Rec boards discuss future use of Camp Hope
As Canton leaders head to court to retain one of the town's most prized pieces of public land, they're looking toward the future of how it could be used.
Town leaders and concerned community members are scrambling to hold onto the property for its historical value and the potential to market it as a destination facility.
Quaint and rural, yet easily accessible, Camp Hope has been a recreational mainstay in the area since the land was purchased by Champion International in 1926.
From football, band and boy scout camps to hosting a kids’ day, Camp Hope has always been open to the public with a special interest in catering to youth, said Town Manager Al Matthews. But some believe the possibilities for the land could be even more.
Members of the county and Canton boards of recreation gathered last week to discuss how the property could be used if the town doesn't lose a court challenge filed by a neighboring family who wants to gain possession of the land valued at more than $1 million.
Matthews said the meeting was to brainstorm about the future, not focus so much on the past.
"I think it’s imperative this group focus on how we can benefit from it today and how we can make it a real functional facility for our kids and our community,” Matthews said.
With a covered pavilion and stage area, a dining hall that seats up to 150, full kitchen and eight cabins, the amenities of the property are enough to attract people and organizations to hold picnics, weddings or family reunions.
Recreation opportunities abound as well.
“It is recreation just by nature. There’s hiking, 10-acres of flat area for a track, bicycling, tennis courts, basketball court, ball field and fishing,” Matthews pointed out, adding it would be perfect for a baseball camp.
Claire Carleton, director of Haywood County Parks and Recreation, admitted she never even realized Camp Hope was available to host events.
“One of the first things that comes to my mind is we’re getting ready for senior games. I thought, ‘What a neat place to hold all our senior events with the restrooms and the pavilion to do closing ceremonies.’ We never thought about it and didn’t know how available it was, but all that has changed now,” Carleton said.
The department has targeted the Cruso community as one in need of more recreational activities.
“That facility could be huge in meeting those needs,” she said.
Promoting Camp Hope could also be a benefit to the entire county, the group agreed.
“We’re talking about recreational tourism. It’s not just about having camps but also people stopping at hotels and eating at local restaurants,” said Zeb Smathers, a member of the Canton recreation board.
In that realm, Smathers could see Camp Hope as hosting large scale events like outdoor concerts or beer and food festivals that would attract people from all over.
Keeping the property could also mean protecting vital natural resources.
In a recent letter to Canton Mayor Mike Ray, Eric Romaniszyn, executive director of Haywood Waterways, expressed the agency’s support of protecting Camp Hope.
“There are only a handful of streams in Haywood County considered to have excellent water quality and the East Fork of the Pigeon River is one of them,” he said.
Keeping the property as a camp would protect the water quality because it would ensure the land would not be developed.
The current litigation has been ongoing since 2011, with multiple court dates and even a period of time when the parties were in negotiation in an effort to avoid trial.
“We ended up farther apart at the end of negotiations than we started with,” Matthews said, although he could not discuss the exact content of those negotiations.
Al Cline, a member of the town recreation board, thinks of Camp Hope as a part of Canton's living history.
"Camp Hope has been for all of Haywood County since 1927, and if we lose control of it, it's going to be a disaster," he said.
Now, the fate of the property will be in the hands of a Haywood County jury in a trial scheduled for May 6.
The town is hosting Camp Hope Day from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, April 28, on the grounds of Camp Hope. Guests are encouraged to bring a picnic lunch and baseballs, gloves, basketballs, etc. The town will provide drinks and tables under the covered pavilion. The cast of Hillbilly Blood will be there to sign autographs and hold campfire demonstrations. Camp Hope is located at 312 Camp Hope Road, Canton.