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OPINION: City benefits from Camp Arroya lease

Sherry Stilley

Camp Arroya, or as some refer to it, the Girl Scout Camp, is a nature sanctuary gracing the northwest shore of Lake Mitchell. It is available to anyone to rent week days or weekends, just like the Sportsmen's Club and the Mitchell day camp.

The rates are similar, even though Camp Arroya has more to offer: A lodge with two kitchens, two bathrooms, piano and seating for 50, tornado shelter, picnic shelter with fireplace, crafts cabin, fenced tots playground, sandlot volleyball, swimming beach, dock and hiking trails.

When Lake Mitchell was built in the late 1920s, the city set aside this land to be used by the Girl Scouts, who built and used the camp until the 1960s. When the Girl Scout Council moved its offices to Huron and invested in larger camps, it gave the camp back to the city and it fell into disrepair.

After vandalism and burning of the lodge, several prominent citizens formed the Camp Arroya Association in 1968. Primary supporters were the Mitchell Scouts, and non-profit groups who did not want to lose the beautiful local camp of 12.7 acres. The second 25-year lease was renewed with the city in 1989, and signed by Mayor Bud Williams, a long-time Ccout leader.

Camp Arroya Inc. is a non-profit volunteer association serving Scouts, youth group retreats, vacation Bible schools, high school and family reunions, weddings, receptions, graduation parties, group picnics and other events.

Reservations are on a first-come basis regardless of the group or individual. It is unique in the Mitchell region in that it also serves as a nature center outdoor classroom. Through a grant from the S.D. Dept. of Game Fish and Parks, a network of nature trails and arboretum were developed.

Beyond camp rental fees, memberships are available, which provide reduced fees, as well as opportunities to serve on the board of directors. A fundraiser offers pontoon rides at the annual Pontour and Open House to be held Aug. 4. United Way supports the camp with money, which helps cover insurance costs.

A shoestring budget with few labor expenses for operations is accomplished by active, interested and generous volunteers. Hours have been donated by board members, National Guard, youth groups, Jaycees, DWU students and staff, scouts, caretakers, friends, Fraternal Order of Police, MTI, families and neighbors.

The camp is totally maintained and operated by Camp Arroya Inc., with no costs to the city. There is no city water or sewer service.

There is a well and pump, which we maintain, as well as holding tanks, which we pay to have pumped out several times a month depending on usage. About 20 years ago, the city was asked to provide city water and sewer, but the request was refused. In 2009, Camp Arroya cooperated with the city to install a pumping station in the middle of the recreation area to provide lake water to the new soccer fields.

Maintenance completed in 2013 includes re-roofing the lodge and caretaker's cabin, annual spring cleanup, fertilizing (phosphate free), repainting of the signage on road and lakefront, and removal of an outhouse. Other plans for this summer include increasing usage and membership, installation of a fire pit with seating, removal of fallen trees, repair and installation of dock, open house and painting of outlying structures, Pontour and expansion of nature trails.

The camp is inhabited by a wide variety of wildlife. In spring and fall there are eagles, geese and a wide variety of waterfowl. Other wild birds include turkeys, seagulls, pheasants, cardinals, doves, finches, etc. The association has protected this portion of the lakeside from destruction by vandals and off road vehicles, and preserved the wildlife habitat. There are still areas of native prairie.

Users appreciate the facilities, privacy, safety and security of this beautiful, secluded nature area. It is an opportunity for youth in organizations who may not be able to afford to play soccer or hockey. Camp Arroya association plans to continue to be excellent stewards of this last wooded, lakeside sanctuary. Reservations are already being made for 2014 (996-8763).

Hopefully the city wants to benefit from a lease which has provided continuing stewardship and savings to the city in light of Corn Palace, downtown and lake water quality issues which need investment now.

-- Sherry Stilley is the president of the volunteer board of directors of Camp Arroya on Lake Mitchell.