Camp New Life
For years, Camp New Life outside of Waynesville has been providing enriching camping experiences for children in the summer and, more recently, has served as an emergency homeless shelter in the winter months.
That arrangement comes to an end this year when the Haywood Baptist Association's lease on the property will be discontinued.
Mike Leslie, missions team leader for the Haywood Baptist Association and pastor at Ninevah Baptist Church, said major improvements were needed at the camp, including an major upgrade to the outdoor swimming pool.
The association had been unable to secure a long-term lease on the property, and after prayerful consideration of the matter, decided to move off the premises at the Mountain Research Station.
The facility, which once was a 4-H camp for the region, is located on property owned by the state of North Carolina and managed under the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Leslie said the association initially had a five-year lease on the property, but it was never renewed.
“We made attempts to try to get the lease renewed over the years, and it just didn’t happen,” said Leslie.
Before the camp could open this summer, a list of repairs compiled by building inspectors would have required changes totaling about $30,000.
“Our preference would have been a 10-year lease,” Leslie said. “You don’t want to put that kind of money into something without a lease.”
While it was possible to make minor repairs and simply not use the swimming pool, that option was not considered a viable one.
“I used to run YMCA camps,” Leslie said. “If you cannot do swimming in the camp scenario, you won’t have a lot of clientele. We could have had day camp without swimming, but that was a big part of the program.”
The association’s annual budget for Camp New Life was about $60,000, Leslie said, which included insurance, maintenance, utilities and staffing. An average of 45 students attended the camp each week, with the top price at $85 a child down to scholarship campers, who paid $10 a week.
As for the homeless shelter that operated in the camp during the winter months, Leslie said organizers had been looking at other options. The association offered the use of a Clyde facility, but recent efforts have focused on revamping the former Hazelwood prison.
Leslie said there were organizational changes made in how the Haywood Baptist Association operates last October, but added the decision to vacate Camp New Life didn’t come until January.
“We spent October to January in prayer and research,” Leslie said. “We were allowing the state an opportunity to offer that type of lease and voted without hearing from the state. We need at least six months to ramp up for day camp.”
Leslie said the association could have opted for a more aggressive approach, but used prayer instead.
“Sometimes if a door doesn’t open, it’s time to look at a situation in a different light,” he said.
Plans for the camp
The camp not only has a pool, baseball diamond and outdoor play equipment, but includes a mess hall, a residential facility and a number of cabins.
Kent Yelverton, the director of property and construction for the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said property leases are analyzed on how well they fit into a department’s mission.
The Camp New Life arrangement was one that basically traded property upkeep for rent. To justify that, the state asked for background information such as how the program was beneficial to the department’s mission and the community, Yelverton said.
“With the state process, a lease of that duration and size will typically go through a couple of approval processes,” he said, citing reviews from the governmental operations committee of the legislature and then the Council of State. “We need to review plans and ensure it meets our mission.”
There were changes planned at the research station, he said, and the state was waiting on information from the Baptist association before moving forward.
Yelverton said the department has tentative plans to expand the livestock operation at the research station, but would consider other proposals.
“If someone steps forward and wants to continue providing a service, we would entertain a proposal,” Yelverton said of the camp property. “It is not all about money, but at the same time, we have property where we have some use and it also can serve a community need. We would expect an agency to tell us what they would do, how they would maintain it and how they would handle utilities.”