their first fish or imagining themselves riding a broomstick over a quidditch pitch, Smith and Sackman said it’s an experience campers will keep with them the rest of their lives.
“It really is an experience they enjoy,” Sackman said.
“You talk to them 30-40 years from now and they’ll still remember Camp Needmore,” Smith said. “I’ve never talked to anybody who had a bad experience here.”
Published July 2, 2014