Old Water Wheel House at Rock Springs 4-H Camp causes mixed emotions

By Kristina Jackson

Sentiment and practicality are at odds with the planned destruction of a building at the Rock Springs 4-H Center looming next spring.

The Water Wheel Ranch House, south of Junction City, will be demolished to make room for a new educational plaza.

The building once was home to summer 4-H camp staff members, but has not been used for several years.

The planned destruction has provoked protests from some locals who remember the house from their younger days, but officials say they have to do what is best for today’s 4-H members.

“The structure is not historical, it’s just old,” said Gordon Hibbard, president of the Kansas 4-H Foundation.

Plans for the future of the area include leaving the natural spring and the existing water wheel, but removing the house to make room for signs and other items that will educate campers about the history of the area – and about the geology behind springs and how they are created.

“The youth facility is dedicated to a better understanding of the spring and the history of settlement,” Hibbard said. “Not all of the history revolves around the ranch house. It also includes Native American history and territorial history.”

But the history of the ranch house is very important to Mel Borst, a Manhattan resident who lived in the house when he was a summer staff member.

After learning of plans to destroy the building, Borst visited last summer to evaluate the improvements needed to restore it.

Borst found that the stairs leading to the cellar must be replaced, along with some beams in the ceiling, and that a crawl space had drainage problems.

Borst estimated that the restoration could be completed for around $240,000, significantly less than the $500,000 estimated by the 4-H Foundation.

“The only way to save it is to put half a million dollars into it,” Hibbard said.

Borst said the house is worth restoring because there is history associated with it.

“It’s a wonderful example of the way our ancestors adapted to the unique site,” he said, citing the use of the spring to run the water wheel.

Hibbard also has fond memories of the house from his days as a camper, but now focuses on what will best serve the youth of today.

“I’m not denying the warm memories, I have some memories myself,” he said.

“I was fascinated with the water wheel, so much that my dad built me a water wheel to replicate what I had seen. But we have to keep a focus on youth and the future while embracing that history.”

Despite the sentimental arguments from Borst and others, the 4-H foundation intends to demolish the house as planned.

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