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Lake camp could return to city control

Mitchell Mayor Ken Tracy, left, Parks, Recreation and Forestry Director Dusty Rodiek, and president of Camp Arroya's volunteer board of directors, Sherry Stilley, discuss Camp Arroya, on Lake Mitchell, during a recent tour Stilley provided to members of the Mitchell Parks, Recreation and Forestry Board, city officials and the public. (Candy DenOuden/Republic)1 / 2
The entrance to Camp Arroya, a campground on the north side of Lake Mitchell, is pictured in this June photograph. (Jordan Steffen/Daily Republic)2 / 2

Camp Arroya has been run by a local nonprofit group for the past 25 years, but based on a recent vote by some city officials, that could soon change.

The Mitchell Parks, Recreation and Forestry Board has unanimously voted against renewing the city's 25-year, dollar-a-year lease agreement with Camp Arroya Inc., which has been in charge of operating and maintaining the camp. The lease is set to expire at the end of December.

Bob Everson, president of the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Board, said in an interview Wednesday that, after much discussion, the board concluded that Camp Arroya would get more use if it were managed by the city, which owns the property.

"The use of the facility would be greatly enhanced," Everson said.

Camp Arroya, tucked away on the northern shore of Lake Mitchell, is mostly obscured by trees and can hardly be seen by passersby on North Harmon Drive.

The 12-acre camp includes a main building, a picnic shelter, children's play areas, an open grassy area near the shore and nature trails.

Camp Arroya Inc. often rents out the grounds to youth organizations, such as scouting groups or church groups, but anyone is able to rent the camp.

"It's open to the entire community," said Sherry Stilley, president of the volunteer board of directors for Camp Arroya Inc.

Stilley, who was unaware of the park board's vote until she was contacted Wednesday by The Daily Republic, said the nonprofit group still fully intends to renew its lease agreement with the city.

"We're just looking forward," she said. "We're planning to grow and continue."

Mayor Ken Tracy said the park board's vote only carries the weight of a recommendation to the City Council. A final decision on the lease will not be made before the council has an opportunity to provide input, Tracy said.

For now, the city will continue to negotiate with Camp Arroya Inc. to see if a new agreement can be reached. "We're just working with them," Tracy said. "No final decisions have been made."

The city will probably not be willing to simply renew another 25-year lease agreement with the group, Tracy said, but might be open to a shorter lease -- five years or less -- if it includes changes with the potential to bring more people to the camp. Those changes could include the city taking over management of booking the facility, as well as dedicating money and manpower toward maintaining and improving the camp, Tracy said.

"Our goal is not necessarily to take it away from them," Tracy said, referring to Camp Arroya Inc. "We just want more usage out of it."

Stilley said she would be disappointed if the lease is allowed to expire and the city takes over Camp Arroya. However, Stilley isn't opposed to an expanded partnership between the city and Camp Arroya Inc.

"I'd be open to support from the city," she said. "We have been totally self-sufficient and received none in the past."

Stilley noted that just this year the group has re-roofed the main building and the caretaker's cabin, repainted signage, trimmed trees and removed an old, unused outhouse. A horseshoe pit is being built, a fire pit was added and the nature trails are also being improved, she said.

"It's been a huge asset," she said. "We have campers that come back year after year."

Everson said the park board discussed the possibility of a shorter lease, but eventually decided against recommending one.

"If we're going to go another five years and then take it over, why not take it over now?" Everson said.