Camp Hope trial continues

By DeeAnna Haney | May 15, 2013
Pam Kearse and her daughter Nicole were among the attendees of the recent Camp Hope Day. They live just across the bridge from the property.

The trial regarding what is known as the Camp Hope property in Canton continued this week with witness testimony on both sides of the dispute.

So far, the plaintiffs in the case, an Asheville couple seeking to claim reverter rights to the property after purchasing nearby land, have focused their argument on two claims: that the town has violated the original deed by leasing to Wellspring Adventure Camp, which is primarily for out-of-town campers and by not providing public access to the property year-round.

During further questioning of former Canton Mayor Pat Smathers, plaintiff attorney Mark Kurdys pointed out the town never made any effort to host tournaments or programs for tennis, baseball, track, etc., although the deed says they must operate a camp.

But Smathers said that the town has never hosted tournaments or programs at any of its facilities, such as the recreation park. He used the pool as an example, saying that the town has always provided the pool as a service to the community, but has never hosted any type of swim meet or competition there.

“Is it your testimony that the only program operated by the town was to passively allow other people to use the property?” Kurdys said.

“That is the program. That is the use it has been from its inception back in the 20s for those very purposes,” Smathers said in response.

He reiterated that, in his understanding of the deed, the town’s program was to maintain the property and make it available to the public.

Kurdys also asked Smathers if he or any town board member ever asked Wellspring staff about where the campers were coming from. Smathers said the only thing he recalls asking Wellspring was if they were adhering to their lease by offering scholarships to local children.

He said asking about the other campers “would not have been relevant” because the town was not in charge of the Wellspring camp, but only leasing them the property.

The final witness called by the plaintiff was Deborah Prelaz.

She testified to a video that she took of the property that showed a number of no trespassing signs that she said are located on Camp Hope land, suggesting the signs prevented access to the property.

By Monday afternoon, Kurdys rested and counsel for the defense brought their first witness, Pam Kearse, who is a neighbor of Camp Hope.

Kearse said she grew up in Canton and remembers visiting Camp Hope on several school occasions. In 1984, she and her husband moved to their current home just across the bridge from Camp Hope. She estimates she has been on the property at least 1,500 times for several reasons including public events, walking her dog and playing with her children.

“Camp Hope has always been just an extension of our back yard,” she said.

She said she has never been denied access to the property, even while Wellspring was there during the summer months.

“When they (Wellspring) first began their operation, they actually placed a brochure in our mailbox that explained their program, and there was a note that explained they would be our neighbors for a while and that the property was still open for us to use…It was basically to introduce themselves,” Kearse said.

Another issue brought forward by the plaintiff is that no trespassing signs can be found on the property and that there are gates with locks at the opening of Camp Hope.

During questioning, Kearse explained one gate is always locked but the main gate is not.

“The gate is pulled to but it is not locked,” she said.

Regarding the no trespassing signs, Kearse said she only knew them to be located on the highway and always thought they were part of the road right of way, not part of Camp Hope.

The trial is expected to continue through the remainder of the week before a jury will decide whether the property will remain under ownership of the town or fall into private hands.