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Serving: KS

We all have a Rock Springs Ranch story

Jennifer M. Latzke An 1870s water wheel at Rock Springs Ranch 4-H Center
NATURAL SPRING: Rock Springs Ranch 4-H Center, Junction City, Kan., gets its name from the natural spring that provides water for the camp. Generations of campers have memories of this 1870s water wheel, which still stands today.
Rock Springs Ranch has been a source of camp memories for generations of Kansans.

Who hasn’t got a Rock Springs Ranch story?

Poll any group of aggies in Kansas, and you’ll likely hear about the time someone almost foundered on the cinnamon rolls at Williams Dining Hall during camp. You might get a chuckle and a story about games of Freeze Out at the Big Spring. You might get a tale about the city kid who learned to ride on the camp’s Palominos, or the one who learned to shoot at the rifle range.

Generations of youth have camped in the tents and cabins that boast names like Weatherwax and Finnup. They sat in Council Circle around a campfire and sang songs their parents and grandparents sang when they were young campers themselves. They walked the trails their older siblings walked. They even told the same ghost stories about the same kid who “didn’t make it down Dead Man’s Trail and now is doomed to walk it eternally.” Spooky!

Rock Springs is the one constant we can count on here in Kansas.

But, maybe I’m biased. See, I grew up just 5 miles down the road from Rock Springs Ranch.

My sister, brother and I grew up going to church picnics at the Clutter Family Shelter near the Big Pool. We took elementary school field trips to Rock Springs to look for tadpoles in the streams. Our neighbors worked at the ranch, and it was the first summer job for many local teenagers.

Maybe most importantly, though: If there had never been a Rock Springs Ranch 4-H Center, my parents would have never met, and I wouldn’t be here today.

Love springs

My father’s family came to Kansas’ Lyona Valley, home of Rock Springs Ranch, in 1858, following a neighbor named John G. Rekken from Watertown, Wis. Now, Rekken and another settler, James R. McClure, had scouted the Lyona Valley, and they realized that the big spring at the mouth of Lyons Creek would make an excellent spot for a settlement.

Rekken would eventually build a cabin on the site, which grew into a house with a water wheel powered by the flowing spring. That same Spring House stood at Rock Springs Ranch until just a few years ago, when it was condemned out of fear for camper safety. Today, a beautiful plaza features the water wheel and the foundation stones from that house.

In 1960, 102 years later, my mother’s parents left their farm near Yates Center, Kan., and brought their family to Rock Springs Ranch for a new start. My grandpa had a job on the custodial crew, and my grandma would work in the kitchen. My mother was just a sophomore in high school.

A few months after they moved, my mom started seeing my dad, the local boy she met at church. They fell in love — and a few years later, they were married.

That’s just one story of thousands over 75 years, but it’s pretty dear to our family’s heart.

Your own memories

You’ve likely got your own memories of Rock Springs Ranch, and we’d love to hear them. Head over to our Kansas Farmer Facebook page and leave a comment with your favorite Rock Springs moments from the past 75 years. Even better, share a photo of camp from any era.

Tell us about that first time you had KP duty and learned the 4-H way to set a table. Tell us about the best friend from two counties away you made because they were in your cabin group, who turned into a college roommate and stood as the best man at your wedding. Maybe you overcame a fear of the Ropes Course with a little encouragement from your cabinmates. Or, if you’re one of the many couples who met at camp at Rock Springs, share that, too.

And if you’ve got a minute, head on over to the Rock Springs Ranch website at, and make a gift to ensure that campers can make their own memories for another 75 years.


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