Current and former K-State students look after campers at Rock Springs 4-H Center

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Rock Springs 4-H Center staff practice riding horses at the center in Junction City, Kan. July 3, 2017. The 4-H Center is a camp, conference and retreat that includes more than 700 acres in the Kansas Flint Hills and is run by the Kansas 4-H Foundation. (Justin Wright | The Collegian)

The Rock Springs 4-H Center, located 17 miles south of Junction City, is home to a variety of facilities used by camping groups from around the state.

Rock Springs 4-H Center provides access to archery, swimming, crafts, horseback riding and more. K-State students and alumni are always around to keep things running smoothly.

Daniel Skucius, a 2014 alumnus in wildlife and outdoor enterprise management, is the conservation director and an administrator at the campsite.

“At K-State, having a lot of friends with an agriculture background and a 4-H background helped me prepare for living in an environment where 4-H is a large part of what we do,” Skucius said.

Megan Page, recruitment director at Rock Springs, holds several events each year at K-State to recruit summer staff. Skucius was recruited as a summer staff member at one of these events before he graduated. After he graduated, he became a year-round member of the administration.

“I was never in 4-H myself,” Skucius said. “I was never a camper. I had friends that came here, but I’d never been out here. I decided it sounded pretty cool.”

As conservation director, Skucius keeps an eye on the landscape and the animals that live within the site. He also monitors the eponymous Rock Spring, the second-largest spring in Kansas and sole source of clean water for the entire campground.

Skucius’ said his administration duties also keep him busy. Camp groups of all sizes come and go through the facilities on a weekly basis—some are affiliated with 4-H, some are not. Skucius said he does everything he can to make campers feel welcome at Rock Springs.

However, Skucius did not always have as much responsibility. He started as a summer camp counselor just like any other.

“I was what’s called a ‘rover,’ so I was doing all the activities with kids, whether it was archery, rifles, canoes, environmental education, things like that,” Skucius said.

Many of those employed as summer staff at Rock Springs 4-H Center are K-State students this year.

Christopher Tharman, sophomore in park management and conservation, and Michael Whitman, a 2016 alumnus in education, are the head lifeguards for the swimming pool on-site.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a kid,” Tharman said. “Six years as a camper, four years as a counselor/adult chaperone, and I’ve been in 4-H for about 13 years, so I came back to my roots.”

Tharman said he also works in Manhattan as K-State security and a bouncer at Johnny Kaw’s Sports Bar in Aggieville, “but only on weekends.”

“This is my seventh year here,” Whitman said. “My first year at K-State, I saw an ad in the newspaper for Rock Springs and said, ‘Hey, I don’t want to go home for the summer,’ so I called and got an interview, and the rest is history.”

Rock Springs also offers indoor and outdoor habitats for a variety of animals that campers can interact with, including reptiles, fish and horses.

Allie Johnston, sophomore in wildlife and outdoor enterprise management, is an outdoor activities instructor who handles the smaller animals at Rock Springs.

“I get to feed all of the animals that we have on-site,” Johnston said. “Most of them just eat crickets, so it’s pretty easy. They just grab the crickets from my hand.”

Johnston also patrols the grounds looking for wild animals so she can keep them in captivity for a short time as educational tools for campers.

“I caught a snapping turtle a couple weeks ago, just a little baby one, but we released him,” Johnston said.

Hannah Fry, junior in agricultural education, is a barn staff member who cares for the horses at Rock Springs and takes campers on trail rides.

“I live in Alpha of Clovia, and one of my Clovia sisters had worked at Rock Springs and said, ‘You should go try it!’ So that’s how I got here,” Fry said. “I came here as a camper, but I didn’t know you could actually work here until I was in college.”

This is Fry’s second year at Rock Springs, and she said she appreciates the time she gets to spend working with the horses and the children.

“Our main job is to get kids out on rides and get them introduced to horses, and when no one’s there, we’re working on our riding skills,” Fry said.

All four summer staff members agreed the best part of working at Rock Springs 4-H Center is interacting with co-workers and the campers themselves.

“Every summer, we get new people,” Tharman said. “Out here we’re kind of secluded, but we get to know one another and we find great, lifelong friends every time.”

Skucius said he wanted to emphasize that Rock Springs 4-H Center is always willing to hire former and current K-State students as staff members.

“If you’re interested, we hire a lot of summer staff every year for any K-Staters who would like to work out here,” Skucius said.

To learn more about Rock Springs 4-H Center, visit rocksprings.net.

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Those words you just read were written by me, Kyle Hampel. I'm an English major who has very strong feelings about barbecue pizza and the Oxford comma. I like to write articles about my strong opinions, too! I also play lots of musical instruments and video games, but never at the same time. Beloit, Kansas, is proud to call me their own, along with several other towns I've lived in that aren't as special to me.