It’s a stunning tract of Tennessee property – 1,200 acres of woods, pastures, lakes and farmland – and soon it will host 4-H campers and people of all ages looking for a great place to gather and learn.
A new 4-H camp and conference center is coming to Lone Oaks Farm in Hardeman County. Recently the Tennessee General Assembly approved the state budget for the next fiscal year, which includes funding for the Lone Oaks project.
“We are very appreciative the legislature saw the value and potential of having a 4-H camp and educational center that can be used by many Tennesseans,” said UT Institute of Agriculture Chancellor Larry Arrington. “It will be located in West Tennessee, but available to anyone looking for a unique center for learning. The new center will have a tremendous educational and economic impact.”
"The West Tennessee 4-H Center was one of the top budget priorities I advocated for this year. This facility will give UT Extension and 4-H a valuable tool for preparing our young people with the life skills they need to succeed and lead,” said UT System President Joe DiPietro. “In addition, the center also will serve as an interactive community resource for the West Tennessee region for many groups to explore and appreciate.”
Lone Oaks will be used to teach young people about agriculture, natural resources and science. Existing buildings on the property can also be used for organizational retreats and meetings by industry and agri-business groups.
Many site development features are already in place, including roads, fencing and utilities. A number of facilities and buildings are there as well, including lodging, a museum, a livestock sale area with seating for more than 300 people, and a commercial kitchen capable of serving 300 guests. Many lakes and ponds are at Lone Oaks, as well as an equestrian facility that can be used for both camp rides and hosting competitions.
According to a study conducted by the UT Center for Sustainable Business and Development, the 4-H and Conference Center could contribute $47 million to the region’s economy.
“Lone Oaks is a beautiful and versatile place,” says UT Extension Dean Tim Cross. “We believe UT Extension can now create a premiere 4-H Camp and Conference Center, and a place that all Tennesseans can proudly say represents our state.”
This process took several years, following the closure of the Buford Ellington 4-H Center in Milan in 2009 due to budget reductions and deteriorating conditions. UT Extension stakeholders wanted a new 4-H center to serve the western region of Tennessee, and listening sessions were then conducted involving Extension, UT alumni, 4-H volunteers, and community leaders and key supporters.
More than 7,000 contacts to legislators were made through the UT Advocacy network, and many more contacts were made outside the system by interested groups, especially members of the Tennessee Farm Bureau. To date, more than $4 million has been gifted or pledged to support the project.
“The investment by philanthropists helped to convince many caring stakeholders and lawmakers that 4-H is strongly supported statewide,” said Keith Barber, Vice Chancellor of UTIA Institutional Advancement. “The people and organizations who have provided financial assistance have proven that our youth are worth their investments.”
UT Extension operates three other 4-H centers across the state in Columbia, Crossville and Greeneville, and 13,000 kids attend programs at these facilities throughout the year. With the establishment of the new center in West Tennessee, more children who have not been able to participate in 4-H programs will now have the opportunity.
“I’m very excited to hear the news that the Lone Oaks project passed in Nashville,” said Gary Rodgers, UT Extension director for Hardeman County and longtime 4-H agent. “We look forward to beginning the process to make this an amazing center that will help meet the needs of a wide range of clientele. The possibilities are truly endless.”
The UT Institute of Agriculture provides instruction, research and outreach through the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, UT AgResearch, including its system of 10 research and education centers, and UT Extension offices in every county in the state.