Return to ‘natural world’ offers glimpse of past, present and future

New state 4-H museum construction, trips down memory lane highlights tour

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Jim Pippin, former Millstone 4-H Camp director, talks about the history of the camp bell.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Jim Pippin, former Millstone 4-H Camp director, talks about the history of the camp bell.

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

ELLERBE — Part of Keith Russell’s job is to offer tours of the Millstone 4-H Camp to various youth and adult civic groups.

Russell, camp director since April, is often assisted by Rob Banks, assistant director. It’s made even easier when the group on the tour brings its own tour guide. That’s about what happened on Saturday when nearly three dozen members of the Richmond County Historical Society traveled from Rockingham to take a look at the camp’s first 75 years and obtain insight into the start of the next 75 years.

And there are big plans as N.C. State University has scaled back the number of 4-H camps across North Carolina to three from eight. The system is investing heavily into the Millstone facility, with help from a Cole Foundation grant of $250,000 and other sources, to build a $1 million-plus North Carolina 4-H Museum and History Center on the 320-acre woodland site, situated within the 60,000-acre Sandhills Wildlife Management Gamelands.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Inside the museum.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Inside the museum.

This summer, the camp hosted its annual Fur, Fish and Game program along with horse camp, a deaf camp for hearing impaired youth and it will be the site of a state 4-H shooting tournament next month. Dr. John Stevenson, society president, said the purpose of the trip was to allow society members to gather in an informal setting.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com A member of the Richmond County Historical Society reacts to a story by Jim Pippin about field dressing a fresh deer kill.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
A member of the Richmond County Historical Society reacts to a story by Jim Pippin about field dressing a fresh deer kill.

“In a formal meeting, we don’t have much time to converse with each other,” Stevenson said as he looked around the tall pines. “You don’t really know what’s out here unless you come out here.”

But much of the focus Saturday was on days past — a connection to which many society members held with enthusiasm and fond memories. And that’s where Jim Pippin, 60, of Rockingham, came in. Pippin served as ecology instructor, then camp director from 1974 to 1976 and again from 1993 to 1995 and in 1997 — taking 1996 off to help with the Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

Passing one tree, stone or gazebo, it brought back memories for Pippin, who still helps 4-H camp staff with the museum and other tasks. Many society members had attended camp when they were children, or had children or grandchildren who had attended 4-H and other programs there.

Pippin and the group stand about 50 meters from the shoreline of Millstone Lake. Its 17 acres is impressive, peaceful. And clean, Pippin said.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com

“This is some of the cleanest water in Richmond County,” Pippin said. “It flows through nothing but gamelands.”

The water gets its dark color from tannic acid, but it’s naturally present, Pippin said. The lake also serves as “a wonderful host for (animal) species and plants.”

“I used to direct and work on staff in the ’70s and 90s,” Pippin explained to the members who wondered via facial expressions how he knew so much. “I keep butting the 4-H staff (still). I know the ‘hood.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Society member Sandra Elliott, right, and another chat along the wooden footbridge over Rocky Creek. The location was a favorite among group members.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Society member Sandra Elliott, right, and another chat along the wooden footbridge over Rocky Creek. The location was a favorite among group members.

The group walks up a path. There’s an outbuilding on the left, appearing almost abandoned. It was, Pippin said, the old girls’ bath house. He tells a story of “a herd of about 20 girls” screaming “bat!” as they burst through the doorways and into nature one night.

Sure enough, Pippin said, ‘a bat had committed suicide.”

Pippin also tells of a king snake demonstration on their defensive mechanisms when a camper gets too close. The snake responded, naturally.

It was, Pippin said, “a great lesson.”

Pippin offered some personal insights as well — some almost as an afterthought, but no less important while randomly thrown into the conversation.

“By the way, the food at camp is incredible,” Pippin insisted.

It was a trip back to nature interrupted by the measured rat-a-tat-tat of gunfire from competitors preparing for the 4-H state shooting tournament next month. Inside the museum, Banks stood over an Apple Classic computer and jokingly called it the brains of the operation.

There was, much to the chagrin of society member Tom MacCallum, no Wi-Fi service.

“We’re behind the times, aren’t we,” Russell quipped.

IMG_4837But it’s a time, Pippin said, of which kids are desperately in need. Even camp staff now complain the t”their biggest problem they have is getting kids out of the cabins” and away from handheld electronic devices such as iPods and video game consoles.

But a return, Pippin said, to “a natural world” is imperative, almost mandatory.

“It’s a mind-blowing experience,” he said, for those who choose to look for it.

 

 

 

 

Filed in: Featured News, Latest Headlines, News, Outdoors

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