Rock Springs 4-H Center provides activities, resources for variety of groups

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Rock Springs 4-H Center may be known as a meeting place and camp for Kansas 4-H groups, but it has become much more than that in the decades that it has been open.

The center, which was founded in 1946, is located near Junction City, only about a half-hour drive from Manhattan. It has grown from what once was a centralized camping facility to a 735-acre, 60-building year-round camp, conference and retreat center open to various groups, including K-State students.

“There’s very few things we don’t do,” said Mike Spohn, operations manager of Rock Springs. “We offer a wide variety of recreational activities — traditional camping activities, such as horseback riding, canoeing and archery, but we also have a large environmental education program that includes things like studying stream life.”

Rock Springs also offers on-site housing, from rustic buildings for camping to lodge-style buildings. It also contains meeting rooms, a 400-seat auditorium, environmental education building and full food service. The center is host to many weddings throughout the year as well as events that are open to the public, such as the upcoming Wildflower Walk, which will take place May 4.

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Kansas youth practice their archery skills at Rock Springs 4-H Center during the summer. K-State students work and volunteer at the camp during the summer, as well as attend retreats and events there during the year.

K-State faculty and students have built a close relationship with Rock Springs. Many campus groups, clubs and organizations use Rock Springs for meetings, retreats and training events. One such group is the Leadership Challenge program, which is part of the School of Leadership Studies. This year, the group held its annual retreat at Rock Springs from Feb. 28 to March 3.

Leadership Challenge gives students a chance to develop their leadership skills and meet with other students who are interested in cultivating their leadership abilities, all while coming up with ideas for ways to improve K-State.

“In general, Leadership Challenge is supposed to challenge you as a leader, and to kind of find out who you are and then grow in that aspect of your leadership,” said John Rosa, sophomore in chemistry.

Rosa has attended Leadership Challenge for the past two years and helped lead group discussions as a junior expedition leader this year. He said that the retreat’s fairly remote location helped the event succeed.

“I think it’s really good that they hold it at Rock Springs. One, it’s a beautiful area. I really love Rock Springs. But also, it gets you away from cell phone service,” Rosa said. “We stayed in Leadership Lodge, which has WiFi, but for most of the day, you’re away from technology. You’re away from your phone and all that other stuff and that really kind of builds on the self-reflection and personal growth.”

Beth Reichenberger, sophomore in political science, agreed that getting away from technology really helped her experience with Leadership Challenge.

“I didn’t have any cell phone service for those four days at all, and I almost think that was beneficial in the sense that you weren’t connected with the people that you knew already. You weren’t connected to Facebook or Twitter,” Reichenberger said. “I think that definitely made the program more successful because it was just like 50 of us out there in the middle of the woods making friends.”

Kristen Graham, freshman in psychology, also attended this year’s Leadership Challenge, but it wasn’t her first time at the camp. Graham had the opportunity to experience Rock Springs as a junior high and high school student. In seventh grade, Graham attended a Kansas Association of Youth event at Rock Springs, where she got to experience the outdoors and ride a horse for the first time.

“I loved it. I grew up in Junction City, so I didn’t really get out to the country that much,” Graham said. “But when I went to Rock Springs, it was the first time I got out in the open country.”

The camp provides a beautiful atmosphere for enjoying and learning about different things, she said.

“It’s really gorgeous in the springtime when all the trees and flowers are blooming,” Graham said.

Rock Spring’s close ties with K-State go beyond providing a meeting space, though. The center is owned and operated by the Riley County branch of 4-H, which runs out of K-State Research and Extension located in Umberger Hall.

Rock Springs hires more than 50 students as summer staff to help run the center and the camp groups that use it. Between 12 and 15 students are employed part time at the center during the school year. Rock Springs also provides a long list of business contacts to students who have worked there, so employment with the center is a great networking opportunity as well.

To learn more about Rock Springs or for opportunities to work or volunteer at the center, visit rocksprings.net.

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