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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

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‘Head, Heart, Hands and Health’ for half a century
W.E. Skelton 4-H Center celebrates 50th anniversary
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Courtesy Photo: The Smith Central Activities Building was the first to be constructed at the W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center at Smith Mountain Lake. Since then, the building has undergone renovations twice. Above is a current photograph of the building.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

By EMILY WOOD - News-Post Intern

The W.E. Skelton 4-H Educational Conference Center at Smith Mountain Lake is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a ceremony at the Harris Flag Plaza on Thursday, June 19 at 3 p.m.

The center was established in 1964 and now has 2 1/2 miles of shoreline on the Blackwater Channel.

Timothy Sands, the newly appointed president of Virginia Tech, will speak at the celebration. This will be Sands's first public presentation since succeeding Charles Steger, who retired June 1.

Charles Patton, president of Appalachian Power, will also be in attendance.

Roger Elmore, executive director of the center, gave a presentation on the facility's anniversary at the Franklin County Board of Supervisors meeting last month.

"We've been here as long as the lake's been here," Elmore said.

One of the six centers of its kind in Virginia, the W.E. Skelton 4-H Center draws visitors from Harrisonburg all the way down to the Danville area. Originally named the West Central 4-H Educational Center, it was built because the region had no such facilities. Appalachian Power donated the 120 acres.

The facility was renamed in 2004 in honor of Dr. William E. Skelton for his dedication as a member of the 4-H Center's Board of Directors for nearly 30 years. Skelton was the dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech before he died in 2008.

The Smith Central Activities Building was the first to be constructed on the property. It was completed in 1965. It has since been renovated twice.

The center now has 23,000 square feet of classroom and meeting space, including the Willard Ampitheatre completed in 2005. Ninety percent of the construction has been done through private donations.

The first camp was held in 1966 when the property only had three buildings. It has since served 155,000 4-H youth and over 250,000 other youth and adult users.

"It's amazing what a week of camp can do," Elmore said, "while at the same time having fun."

The Junior 4-H Camp is for youth ages 9 to 18 and offers 15 different classes that take place over the span of four days. These include traditional classes, such as archery, riflery and basic horsemanship, along with some more technologically advanced classes, such as multimedia, computer science and robotics.

Franklin County children will attend 4-H Camp from July 14-18 this year.

In addition to the youth camp, the center also hosts Boy Scout Camp, Girl Scout Camp, Air Force JROTC camp for high school students, a Carilion Camp for chronic and terminally ill patients, and Virginia Tech's team-building retreat Hokie Camp.

"I know some people think we're only there for 4-H, but we're really not," Elmore said. "We can do anything that is group-oriented."

The center can also hold military reunions, weddings and corporate retreats.

There are currently 437 beds in the camp dormitories and 150 adult beds at the center. The dining room can comfortably seat 450 people.

Elmore said that peak employment in the summertime is 55, which includes full-time and part-time adult employees and camp counselors. Annual payroll totals about $800,000.

"Our emphasis is on the camping program," Elmore said.

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