NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Historic Valley Campground is going to need some infrastructure investment in the near future.
The 50-year-old municipal camping site has had some upgrades in recent years but the next phase could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Administrative Officer Michael Canales informed the Windsor Lake Recreation Commission on Monday.
"We need to make some investments up there, specifically around drainage and electricity," he said.
The commissioners had been debating the advisability of raising rates for the next season, but Campground Manager Wendy Sherman didn't think that was a necessity at this point.
"There's nothing really different has changed," she said. "Why should there be an increase?"
The campground had raised rates several years ago in part to underwrite upgrades in the sewer, bathrooms and wireless signals. The discussion at that time — during the Alcombright administration — had been about tying any rate increases to fund repairs, renovations and upgrades at the Windsor Lake complex.
"I haven't really discussed it with this mayor that much, but before we had come before the commission, saying that we wanted to tie in the rate increases into improvements at the lake," Canales said. "So that if we were to decide to invest in X, that we would adjust the rates in order to cover that investment."
Park was opened in 1970 after the city purchased the land from what was then the North Adams YMCA for $25,000. Another $150,000, half supplied by the state and federal governments, was spent preparing the 100-site camp to open. It was the only municipally owned campground at the time.
However, it was built largely for tents and pop-ups — not for the larger trailer campers now in use that also demand more electricity. And no major upgrades have been done since.
Most of the sewer connections have been completed but more work needs to be done. Along with the electrical upgrade, the city also needs to deal with the wells on the site that supply the water, Canales said.
"We're talking, you know, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars … the electric work alone, we've sort of thought would be between $300,000 and $400,000 in and of itself," he said. "So once we commit to making this next step, we're committing to keeping a campground running because the campground's going to have to cover the cost of the borrowing, which would be substantial."
That would also mean tying any maintenance issues at the public beach in as well because the campground is the main source of revenue.
Sherman said the campground has been booked solid all summer and through the upcoming Fresh Grass Festival and Columbus Day weekends.
"If these upgrades are made, I can fill it," she said. "I myself, because I love the campground so much, that first loop I would always want to leave as is because you have the weekend campers — People that really love that real true camping."
The commissioner agreed that some reconfiguration would be required to accommodate modern campers but not so much that it would become an RV park. Sherman said there are some spots for the "big rigs" but the most of the sites would take the smaller models.
"But I mean, you have a lot of people coming off the road or who live like that," she said, and are expecting to be able to power all the electronics in their vehicles.
"It's getting to that point that the whole system needs to be upgraded," said Canales. "It's something we need to start really exploring those costs."
If the design and cost estimates could be lined up over the next year, the anticipation is the work could be done the following winter. That would include tying the campground into the city's water system if work is going to be done on drainage.
The wells are regularly tested but if for some reason they were not certified, the campground couldn't open, Canales said.
"Once we get the numbers back or whatever the cost is, is then we look at where the rates would have to go to," he said. "And then is it feasible for the rates to go to that amount? Or are we going to drive away, so say you lose half your customers because it's too high, or now we're not taking enough to cover the cost of the borrowing that would be needed in order to make these improvements."
Acting Chairwoman Jenny Dunning said the city would have to take the lead on this.
"I'm just reflecting what I'm hearing that really, we're not in a place to raise the rates yet ... if the rates are going to be tied to improvements," she said. "But what we can do now is make that commitment to the longevity of the campground and to making these upgrades."
In other business, the committee also discussed updating regulations to cover issues such as dogs and golf carts. Canales recommended that they look at what other campgrounds have done before getting into too many details. Commissioner Susan Chilson suggested they consider icons or images to relay pertinent information because it seems less negative than lists of "no" and many people don't read signage.
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