Saga continues in battle for Camp Hope

By DeeAnna Haney | Jan 30, 2013

As the saga continues in Canton’s battle to keep the historic Camp Hope property, the tenant renting part of the land has now backed out.

Wellspring Adventure Camp, a private weight loss camp, has been using 10 acres, or about one-tenth, of the sprawling Camp Hope property since 2005 during the summer months.

Wellspring recently told the town they would not be renewing their contract to lease the property when it expires April 1, which will leave the town responsible for the upkeep of the grounds.

A pending lawsuit against the town over how Camp Hope is being used was the reason for Wellspring’s decision to pull out, said Town Manager Al Matthews.

“The reason they gave us is because of the uncertainty surrounding the litigation,” he said. “We were in the process of drafting a new multi-year contract (with Wellspring), but held off pending the outcome of court proceedings.”

That new contract would have cost Wellspring $1,000 each month rather than the $700 per month they have paid for the past seven years.

During that time, Wellspring has spent about $500,000 on improvements to the property retrofitting the cabins, re-roofing the pavilion, adding equipment and much more.

“They couldn’t continue to invest additional funds with the chance that they could lose their investment,” Matthews said.

They were also responsible for the maintenance of the grounds. But when Wellsprings leaves, the town will be forced to take over that responsibility, which includes mowing, trash removal, paying the electric bill and overall upkeep of the property.

The town has posted a notice on the front gate leading to the area Wellsprings rented that explains the gate is locked but the property is still available for public use.

While Wellspring was in charge of scheduling public use of the property, now the town is taking that over, too.

Matthews said there have already been several people asking to use the property for events such as weddings, staff picnics and family reunions.

They are keeping a schedule of those requests at the town hall, but Matthews said because of the uncertainty of the court case, it cannot be guaranteed that the property will be available.

"We do tell people that everything is subject to court ruling and we can't guarantee that if they want to have a wedding on Camp Hope property that it will be avaialable at that time," Matthews said.

Fishing and other recreational activities are open to the public and there isn't a requirement to schedule with the town.

Ongoing lawsuit

The pending litigation involves an Asheville couple, John and Deborah Prelaz, who purchased an 18-acre tract of land adjacent to the property in 2006. When they bought that property, they also acquired reverter rights for Camp Hope, meaning if the property deeded to the town was not being used correctly, ownership would revert to the Prelaz’s.

In 2011, the couple requested a quitclaim title and rights to Camp Hope from the town based on the claim that the property is not being used properly as intended when it was gifted. The original deed stated “the town will not operate on the property a summer camp primarily for the benefit of residents of other areas and states.”

The plaintiff alleges the town has violated the deed by allowing out-of-town children attend the camp.

The town argues that although Wellspring has received primary use of the property from May to September, it’s always open to the public, and that’s how town officials want to see it remain.

The Prelaz’s were denied their motion for summary judgment in June 2012. Despite a months long attempt to come to an agreement outside the courtroom, the town recently filed for summary judgment, which will take place at a hearing in Jackson County on April 8. If summary judgment is denied, the case could go to trial by April 29.