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Lake camp at crossroads

The city's lease with Camp Arroya, shown here, was on the agenda for the Mitchell Parks, Recreation & Forestry Department board meeting last week in Mitchell. (Jordan Steffen/Republic)

A dollar-a-year lease agreement has kept a 12-acre site along Lake Mitchell under the control of a local nonprofit for 25 years, but the lease term ends in December.

Officials with the city and the nonprofit are now in talks about the future of the site, known as Camp Arroya, though it's spelled "Arroyo" in the 25-year-old lease agreement.

Camp Arroya Inc., the local nonprofit group that leases the site from the city, hopes to exercise its option in the agreement to renew the lease for another 25 years. City officials have said they are open to a renewal but want to make some changes.

The camp is tucked into the northern shore of Lake Mitchell but is mostly obscured by trees from the view of passersby on North Harmon Drive.

Sherry Stilley, of Camp Arroya Inc., recently gave a tour of the camp to Mitchell Board of Parks and Recreation members, along with Mayor Ken Tracy and a few other interested parties.

According to Stilley, Camp Arroya was built in the 1960s. It includes a main building, a picnic shelter, children's play areas, an open grassy area near the shore of the lake and a nature trail. The camp spans about 12 acres, most of which is natural wooded area.

During the tour, board members viewed a stone building, which Stilley said is colloquially called the "Girl Scout storage shed" and is used mostly for storage. Another building, which Stilley said was formerly a shower house, was used for storage but has fallen into disrepair. A clause in the lease agreement, meanwhile, states that Camp Arroya Inc. must "keep the premises, to include the buildings and improvements thereon, in a good state of repair and in a clean and sightly condition."

A former bunkhouse is used as an arts and crafts space, "for rainy days," Stilley said; its twin building is unused except for storage.

The main building, which Stilley referred to as the lodge, has two bathrooms, two kitchens and a woodburning stove, and can seat about 50. A tornado shelter and the caretaker's cabin are also on the grounds.

Camp Arroya's target audience, Stilley said, is youth organizations like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and church youth groups, but anyone can book use of the camp. Graduation receptions, weddings and family events are held there, she said.

"Overnight camping is not our priority," Stilley said in a follow-up interview with The Daily Republic.

Stilley said the camp charges $75 per day, Monday through Thursday, and $100 per day for Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Stilley said all of the money raised from camp fees goes toward maintaining the campground.

"There are lots of maintenance expenses," she said.

On one side of the grounds is the Camp Arroya nature trail, which Dakota Wesleyan University professor Tim Mullican said he and an associate developed about 15 years ago with the help of a Game, Fish and Parks grant. Mullican said the trail needs to be updated, and Stilley said plans are under way to refurbish the trail this summer.

During the tour and again during the meeting, city council liaison to the park and rec board Marty Barington asked if lack of funding was a factor in why some parts of the campground have not been updated.

"It doesn't have a lot of use," Stilley responded. "We update what gets used."

She pointed out the recently replaced roof on the main lodge, removal of an old outhouse from the grounds, tree trimming and branch removal and dock repair. This summer, she said they plan to install horseshoe games near the beach.

"I think we maintain it pretty well considering the usage we have," she said.

Barington said he appreciates the amount of volunteer hours put into Camp Arroya's upkeep, but he feels several maintenance items are overdue, and felt a possible partnership that would utilize city resources could benefit Camp Arroya.

"We're way behind on updates -- hundreds of thousands of dollars," he said. "We can't afford to take any more steps back."

Tracy said the city attorney is still reviewing the lease agreement. While the city wants to move toward letting Camp Arroya Inc. renew its lease, he said, there are changes the city would like to make, one of the biggest being the length of the lease. He said the city would like to look at a shorter time than 25 years.

"Much, much can happen during that length of time," Tracy said.

City Parks, Recreation and Forestry Director Dusty Rodiek mentioned the city's five-year lease with the Lake Mitchell Campground, which includes a budget for capital improvements.

In an interview with The Daily Republic prior to the meeting, Rodiek said he did not know why the city initially entered into the lease with Camp Arroya Inc.

"That was 25 years ago," he said.

Tracy referred to Camp Arroya as a "jewel" and said a possible partnership with the city to provide resources could help boost usage. Though still under consideration, Tracy listed items like the city handling booking for the facility.

"We would like to see more people benefit from this resource," he said. "We're not trying to take away from what already exists. Obviously, they have limited resources and we would like to have somewhat of a partnership."

Stilley thanked the board, and the city, for their interest, and presented a "wish list" of items with which the city could potentially help Camp Arroya. However, Stilley said there's a reason the camp has not asked for help from the city.

"We have been and hope to continue to be self-sufficient," she said.

"We are a little concerned that asking may come with strings."

Board members and Tracy said figuring out the best solution will be an "ongoing effort."