All should pull together to save Camp Hope

Apr 18, 2013

A recreational treasure in Haywood County is being jeopardized by what appears to be little more than a land grab.

Camp Hope is a 100-plus acre site along the East Fork of the Pigeon River with a recreation facility that includes a large dining hall, a covered outdoor gathering space, plenty of dorm-style cabins and places where tennis, basketball and baseball can be played.

The property was purchased and developed by Champion International 87 years ago, and was given to the town of Canton in 1992 so that the facility could be enjoyed by area residents for years to come.

A couple purchased 18 acres adjoining the camp and wanted to buy Camp Hope, as well. The town said it wasn’t for sale.  When closing their deal with Champion International on the Cruso property, the couple negotiated “reverter rights” to Camp Hope in the event it ceased being used by the public. In essence, if the couple can convince the legal system the town has erred in its management of Camp Hope, it will mean the couple can acquire property valued at more than $1 million for the price of a legal battle.

The stakes are high in the lawsuit, set for a jury trial in May, where the couple is trying to claim their reverter rights.

Nevermind that the property has always been open for public use and that only 10 acres of the land was leased to a company that spent thousands of dollars on improvements. The way the legal system works is that if someone sues you for something, you have to defend yourself. So far, the town has spent upward of $70,000 on the lawsuit, and even if the town should prevail, there is the possibility of one or more appeals.

Town leaders will be faced with a tough choice — spend increasingly limited tax dollars on a lawsuit or be bullied into losing property that has been used freely by residents across the region.

A “Camp Hope Day” is being planned between 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday, April 28, when families are encouraged to bring a picnic lunch, sporting equipment and enjoy the property There will be entertainment and a chance to share memories.

Hopefully there will be plenty of folks there, including leaders from the county and surrounding towns. Camp Hope is located in Cruso, far beyond Canton’s town boundaries, so it makes sense that folks across the county will want to help Canton preserve this treasure for the enjoyment of all.

Perhaps a plan can be hatched to help ensure that Camp Hope can provide enjoyment for all for another century.