(Reggie Beehner)

By Marty Finley

For some Richmond residents, the Camp Catalpa park lying along the perimeter of Lake Reba is a special place. The 15-acre city-owned property is a forested area and home to a recognized bird sanctuary. Eastern students can enjoy a game of disc golf at the new disc golf course, which consists of throwing Frisbees into targets arranged with holes like a traditional golf course, or just hang out on a warm day.

However, a proposal passed earlier this month by the Richmond City Commission approved the leasing of land at Camp Catalpa to a private company, Lakeview RV Park LLC, to design and construct a recreational vehicle park on the property. In addition, the private company will run the park under the regulations set for RV parks by the state government, said Michael Eaves, a Richmond-based attorney and registered agent for Lakeview.

City Manager David Evans said the RV park would be a fully functional asset to travelers, as well as an asset to the city as a whole.

But the proposed park is not without its detractors.

The most vocal has been a group known as “Save Camp Catalpa”, created by Beverly Wickersham and his wife, Edna Wickersham. The couple, along with their son and his fiancé, have been leading what Edna calls a “grassroots” effort to spread the word to Richmond residents and students through yard signs, media attention, posters, buttons, t-shirts and personal interaction.

“Public outcry can sometimes turn this thing around,” Edna Wickersham said.

The Wickershams have lived in the Camp Catalpa loop for years and said they are concerned about the effect it will have on the area as trees will have to be removed and animal habitats-particularly the bird habitat within the sanctuary-could be endangered by the creation of the park.

“We just feel it’s a terrible misuse of the area,” Edna Wickersham said.

The group also said it is counterproductive to remove vegetation and trees when the city is trying to receive approval to become a Tree City, USA, a recognition given by the Arbor Day Foundation to cities that embody good “urban and community forestry programs” within their city, according to the foundation’s Web site. The city applied for the recognition in 2007.

Evans countered by saying the park would not affect the approval of the city for the recognition. The Tree Advisory Board works closely with the city commission to ensure a certain amount of the city’s budget funds arbor and tree projects, Evans said. The title of Tree City is awarded based on how many trees are planted; an activity the Tree Advisory Board also oversees, Evans said.

Evans said the city would not strip the area, but would try to preserve as many trees and wooded areas within the park as possible.

“Save Camp Catalpa” also has posters claiming the park will house over 100 spaces for RVs, but Evans said the number would not be determined until the development plan is presented and the commission approves it.

The disc golf course, which was constructed by the Madison County Disc Golf Club and funded by Richmond Parks and Recreation, will be relocated from its current area because of the construction. Evans said they are looking for a new location right now.

And “Save Camp Catalpa” has hired an attorney to review the documents pertaining to Camp Catalpa and the lease for the RV park.

Bruce Simpson, a Lexington-based attorney representing the “Save Camp Catalpa” group, said he has been working on the case for about two weeks and is studying the records he obtained from the city earlier this week through an open records request. He said the case is “unorthodox” because most cities usually hold public hearings for debate when issues of public land are discussed. But, he said, the residents in Richmond have to give their opinions after the lease has already been signed.

The city commission introduced Tuesday a request for approval of a zone change at Camp Catalpa by the Planning and Zoning Commission. Eaves argued Camp Catalpa is not in compliance under the current zone and should be rezoned to match the city’s regulations.

“Arguably, the city doesn’t have to comply with [its] own regulations, but it is our desire to do so,” Eaves said.

But some members of the commission voiced concerns that the Planning and Zoning Commission would be looked at as a scapegoat for the city commission because the zone change would come after the decision was made to build the park.

Eaves said it was not the function of the Planning and Zoning Commission to approve the park, but rather to address the zoning issue.

The commission was in agreement that it must decide whether an RV park would be appropriate in any area in the city under the new zone, not just the park at Camp Catalpa.

The commission said it would revisit the issue at its regular meeting on Wednesday and possibly present its recommendation to the city commission.

The city commission will still need to pass the zone change if the Planning and Zoning Commission gives approval.

Lakeview RV Park LLC will also present a development plan to the Planning and Zoning Commission for approval Wednesday.

Simpson addressed the commission as well and said he would present his findings and the group’s arguments at the Wednesday meeting.

“We will be heard,” he said.