“Review the past, analyze the present and prepare for the future” is the motto of recreational sports director Keith Jenkins. It is a motto that is fueled by a passion for students and turned his dream of a camp for the Sam Houston State University community into a reality.
The University Camp, located at 2245 FM 980, has a wide range of unique aspects, from zip-lines to rustic log cabins that students can visit per reservation.
There is a Bearkat lodge that is 4,000 square feet and a multipurpose building capable of accommodating more than 200 people and is surrounded by a water view. The camp also includes a challenge course that features three-tower high elements, a zip-line that goes over water, a super swing and a 12-element low-ropes course.
Some of the other activities that are included are fishing and boating docks, a recreation room and a swimming pool.
“This is the best deal in the country,” Jenkins said. “We have overnight accommodations and enough bunks for 200 people. When a group comes out to the camp, they have the place exclusive to them.”
Jenkins said the camp has plans to add a state-of-the-art fresh-water lake once funding permits.
“In the future we are hoping to have our own personal blue lagoon built with aquatic clay and filled with a fresh body of water that is 40-50 feet deep,” Jenkins said. “We also plan to have it surrounded by white sand brought in from South Padre. We don’t have the funds for it yet but are hoping to in the near future. When we do get the chance to build Bearkat Lake, we will be the only university in the country that has something like it.”
The University Camp was an idea that was first thought up by Jenkins in 1989 when students wanted to have a place where they could get away. It was not until 1990 that students from 200 student groups signed a petition that started to put the idea into motion.
After 25 years of hard work the camp had its grand opening in August 2014, welcoming a variety of student groups to 345 acres of land and unique opportunities.
“University camp has become the physical structure for our university,” Jenkins said. “Before it opened, [we] had a few different groups come out to the camp to try everything out such as the Student Government Association. We have developed everything piece by piece over the years, and it doesn’t take anything financially from the campus or state funding. The priority for the camp is and under my watch always will be the students. They are top priority.”
An interesting historical fact about the camp is how it got its location in the first place. According to Jenkins, before it was decided to build the camp on the Trinity River it was initially going to be built on the Gibbs property.
It wasn’t until 1990 that a man from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice came to Jenkins and suggested the idea of building the camp in Riverside, where TDCJ had property available.
However, before Jenkins had the land transferred from TDCJ to SHSU, he first had to look into the history behind the land.
“Getting the land was not easy,” Jenkins said. “It was suggested that some of the property that we were hoping to build on was actually a Native American burial ground. We hired an archeologist and worked with the Texas Historical Commission and Texas Antiquities commission that allowed us to do a dig where we found two acres of land that had not bones but Native American artifacts that were federally protected.”
Despite this setback, Jenkins was eventually allowed to break ground.
“Fortunately, the rest of the land was found to not be burial grounds,” Jenkins said. “After visiting with two Native American tribal groups and getting their support to transfer from TDCJ to SHSU, we started the plans to build the camp there.”
When the camp officially opened last year, student groups were not the only ones who benefited. After years of having Bearkat Camp at a private site outside of Huntsville, the program finally got to make its way to its intended home.
Bearkat Camp was first started in August 2009 and has become a way for students to get introduced to SHSU culture, traditions and relationships before they take their first steps on campus.
For Jenkins, it is the students that make a university what it is. He hopes that those whom have the same passion for serving SHSU will carry on his legacy for education, the University Camp and Bearkat Camp.
“I hope that students will always maintain a pride for SHSU,” Jenkins said. “I want to be remembered as someone who created something that had a sincere impact on the lives of students. I want to make a difference and I believe that whatever endeavor we have in life, we can make a mark.”