BUCKHANNON – Hampered by pandemic-related gathering restrictions, youth participation in Upshur County 4-H has been declining.
However, Upshur County’s WVU Extension agent for 4-H youth development Craig Presar and program assistant Mimi Riffle are hoping to change that by finding new and returning members during an Oct. 23 4-H Scavenger Hunt. Slated to kick off at 9:30 and wrap up at 2 p.m., the recruitment event’s purpose is to attract new members and enable kids, teens and their families to learn what 4-H is all about – all while having some good old-fashioned fun.
Presar appeared at Buckhannon City Council’s Oct. 7 meeting to seek council’s approval to use three city parks because the board that normally makes those decisions, the Consolidated Public Works Board, won’t reconvene until after the scavenger hunt is scheduled.
During Thursday’s meeting, council approved the proposed scavenger hunt, which will start at Jawbone Park and wind its way through that venue as well as Buckhannon City Park and North Buckhannon Riverfront Park off Cleveland Avenue.
Presar said the Oct. 23 event is one of Upshur County 4-H’s efforts to rebuild the local 4-H program, which lost membership over the past couple years because of COVID.
“We lost a lot of membership and lost a lot of opportunities due to COVID and our opportunities to get together,” Presar reported to council. “Our brilliant idea was to have a big wingding and invite all of the youth of Upshur County, and it would include STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities, educational stations and a weenie roast, but then the COVID numbers began to spike again.”
“I could not, in good consciousness, throw a party where we have hundreds of children in one spot and not be able to do the social distancing,” Presar added, “so, we took a step back and this is our plan right now.”
Presar said the group has selected about a dozen spots around Upshur County. Families will pick up packets in Jawbone Park, and then drive to the different spots and partake in various 4-H related activities – “the same things we would have done if the event were in one spot and not spread out.”
Councilman CJ Rylands made a motion to approve the use of the three parks, which was seconded by Councilwoman Pamela Bucklew before passing unanimously.
Presar said the event will start at Jawbone Park, where families can pick up a scavenger hunt map and end at the 4-H Extension Office, located at 91 West Main St., Suite 102 in Buckhannon; there is Wi-Fi capability at the Extension Office which will allow those wanting to join 4-H to sign up right then and there.
“We are hoping to make it a fun event and have some hands-on learning,” Presar said. “We want to spread the word that 4-H has not gone anywhere – we were in hibernation for safety’s sake for a little while – and we are ready to start up again.”
Following the council meeting, Presar told My Buckhannon the scavenger hunt will send participants to spots within a reasonable distance of city limits.
“They will be invited to drive different places around Upshur County – but locations will be fairly close to Buckhannon because we do not have time and folks do not have gas money to drive all the way to Hodgesville, Selbyville – so the locations will be mostly in and around Buckhannon with some outliers,” Presar said. “The idea is that folks will go as a carload or a family group and then go to a number of different stations – approximately 10 to 12. There will be different activities – such as crafts, STEM learning, or something that reminds kids of camp. There will be a nice variety of activities at each station.”
Presar said folks may attend all or none of the stations.
“We are asking everyone to finish up at the 4-H Extension Office at 91 West Main St.,” he said. “Everyone that participates will receive a prize. Those who complete all the stations will receive a larger prize. It will be a fun activity and help kick off the 4-H year and get folks thinking about 4-H.”
4-H Clubs have traditionally been spots where kids can ‘Learn by Doing,’ which is the 4-H Motto.
“Kids join 4-H because it is a good time to get together in a relaxed setting,” Presar said. “We work hard at including everybody and work to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable. You also get to learn about things that are not normally part of the school curriculum – such as livestock – as well as hundreds of different projects including photography, tree identification, rockets, hiking and so much more.”
Another opportunity within Upshur County 4-H is shooting sports.
“Our air rifle season has already started, and that is for students in grades 7 and up,” Presar said. “Starting the first Sunday in November, we will begin our archery program and that is for kids in grades 3 through 12. We anticipate having approximately 200 archers.”
This year, Presar said there are plans to have eight 4-H Clubs including the Upshur County Teen Leader Association which focuses mostly on community service and becoming community leaders. He said the Cloverbuds program is for students in kindergarten through second grade who are interested in joining 4-H.
“There will also be 4-H programs in the schools and in collaboration with Project Isaac at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School,” Presar said. “There are all sorts of things kids can do with 4-H. We want kids to get together and ‘Learn by Doing.’”
Parents, guardians and students seeking additional information about the 4-H Scavenger Hunt, joining 4-H or participating in any 4-H program can visit the WVU Extension Office located at 91 W. Main St., Suite 102 or can call 304-473-4208. Enrollment is available online, and questions may be emailed to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.