As I hope everyone has heard by now, the Town of Milton is in the process of trying to buy Camp Boyhaven for conversion to a Town Park. Boyhaven is roughly 300 acres in the northern part of town, including a mile of both sides of the Kayaderosseras, portions of two smaller streams, and two ponds. It has been a Boy Scout Camp since 1924 and the Boy Scouts announced in April their intention to sell it. The Town was one of 10 bidders. The high bidder was a developer, but there was enough interest in having the property preserved for the Scout Council to choose the Town’s bid. We are in the process of completing the requirements for the purchase (survey, structural evaluations, etc.) and hope to close on the property within the next few months. This is our one chance to preserve this property: if we cannot pull this off, the land is likely to be developed and lost for good.
The property appraised for $1,340,000. The Town’s bid was $500,000. This would not have been competitive except for an anonymous offer to the Scout Council of an additional $500,000 donation if they sold it to the Town. We are greatly indebted to this individual whose only conditions are that the property remain open to the public, be restricted to passive recreation (no snowmobiles or 4-wheelers), and be given a name of his choice. The Town’s $500,000 will come from two restricted funds: the Open Space Fund which can only be used to purchase open space, and the Recreation Fund which can be used to purchase property and also to improve it for recreation.
It is important to note that none of this funding can be spent on other types of projects. I know that there are residents who are concerned about their water supply. I also know that Town Hall needs a variety of repairs and improvements. These and other needs are important issues that the Town Board needs to address. Unfortunately, none of them can be paid for with the restricted open space and recreation funds. This is not a choice that the Town is making. The only choice is whether or not Boyhaven is a good use for these dedicated funds or whether there are other properties and recreational needs that are more important. I believe investing in Boyhaven is good long-term planning and that the Town Board is making a wise decision to pursue this purchase.
We have had a great deal of discussion about the property with NYS DEC, which owns Middle Grove State Forest adjacent to Camp Boyhaven. DEC has provided us a letter stating their intention to purchase as much of the property as we are willing to sell them for addition to the State Forest. The Town intends to keep the central part of the property including the ponds, the restrooms and other park facilities. However we are very interested in selling some of the other land to the State. That land would remain open to the public, but it would also go back on the tax roll for the first time in almost 100 years. In addition, the State’s purchase price is based on the appraisal and not on what the Town paid for the land. Therefore it is possible that this sale could repay the Town’s funds and also provide extra money that could be used for maintenance and upkeep of the Town Park.
The Town’s steering committee for this project (John Munter, John Bartow, and I) have just concluded a series of public sessions in which we explained the project, answered questions, and got feedback including a survey that was given out at the meetings and has also been on the Town website. Approximately 50 people attended these meetings, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. The results of this input will be used in planning for the development of the Town Park. We are hoping to develop a management / usage plan for the Park in 2018 and begin using it in 2019.
The survey results show that the activities most people are interested in seeing are walking trails, wildlife habitat, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, picnic pavilions, and fishing. There was an intermediate level of interest expressed in overnight camping, horseback riding, canoeing, banquet facilities, summer camp for kids, and cabin rentals. The lowest levels of interest were for basketball, softball, and swimming. In addition, people suggested activities that were not on the survey including ice skating, mountain biking, outdoor education, a dog park, wedding and conference facilities, and a warming hut.
The items that discussion showed different opinions about included whether to sell some land to DEC and what to do with the 2 large buildings on the property. (There are numerous small buildings, most of which we have recommended demolishing.) People who spoke in favor of selling land to DEC were impressed with the financial benefits to the Town. Those who spoke against it warned that giving up control over some of the property could prevent the Town from developing recreational opportunities that might arise in the future. There were proponents of preserving the “White House” as a historic structure and those who thought the cost of doing so would be prohibitive. While most people seemed to support the idea of making the dining hall available for functions, some expressed the opinion that the Town should only do so through a private company that would pay the Town, while others thought that was not necessary. There was also a concern expressed about the cost and liability of maintaining the two dams on the property along with the desire to use the ponds for fishing.
All told, these meetings and discussions were very helpful, and the results of the survey will assist the Town Board in understanding what people are looking for in their Town Park. However, this is just the very beginning of the planning and public input that will need to happen over the next year in preparation for actually starting to use the new Park in 2019. I urge people to remain involved in the process and help the Town to realize the best possible result of obtaining this beautiful property.
The author is a former member of the Town of Milton’s Open Space Committee and current Chairman of its Planning Board.