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Petitioners hope to save Camp Arroyo Grande from uncertain future

A short history of the 132-year-old Camp Arroyo Grande

The 132-year-old Camp Arroyo Grande has been in limbo for the past year, while California-Pacific Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (Cal-Pac) attempts to sell the property that has been home to numerous summer camps and school activ
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The 132-year-old Camp Arroyo Grande has been in limbo for the past year, while California-Pacific Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (Cal-Pac) attempts to sell the property that has been home to numerous summer camps and school activ

More than a month after the sale of Camp Arroyo Grande fell through, its future remains uncertain.

That uncertainty has given a group of residents time to rally the community to help purchase the 29-acre property in the heart of the Village.

The 132-year-old Camp Arroyo Grande has been in limbo for the past year, while California-Pacific Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (Cal-Pac) attempts to sell the property that has been home to numerous summer camps and school activities in the century since its founding.

According to a previous statement by Cal-Pac representative James Kang, the decision to sell the camp was because its “reduced use and ongoing maintenance costs present(ed) a growing financial hardship.”

Kang on Friday said Cal-Pac is continuing its efforts to sell the site now that a previous bid to an undisclosed buyer fell through. He declined to elaborate on specific options Cal-Pac is considering.

Meanwhile, a group of residents called Save Camp Arroyo Grande is petitioning Cal-Pac to set up a three-year lease-to-own agreement that would allow the citizen group to slowly purchase the property, or give them time to find more options.

“Once this goes away, the opportunity will have passed to do something really great,” Camp Fire Central Coast Executive Director Kenneth Miles said Friday. “I just worry we’ll be kicking ourselves down the road.”

Miles and the Camp Fire Central Coast organization have been heavily involved in the effort to preserve the campground and its unique 12-sided barn known as the Tabernacle. In light of the property’s uncertain future, this summer will be the first in more than 50 years in which Camp Fire does not host its annual summer camp.

Miles said the group — which includes himself and San Luis Obispo County residents concerned about preserving the campground — was still unsure how it would finance an agreement, noting that he had previously been told they would need to pay Cal-Pac a deposit of about $100,000 up front, as well as potentially commit to paying a stipend that recoups whatever revenue the church group would make annually from renting out the campground for activities.

It’s probably a money pit for most people, but for thousands of Central Coast children, it’s a camp of dreams, and to see it just slipping away, it’s a shame.

Camp Fire Central Coast Executive Director Kenneth Miles

Most of the money would have to be raised in a capital fundraising campaign, he said, though it could be partially paid for by a coalition of nonprofits and other groups if they can garner enough interest.

“It’s probably a money pit for most people,” Miles said, “but for thousands of Central Coast children, it’s a camp of dreams, and to see it just slipping away, it’s a shame.”

If successful, Miles said the property would likely be kept as a campground or park that local groups could use for activities.

Though several residents attempted to have the city step in to help preserve the site, those efforts were not successful.

In October, the city announced it intended to negotiate a deal with Cal-Pac that would give the city time to locate a buyer who would preserve the site, or at least relocate The Tabernacle. That deal was was tabled to draft a new agreement from Cal-Pac that would hopefully emphasize preservation, but it never returned to the Arroyo Grande City Council.

Interim City Manager Bob McFall said Friday that the city had received no news regarding the property and was not in the process of negotiating a new deal.

While the property sits in limbo, it also is falling into disrepair.

According to Miles, the physical condition of the campground has been slowly deteriorating in the months that it has been on the market, especially after the on-site staff left before the ultimately unsuccessful sale.

With no one managing the property, the buildings have been neglected, weeds have sprouted and the water main is broken and shut off, he said. The recent rains have also wreaked havoc at the property, rutting the dirt road leading to it, and knocked down trees throughout the site.

“There’s nobody taking care of it at all, and it’s a fragile piece of property, anyway,” he said. “The buildings are old and can fall into disrepair rapidly.”

As of Friday, Miles’ petition had about 200 signatures. The goal is to have 2,000 signatures by April 15.

Those interested in signing the petition can either sign online at http://bit.ly/2mACLRu or in person at the Camp Fire Central Coast office, at 340 Pomeroy Ave, Pismo Beach. The office is open Monday through Thursday, from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Kaytlyn Leslie: 805-781-7928, @kaytyleslie

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