Some Richmond residents wary of proposed purchase of Camp Marion White

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RICHMOND >> Via email, Facebook and two surveys, many full- and part-time residents in recent weeks have backed a town proposal to purchase Camp Marion White and convert it into an open-to-all recreational facility.

However, that enthusiasm was somewhat tempered last week as a number of taxpayers at a public forum questioned whether Richmond had the populace and finances to support the project.

Town officials on Nov. 18 will ask a special town meeting to approve borrowing $1.5 million to buy and upgrade the 50 acre site currently owned by the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts. Since a loan is involved, a two-thirds majority approval is needed and three days later on Nov. 21, an townwide election will be held to exempt the bond from the tax levy limits of Proposition 2 ½. Only a simple majority is needed for the second approval.

Several of the nearly 100 people at a two-hour public forum at Richmond Consolidated School expressed concerns that homeowners wouldn't be able to absorb the added tax burden of owning the camp on Richmond Pond off Swamp Road.

"This is going to be a stress for some people and I'm not just talking about one or two," said Tax Collector Fred Schubert.

Others worried the 10-year bond would take away from annual town operating expenses, such as public education.

"If the town is fatigued paying on Camp Marion White, will it affect us when it comes time to spend on the school?" Andrea Harrington asked.

A single-family homeowner with property assessed at $405,000 as of June 30 would pay an extra $195 for the loan's first year, according to town officials.

Yet others measured the camp's worth in non-monetary value, such as being an asset for all ages. Town Administrator Matthew Kerwood pointed to a survey that found 18-39 year-olds and those over 55 both viewed recreational opportunities atop their priorities for the town.

Town's Conservation Agent Ryan Aylesworth sees a municipally owned recreational area crucial to attracting more families to the community.

"I'm a rather endangered species in town — a full-time resident and under 35," he said, referring to Richmond with a large second-home population.

Clara and Pippa, a pair of 8-year old girls who are part-time residents, recently emailed Kerwood, through the girls' parents, to express support for the town's plan to purchase the camp.

"It's almost like Central Park in Richmond," they wrote. "We would love to volunteer to help clean up the park."

If voters approve the plan, municipal officials would finalize a pending $1.375 million purchase-and-sale agreement with the Girl Scouts, possibly by Dec. 31, according to Kerwood. He said the remaining funds would be used to pay for removal of half of the 19 structures at the camp, make improvements to others and upgrade the trails and expand the parking.

Kerwood noted the camp would be for day use only, including swimming, even though the town already has a beach across the pond from the camp.

"This is not to replace the town beach," he said.

The town wants to at least retain the 3,000-square-foot lodge, boat house, open-air picnic pavilion, outhouse facilities to provide a year-round recreational area for both residents and visitors to the community. The trails would be upgraded, additional parking created and opportunities provided to rent the picnic pavilion and lodge. The fees would help with the projected $10,000 to $15,000 operating expenses for the outdoor complex.

Kerwood noted the town has enough cash reserves so that it could vote to set aside to cover operating expenses until the loan is paid off.

However, Peter Cohen doubted the facility could sustain solid usage beyond the first year.

"To date, the town seems to have survived without [owning the camp,]" he said. "We can all sit in our backyards and enjoy."

Richmond Pond resident Tammy Jervis says the area gets plenty of use now — even in the winter.

"I see a lot of snow-shoeing prints, snowmobile tracks," she said. "It's a beautiful area."

Camp Marion White itself consists of two parcels totaling 29 acres off Swamp Road near the Pittsfield city line. The remaining 21 acres across the road, known as the Beaver Dam parcel, would remain as hiking only, according to town officials.

All 50 acres would be placed under a conservation restriction, a necessary requirement is Richmond is to receive a $50,000 state grant toward the purchase of the property and be eligible for future state grants for the upkeep of the camp. Camp Marion White became available about a year ago, when the Girl Scouts decided to divest itself of several properties no longer used or in declining usage in recent years.

Suzanne Smiley, chief operating officer for the regional council, told The Eagle in a recent interview few local Girl Scout troops have used the camp within the past decade and the council stopped hosting programs and outings there about five years ago. There are some 200 scouts in the Berkshires among the 8,000 served by the council with efforts underway to boost the local numbers, she said.

The Girl Scouts bought the camp in 1952 from the Pittsfield Women's Club after having used the facility since 1939 when it was a girls day camp run by Marion White.

Smiley said on Thursday the scouting group supports the town maintaining the camp for outdoor enjoyment.

"A whole lot of girls sold cookies to make the camp happen and we don't want that to go [for naught,]" she said.

Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.

What's next ...

• Nov. 18: Special town meeting to vote on loan toward purchase of Camp Marion White; 7;30 p.m. at Richmond Consolidated School.

• Nov. 21: Special election to exempt loan from Proposition 2 1 2,; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Richmond Town Hall


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