Grand Island Tourism executive has ties to area burned in Bovee Fire

Brad Mellema says it was a gut punch learning of the loss
The Nebraska 4-H Camp burned down as the Bovee Fire ravaged the area.
The Nebraska 4-H Camp burned down as the Bovee Fire ravaged the area.(KNOP)
Published: Oct. 8, 2022 at 11:35 AM CDT
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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - The Bovee fire destroyed thousands of acres of land in Thomas and Blaine counties after it started nearly a week ago. Among the area that was burned was the State 4-H Campgrounds.

Sixteen of the 17 buildings on the camp’s premises were near total losses while the staff building remained relatively untouched with only smoke damage occurring.

Grand Island Tourism Executive Director Brad Mellema has a connection to the area as he served as director from 2001 to 2006.

He spent five summers out there and he says many people share that those were some of the best days of their lives.

“My phone began to ring when the fire was evident,” Mellema said. “Staff from that era started to reach out and we started to realize the camp was gone.”

He said in a blink of an eye, all that history and those beautiful facilities were no more.

“It was a gut punch,” Mellema said.

He described the State 4-H Camp has a unique place within a unique place within a unique place. The camp itself is unique; the Nebraska National Forest planted in the Sandhills is unique; and the Sandhills on their own are unique.

“You have a place that has close to 60 years of tradition and young people going through it,” he said.

The camp not only served 4-H youth, but is served as places for adult education programs, workshops, fundraisers, events and even weddings.

He said there are a lot of smaller churches that couldn’t hold large weddings so the area was utilized by many. He remembers proms being held out there.

It reached thousands of people across the state over the years.

“There’s a lot of nostalgia associated with your time there,” he added.

He said it’s too early to talk about if they will rebuild or what the future holds, but he would think that it was an impactful enough program that it would be at least considered by the university or those making those decisions.

He said you can rebuild things and the prairie will recover, but he was really saddened to hear of Purdum firefighter Mike Moody’s death while trying to fight the fire.

Mellema knew Moody and his kids, who were involved in youth activities during his time there.

“This tragedy is amplified well beyond these buildings we so fondly remember,” he said.