Editorials

We have a second chance to preserve Camp Arroyo Grande. Let’s not blow it.

The gift of a second chance doesn’t come along every day. When it does, it should not be ignored.

That’s how we view the opportunity to save Camp Arroyo Grande, a landmark property on the outskirts of the Village.

The 29-acre site is on the market again after a sale to an undisclosed buyer fell through, and supporters of Camp Arroyo Grande are relaunching efforts to purchase and preserve the property, which includes several rustic cabins, a swimming pool and the wooden Tabernacle — a 12-sided, elegant barn that dates back to 1897.

Save Camp Arroyo Grande hopes to obtain a three-year lease agreement from the current owner that would buy the group time to explore purchase options.

We fully support their effort to preserve this special place. With some TLC — and much better parking accommodations — we believe the site could be a tremendous asset to the city, local schools, arts groups and nonprofit agencies. The potential uses are many: outdoor education, musical performances, retreats, summer camps, historical displays, swim lessons, nature hikes, public meetings, even weddings and family reunions.

Granted, it’s not going to be an easy undertaking. The property has been valued between $3 million and $4 million, not counting repairs and ongoing maintenance needs. And while the site is at the gateway to the popular Village, it’s tucked away at the top of a hill, so it’s something of a hidden treasure. That may be working against camp; it’s not easy rallying support for something outside the public eye.

A little history: The land was donated to the Methodist Church by its original owner, John Francis Beckett, who specified that it was to be used to as a “religious, educational and pleasure resort.” Over the years, the camp has been the site of everything from religious revivals to preschool classes and summer day camps for kids, but the religious organization that owns the property — California-Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church (Cal-Pac) — announced last year that it had become too costly to maintain and put the property on the market.

Save Camp Arroyo Grande approached the city with the idea of turning the land into a public park, but while the city tried to assist in other ways, it didn’t have the funds to buy the property outright.

There also was a push to at least protect the Tabernacle from destruction by declaring it a local historic resource, but because state law gives religious organizations the right to exempt their noncommercial property from historic preservation rules, that didn’t happen either.

While there are no immediate plans to raze the buildings and develop the site, Save Camp Arroyo Grande is worried that a future council might let the property be paved over and developed as housing, for example.

Kenneth Miles, executive director of Camp Fire Central Coast — which held a weeklong day camp at Camp Arroyo Grande for the past 50 years — said his organization is ready to do what it can to prevent that.

“Camp Fire has some resources and a whole network of volunteers,” he said. But he’s hoping for a large lead gift to get the ball rolling.

As we said, it’s not going to be easy to secure the property for public use, but we’ve seen it happen before with the Octagon Barn, the Price House in Pismo Beach, the Dana Adobe in Nipomo and many other historical sites.

It’s going to require a partnership of private, public and nonprofit entities and the cooperation — possibly even the indulgence — of Cal-Pac.

It’s worth a try. After being part of the community for more than a century, it would be a shame to see Camp Arroyo Grande fall into private hands, especially if there are no requirements for public access or the preservation of the Tabernacle.

A community that prizes its past as much as Arroyo Grande does must not sit by and watch this piece of history disappear.

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