SHSU To Open University Camp In August

News from the Item (Jul. 7) about SHSU's University Camp, located in Riverside, opening its doors to student groups on August 1:
The camp will have overnight accommodations for more than 200 people, a swimming pool, ropes and other obstacle courses, a dining hall, and recreational fields for starters. The end goal of the facility is to add amenities near a swimming lake that is in an old rock quarry, as well as additional camping areas and multi-use structures. The lake, aptly named Bearkat Lake, will eventually have parking and white sand imported from other Texas beaches.

The project has been in development for 25 years, Jenkins said, with the first conversations about it taking place between himself and former SHSU President Elliot T. Bowers. After Bowers, Jenkins received the support from SHSU presidents Martin Anisman, Bobby K. Marks, James Gaertner and now Dana Gibson — each who contributed to the project.

The land was transferred to SHSU by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice under Marks’ time as president. TDCJ once used the land as recreational facilities and as a gravel excavation site. According to university archives, members of the SHSU Student Government Association spoke before the House Committee on Land and Resource Management in support of House Bill 266, which transferred the land in 2001.

It is positioned on the intersection of Highway 19 and FM 980 about 14 miles from the SHSU campus. The area is about 346 acres in total, according to bill analysis submitted by then Texas Rep. Dan Ellis.

When the university took over not much remained of TDCJ buildings. At the time what was left were some cabins, restroom facilities, a fish cleaning shack and a pavilion — all beyond repair. SHSU used what was left of the pavilion as the foundation for their own.

[Assistant Vice President for student Services Keith] Jenkins said not all of the land can be used, however. Some of the land is federally-protected because of its ties to Native American peoples who once inhabited the lands. He said the two tribes in the area, the Alabama-Coushatta and the Caddo, spoke in support of the land’s transfer.

SHSU originally considered constructing the camp at Gibbs Ranch in a 500 acre tract on the north side of the property until the TDCJ land became an option.

The project has had to be built piecemeal because of the lack of funding. The major construction began when the recreational sports fee that all students pay was increased from $97 to $100. That additional money was used to bond the project out for about $4.5 million.

Naming rights are used by universities to basically auction off the names of buildings to the highest bidder — although names of classrooms, lecture halls and other sections of a campus also get renamed per the donor’s request.

The money used from the naming rights would go toward “making the next step” in the camp’s construction, according to Jenkins.

“We will be bringing Bearkat Camp (the university’s freshman camp) in the first three weeks of August,” [Jenkins] said. “Will we be ready, maybe. But they’re coming ready or not.”

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