JACKSON — Just as Sarah Lawrence was beginning her new career at Canter’s Cave 4-H Camp, COVID-19 arrived and plans for a busy and exciting first summer were put on hold.
“I was hired in March as camp manager two days before everything began to close due to the Pandemic,” Lawrence said, citing the announcement by The Ohio State University Extension Office of the decision to cancel all activities as the best way to keep everyone safe and healthy.
“It isn’t how I imagined my first days as camp manager would be.” Lawrence said.
The area around Canter’s Cave in southern Ohio has been a site of human activity for thousands of years. Indigenous peoples and later Europeans found a naturally occurring shelter formed by the confluence of Canter’s and Echo Caves. A stream running through the shelter with salt licks on both sides of it’s banks also attracted wildlife. Prehistoric Hopewell inhabitants, Shawnee and other modern Native Americans, and early European pioneers were frequent inhabitants of this safe sanctuary abundant in wild game
Since it’s purchase by 4-H in 1949, Canter’s Cave and now more than 350 surrounding acres have served as the site of summer camps for 4-H programs in 10 southeastern Ohio counties. Along with traditional 4-H camps, programs including STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are now part of the offerings.
A statewide 4-H Shooting Sports program provides safety training for youth and adults in various shooting and study disciplines. Additional training is provided through Living History sessions where instructors choose a particular era in time as a teaching tool.
The 4-H motto is “4-H for everyone”, and to that end camps are provided for youth with special needs. Canter’s holds statewide camps for campers and their caregivers, offering them a “true experience of Camp while meeting their needs and letting them set their own pace for fun and success” according to Canter’s philosophy.
After such a long and active history, it seems strange for the area to be so unusually quiet.
Lawrence said she and the rest of the staff are using the time wisely, although in a different way than planned.
“We are working on projects that we might not have had time for if the camp was open,” she said. “We are still welcoming small adult groups for retreats, seminars, and weddings, but it is definitely not the busy place it usually is in summer without the kids.”
Lawrence, a graduate of Southern Local High School in Racine, Ohio, said she was very active in 4-H and spent her summers at Canter’s.
“I grew up in 4-H, I was nine when I joined, and coming here to camps was part of that.”
She said her 4-H endeavors included many miscellaneous projects, raising rabbits, and sewing, and that sewing was her favorite.
Lawrence took top prize over the years in several categories, including sewing.
“And I was Fair Queen,” she said with a smile. “I did a little of everything, that’s the 4H experience, getting to try lots of things and be with other kids who share your interests.”
Lawrence attended the University of Toledo, graduating with a dual degree in Law and Social Thought, and Disability Studies. After working a few jobs after graduation, she was excited the position at Canter’s was open, and immediately applied.
“I was so happy to be accepted for this position, this has always been like my second home, and now I live here,” she said “Part of the job is living on the premises and for me, that’s another dream come true.”
“This place is amazing,” Lawrence said. “It is just beautiful here, and I am doing something I love.”
She shared another reason she was excited to have the position, saying now she is on the other side and the one to work with the kids and bring the same experiences and fun that she had to their programs.
“Kids from a group of rural counties get to come to camp, meet other people, and experience something new they might not have otherwise. Campers learn the value of nature, of the outdoors, of working and learning together in this beautiful setting.”
Lawrence emphasized that while the camp was formed and promoted for 4-H, it offers something for everyone.
Part of the complex is the Elizabeth L. Evans Outdoor Education Center whose purpose is to provide not only a place for youth, the Center also hosts adult activities including resident camping, retreats, and seminars and other programs.
The Center can also be rented for social gatherings such as reunions and weddings, and Lawrence said it is a good place for enabling compliance with social distancing requirements.
As an added bonus for wedding couples, there is an ordained minister on site.
At a recent wedding the minister didn’t arrive and the couple thought the wedding would be canceled. When Lawrence was advised of the problem, she was able to come to their rescue.
“I told them I could marry them,” Lawrence said.
They were pleasantly surprised and readily agreed, and Lawrence performed her first ceremony at Canter’s Cave.
2020 will be remembered as the year with no 4-H camps at Canter’s Cave for the local counties of Adams, Brown, Gallia, Highland, Jackson, Lawrence, Meigs, Pike, Scioto and Vinton, and for those who come from across the state for their programs.
“There isn’t anything we can do to change that, guess as the saying goes ‘we are making lemonade out of lemons’, and we will be ready to reopen as soon as we have the OK to do so.”
Canter’s Cave 4-H is located at 1362 Caves Road in Jackson, Ohio. For more information call 740-286-4058 or visit their website at https://4hCanter’scave.osu.edu/ .
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Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing.