2011-09-29 / Letters to the Editor

Seasonal campers should be heard

It is with a personal interest that I have followed the discussions regarding the future use of Fort Getty. My family and I were seasonal campers from Smithfield throughout the 1970s, until recently, when my mother decided to make her permanent home in Florida. Prior to that, we used the campground for frequent weekend camping, starting when I was 6 years old.

The sense of community we had with our fellow campers and the abundance of other large families made for some wonderful memories. We tolerated the substandard facilities, rutted roads and unsanitary bathrooms because we treasured the surroundings and beauty of Jamestown. We met many local people over the years who were kind and welcoming.

The “front row” in front of the Dutch Harbor lighthouse was strewn with picnic tables, reserved for those day picnickers, many from Connecticut, who wanted to enjoy a day on the bay. The lawn was cut weekly, and the garbage emptied daily. The campground provided summer jobs for the local young teenagers, many of whom became friends. I happened to marry one.

Although my family no longer camps there, I have a relationship with the campground that will last a lifetime. As I read the far too many articles on this subject from afar, I find it interesting that the group opposed to the campground have proceeded in a hard-hearted manner towards the campers, with an undeniable tone of entitlement and righteousness that I find offensive. There is an apparent lack of respect for the decades of camper contributions to the community, not only in revenue directly related to the seasonal rate, but also to the merchants who have come to rely on the summer income. I would suspect it is vital to their business and much valued. I am wondering about their silence on this matter.

Although I am not privy to the historical accounting, in speaking in rough financial terms, with reported estimated gross annual revenue of roughly $325,000, multiplied by the 30 or so years of revenue, you come out with a total that clearly demonstrates that the current and much overdue improvements needed at the park have been paid for by the campers many, many times over. If improvements had been budgeted for this purpose throughout the years, instead of ignored and put forth for other uses, the current bill may not have been so high. In the bigger picture, it seems insignificant given the total revenue collected.

We visit family and friends on the island frequently on our summer weekends, and we always make it a point to drive up to Beavertail and through Fort Wetherill. The town is fortunate to have three areas of public use, and I have to wonder about the actual use by Jamestown residents versus “outof towners.”

If locals were heavily using these areas and needed additional land to expand structured and non-structured outdoor leisure activities, I could see their point. But knowing many of the residents, I suspect that eliminating the current use would not significantly create steady or heavy use of the property any more than the locals use the other two parks, which leads us back to this sense of entitlement that this new group has to attempt to dictate use of the park and has me questioning their motivation.

If they are truly willing to have an open dialogue, they would have included the campers in the discussion from the beginning and not set out to create an “us versus them” mentality that has threatened the camper’s sense of peace and security in their “summer homes.”

I don’t have a stake in the outcome, but it seems to me that a collaborative, inclusive approach would have been much more effective and welcoming to the current stakeholders and would have truly embraced the sense of community that has come to define the residents, and temporary residents, of Jamestown.

Judith Oliva Sheehan

Manchester, Conn.

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