County park commissioners approve grant application for Camp Spelman

Ally Melling

Portage Park District Board of Commissioners decided yesterday to give Franklin Township’s inactive Camp Spelman a chance to once again have a day in the sun.

Park District Commissioners Allan Orashan, Gary Cross and Jim Tucker green-lighted applications for two federal grants that, if accepted, would be used to improve, reopen and maintain the 58-acre property.

Portage Park District Director Christine Craycroft presented the commissioners and concerned citizens with details of the grants, one of which was the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Administered by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the grant caps at $50,000 but requires a local match of 50 percent of what is asked.

“There are no set figures yet, but the Portage Park District Board of Commissioners gave me discretion up to $10,000 of local match,” Craycroft said. “I’m hopeful we can get estimates and a local match by the application deadline this Thursday.”

The camp contains 10 acres of lake, 40 acres of wood and wetland and two main areas containing picnic pavilions and restrooms.

Though there were no set figures, Craycroft gave rough cost-estimates of potential projects that would help rejuvenate the camp.

To improve the water system and meet government regulations, Craycroft presented the need for a pressure tank and submersible pump. The camp’s existing restrooms would also be replaced, preferably with a four-stall restroom and vault system.

“It should be improved enough to be up to par with a public park, which means handicap accessibility for restrooms,” Craycroft said. “We would also be a great asset if we could link the camp with Franklin Park by creating a new hiking trail.”

A lack of funding forced the park district to keep the camp closed since it was privately donated to the district two years ago.

Camp Spelman’s former volunteer caretaker, Ray Aeschliman, said that its closure has not stopped people from going on the property to do anything from hunting to playing paintball. He recalled incidents of trespassing and vandalism where he found benches thrown into the lake or set on fire.

“I must have replaced 10 locks on the front gate,” Aeschliman said. “One time I caught a couple young men in the act, breaking in with lock cutters. They threatened me with the lock cutters. When the sheriff came, he treated me like I was a crazy person and was nice to them. That’s when I quit, even though I wasn’t getting paid.”

Craycroft suggested cutting down on maintenance costs by developing a limited-use plan for the camp, mainly “scout groups, church groups and other organized and institutional groups.”

“We would not allow public swimming or boating from park property only because of the liability issue,” Craycroft said. “We do plan to fix up the dock and offer fishing. We’ll have to develop a lake-management plan as well.”

For now, however, the fate of Camp Spelman depends on the possibility of funding.

“You have to raise money to get grant money,” said Cross. “We have gathered a lot of land over the last few years, but have no money to maintain or open it up. If we get the funding, the grant money will be directed at the things we’ve looked at.”

Contact public affairs reporter Ally Melling at [email protected].