Camp isn't just for the kids anymore.
"I know when I go to camp I feel like a big kid," said Kristin Wisneski, senior program coordinator with Arizona Cooperative Extension, which oversees the James 4-H Camp and Outdoor Learning Center at Mingus Springs.
The camp, which is owned and operated by Arizona 4-H Youth Development through the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is set on 55 acres in the picturesque Mingus Mountains in the Prescott National Forest. This camp has it all – boating, swimming, fishing, hiking, softball, basketball, volleyball, horseshoes, orienteering and a challenge course, as well as hands-on learning opportunities.
James 4-H Camp provides an ideal setting for staff retreats and UA research projects, as well as a good, old-fashioned camp experience for kids. Located about 15 miles east of Prescott Valley, the camp is open from mid-April through mid-October, and fees are offered on a sliding scale.
With a small army of volunteers and a $30,400 grant from the UA Green Fund to support a "green retrofit," James 4-H Camp is gearing up for the 2013 camp season, as Arizona 4-H celebrates 100 years.
AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps volunteers are currently sprucing up the camp. On their to-do list: hack down weeds, trim trees, repaint cabin eaves, build rock structures for erosion control and construct a boat house and storage facility.
Through the UA Green Fund grant, cabins will be converted to solar LED lights, shower water will be harvested to flush new low-flow toilets and waterless urinals will be installed. Plans are also in the works for a composting toilet.
"Part of our ethic is to become more sustainable and use it as an educational opportunity," said Kirk Astroth, assistant dean and director of 4-H Youth Development. "A camp located in a national forest should be a good way to demonstrate sustainability."
The James 4-H Camp, named for Prescott philanthropists Harold and Mitzie James, was purchased by Arizona 4-H in 2010 to serve as a camp for 4-H groups as well as the UA campus community. Camp fees will be used to help maintain and improve facilities.
A summer camp was first developed on the land in 1950. Six years later, fire burned much of Mingus Mountain, and the camp was closed until 1968, when Henry Dahlberg and the Dahlberg Foundation purchased the property to rebuild a camping program.
While Dahlberg could have sold the camp for $1 million, he sold it to 4-H for less than half the price, with the goal of supporting conservation, environmental education and resource management efforts, Astroth said.
The James 4-H Camp opened in April 2012, but torrential rains resulted in a flood that closed it for the season in August. Camp is once again open for business, boasting 12 cabins that accommodate 80 campers, electricity, running water, a kitchen, dining hall and a two-acre lake, stocked with bass for catch-and-release fishing.
With temperatures 20 to 30 degrees cooler than Tucson, Yuma and Phoenix, the camp provides relief from the searing summer heat and encourages children and adults to rediscover nature, Astroth said.
"Research shows that kids who are outside and playing and reconnected with the outdoors are healthier, happier and less stressed," he said. "We have to get kids outdoors and reconnected with nature."
Camps for various groups can carry special themes. For example, the children of wounded and disabled warriors and fallen veterans will spend "the week of a lifetime" this summer at Camp Corral at James 4-H Camp at Mingus Springs.
Fifty boys and girls ages 8 to 15 from Arizona, Southern California, New Mexico and Utah will take part in the free camp from July 28 to Aug. 2. The program is sponsored by Golden Corral restaurants, and about 2,000 children nationally will head off to 18 camp sites in 14 states.
This is the first year that Camp Corral will be held in Arizona.
James 4-H Camp "lends itself to just the right environment for these children who often face many challenges at home with injured or disabled parents," said Dolly Mercer, consumer promotions and national events manager at Golden Corral.
"This nature setting allows Camp Corral to give these kids time to just be kids and provide a week of a lifetime," she added.
The James 4-H Camp is one of nine new Camp Corral locations added for 2013.
Among Camp Corral offerings are hiking, boating, swimming, shooting sports, crafts and technology, including LEGO robotics. The camp will feature a military appreciation day, with members of different military branches leading camp activities, including laser tag and Olympics.
Campers will be welcomed by members of the Phoenix West Valley chapter of Project Linus, and they will receive handmade red, white and blue blankets. Backpacks filled with towels, water bottles and other camp gear – courtesy of Golden Corral – also will be given to each camper.