Trekking Out Of Camp

By Dave Herpy

Located in Reidsville, N.C., north of Greensboro, the Betsy-Jeff Penn 4-H Educational Center (BJP), was dedicated on May 17, 1964, as a gift from Betsy Penn in honor of her late husband, Jefferson, to the North Carolina 4-H program through North Carolina State University. The center’s nearly 200 acres of fields, forests, lakes, and streams provide residents with opportunities such as summer-camp programs, educational field trips for schools, and outdoor retreat-center programs.

One of the highlights of summer camp is the Trekker program for 12- to 14-year-olds. The high-adventure program includes four days at camp and two days off-site, taking advantage of the great local natural resources. The Trekker camp is very popular with older participants, with enrollment often reaching full capacity. Younger campers return year after year until they reach the age to become a Trekker.

 According to Stacy Burns, Center Director for BJP, the program is designed for 22 campers weekly. The program is a culminating event for those who have attended camp at BJP before as a way to utilize all of the skills they have gained over the years and to challenge themselves on an off-site trip. Although campers who have not grown up in the BJP camp program are allowed to participate, the original design was to provide children something to work toward while  developing and honing their skills throughout the years.

A Schedule For Success
As soon as campers arrive on Sunday, they move at an accelerated pace: they have had an orientation, moved into their cabin, and have completed a swim test. They use the first two days prior to the off-site trip to develop and enhance climbing and canoeing skills. Monday morning is spent on Lake Hazel learning canoeing and effective communication. Participants practice loading and unloading boats, proper equipment procedures, paddling skills, and T-boat rescues. Monday afternoon is dedicated to a team-building curriculum that utilizes the course on the property to prepare for the off-site trip. On Monday evening, Trekkers begin to explore their climbing skills on the climbing wall.

Tuesday is dedicated to enhancing the Trekkers’ skills by completing many different elements on the high-ropes course, including a zip line. On Tuesday evening, canoe skills are practiced once more, and all boats and equipment are loaded into trailers in preparation for the early-morning trip to the river. Once the trailers are loaded, trekkers spend the next hourreceiving an orientation about their journey and how to best prepare, including what to bring and the clothing to wear.

Trekkers are loaded into 15-passenger vans Wednesday morning and head directly to the Hanging Rock State Park Dan River access point, and travel the 5.9 miles of Class I and Class II rapids to the Moratock Park access point, where they load the trailers and begin the next adventure. Trekkers then head to Pilot Mountain State Park where camping reservations have already been arranged and campers set up for the evening. Campers cook dinner over an open fire using food from coolers they brought from camp, and then rest up for their next big day of climbing. Special climbing permits are obtained through the North Carolina State Parks in advance of the day climb at Pilot Mountain. Campers then spend the day top-rope climbing as many routes as possible until they head back to camp in late afternoon. Upon their return to camp, Trekkers partake in the traditional evening activities of dance and campfire

What It Takes To Make It
Given the nature of these high-adventure activities, safety is the number-one priority in planning, preparing, and facilitating this program. The minimum requirements for Trekker counselors and the Off-Site Coordinator include wilderness first aid and lifeguard certifications. In addition, each counselor must attend paddling training on Lake Hazel and the Dan River, led by me, an ACA River Kayaking Instructor Trainer. Each counselor must also attend Rock Site Management Training by Dr. Aram Attarian, a recently retired Associate Professor in the Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management program at North Carolina State University. Each counselor must also attend three-day, high-ropes and belay training at BJP, led by Education Director Kyle Shillinglaw. The high-ropes and belay training must be completed prior to the Rock Site Management Training, as that program does not go into depth on proper belay training. Finally, counselors must also be trained in 15-passenger van operation and safety.

The key to offering this type of program is resources. At North Carolina State University, we are fortunate to have access to experienced and skilled faculty like Dr. Attarian in our Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management (PRTM) program, who conducts the Rock Site Management Training. Also, access to the DENR Division of State Parks’ amenities allows us to access the Dan River for canoeing, a group camping area for camping overnight and rock-climbing access at Pilot Mountain State Park.

What makes the Betsy-Jeff Penn’s Trekker Program so special for 4-Hers is its history, tradition, and strong reputation in providing incredible experiences for older campers. All camps should take advantage of local resources to create life-changing experiences for campers, and to establish long-standing traditions that will keep campers coming back year after year.

Dave Herpy is the NC 4-H Camping Specialist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C., where he is responsible for the overall management and operation of the North Carolina 4-H Camps and Centers across the state. He has over 19 years of summer-camp experience as a counselor, director, and specialist in non-profit, metroparks, municipal, and university settings. He has been married for 10 years and is a father to a 5-year old son, 3-year old daughter, and a newborn daughter. He loves sharing his passion for camp and the outdoors with others, especially his own children. Reach him at