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This past week, the Bovee wildfire at Nebraska National Forest near Halsey, Nebraska led to the death of Purdum volunteer fire department assistant chief Mike Moody. It also prompted the evacuation of the entire town of Halsey. The fire was close to being controlled by last Monday after tireless work from some of Nebraska’s finest first responders who saved several farmsteads in the fire’s path. As of last Thursday morning, reports estimate the fire was 94% contained after burning nearly 20,000 acres of land.
The Eppley Lodge, the historic Scott Lookout Tower, and all of the cabins at the state 4-H camp fell victim to this tragedy. This was the first 4-H campsite in Nebraska, dedicated in 1962, and recorded approximately 2,500 visiting youths annually, and more than 30,000 different youths over the years.
I personally had the pleasure of attending the Halsey 4-H camp twice in the 1960s. The first time as a young 4-Her, I was super impressed by all of the tall pine trees and beautiful natural wooden cabins, and the huge Eppley Lodge. Being from the irrigated flatlands of Nebraska, I didn’t realize a campground with so many pine trees could even exist in Nebraska, or that it is the largest hand-planted forest in the Western Hemisphere. I was also impressed by the Scott Lookout Tower, from which one could look over the hills of pine trees and watch for smoke.
The next time I attended was for a 4-H leadership camp in my teenage years. Believe it or not, a fire had burned through the camp the year before, leaving only cement foundation pads where many of the cabins once stood. Huge tents were erected on the pads but fortunately, the Eppley Lodge was still there in all its glory. I was blessed to take part in planting pine fingerlings in the hills around the camp to replace some of the trees that burned. It is surreal to think some of these trees could be the ones that burned 50-some years later in the Bovee fire. Unfortunately, this time the beautiful Eppley Lodge and Scott Lookout Tower are also gone. I am telling this story in the hopes that Nebraskans will pull together to replant portions of the Nebraska National Forest that were lost in the most recent Bovee fire. I am also hopeful that Nebraska extension and 4-H leaders from all over the state can rebuild the camp even better than before so that future generations of 4-Hers can enjoy the same privileges that I and so many others have enjoyed.
I hope everyone in District 38 will join me in praying for the family and friends of Mike Moody, for the recovery of the Nebraska National Forest, for those that lost homes or property, and for all the people who have courageously battled this fire.
I welcome any comments, questions, or ideas you may have on this or any other issue. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office at 402-471-2732.
Streaming video provided by Nebraska Public Media