Council axes 15 sites at Fort Getty campground
Risking what Councilwoman Mary Meagher called “Fort Getty fatigue,” the Town Council held a meandering four-hour meeting Monday that resulted in a vote to eliminate 15 seasonal RV campsites in the park’s campground.
The sites, which lie along Fort Getty Road, will be relocated to an area in the center of the campground previously reserved for transient RV campers.
The council also voted to limit to 26 the number of seasonal sites for boat storage, with the additional restriction that only boats owned by seasonal campers or Jamestown residents could be included in that number.
An increase in seasonal fees for both camping and boat sites is all but certain, but the council did not vote on a new fee structure Monday. Instead, it directed the town’s staff to calculate the impact on revenue from site reductions, devise new fees and report back at the council’s Dec. 17 meeting when it will likely vote to set those charges.
The council also directed the staff to study the possibility of dividing the current five-month camping season into two or more sessions, and of ending the season around Labor Day, instead of October.
The special meeting was billed as an attempt to make “short-term” amendments to a decision made in August by the previous council, to remove and relocate 16 campsites from the northern end of the campground. The immediacy of Monday’s meeting was driven by this month’s deadline for mailing renewal notices and applications to campers for next summer’s season.
The meeting itself was anything but short, as it began with an overview by Town Planner Lisa Bryer of the campground’s master planning process, which began nearly a decade ago.
William Piva, director of the Recreation Department, then gave a report explaining that the campground complex brought in more than $444,000 to the town’s coffers in 2012. He said the bulk of it – nearly $323,000 – came from seasonal RV campers, who paid $3,700 each to camp from late May through early October. Another roughly $60,000 was contributed by transient RV campers, who paid $40 per night and stayed only a handful of days at a time. Other revenue came from tent campers, seasonal boat storage, day use by visitors, and pavilion rentals.
Piva reported total operating costs of just more than $134,000, which gave the town a net income of roughly $315,000 for 2012. The money, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser pointed out, went into the town’s general fund to pay for all aspects of government.
Piva said in 2012 there were 86 seasonal campers, of whom only three were from Jamestown, 36 from Rhode Island, and the remainder from out of state. Of 31 seasonal boat-storage sites, only one belonged to a Jamestown resident.
Keiser followed with a review of issues that had come up over the previous three years of discussion and planning regarding the campground. Much of that, he said, focused on altering the layout to correct the “overall impression to visitors to Fort Getty of a hodgepodge of trailers arranged in positions that look unmanaged.”
Meagher began a presentation by noting that, although “there’s lots of Fort Getty fatigue out there,” there is a need for both a short-term plan for 2013 and a long-range plan beyond next season.
The short-term plan, she said, is to address traffic congestion, parking, campground layout and management.
A week earlier, Meagher presented a plan that called for as many as three dozen RV sites to be eliminated from the current total of 105 seasonal and transient sites. On Monday, she said her overall aim was a reduction of “about 25,” beginning with the 15 sites along Fort Getty Road on the easternmost side of the campground. She said the rest of the reduction might occur from “attrition,” especially if the seasonal fees are increased. She had previously proposed a seasonal RV camping fee of $4,500.
Despite the importance to the town of the revenue generated at the campground, Meagher said she believes “there is a sense in the community that Fort Getty does not have to be a cash cow.” Council member Eugene Mihaly concurred, saying the most important issue should be “the public use of the park.” He added, “We are not in the business of running a business.”
Councilor Blake Dickinson lamented that, despite an abundance of planning and reports over the years on the campground, little had actually been implemented. He confessed to being “a little ashamed” at the town’s lack of action, especially on issues he said should be obvious.
As a start, Dickinson declared, “Fix the restrooms.” He further urged that, in addition to continuing to plan, the council should set some implementation goals.
Council President Kristine Trocki raised the possibility of dividing the current single camping season into as many as three seasons of six weeks each as a means of opening the campground to more people and possibly generating more revenue. But Mihaly doubted the plan, at least in the short term. “I’m not sure we have the time to do that for 2013,” he said. “That’s going to rattle the hell out of people.”
In the public comment segment of the meeting, George Levesque, a former candidate for Town Council, advocated an even larger reduction in the number of campsites than Meagher’s proposed 25. “I was thinking 70,” said Levesque.
He said he also doubted the effi cacy of Meagher’s suggestion to increase the size of some of the smaller campsites in the current transient area. “Nature abhors a vacuum,” he said. “They’ll just buy bigger trailers. That’s what’s happened. They used to have small trailers. Now they have monster homes.”
Several residents suggested shortening the camping season, ending it by Labor Day to leave noncamping visitors access to the whole of the area while the weather remains relatively warm.
Jemma Craig, who owns the 44- acre Fox Hill Farm located near the entrance to the campground, called the Fort Getty peninsula a “marvelous piece of land.” She urged the council to be “better stewards and champions” for the property.
She claimed the presence of campers discourages people from visiting the area in the summer, and she said she hopes that changes can be made to create “a truly democratic landscape.” In its current state, she said, “[Fort Getty] is not equal for everyone. There are some very lucky families there.”