CORTLANDVILLE — With enrollment in the Lime Hollow Nature Center’s summer camp program on the rise, the environmental center is hoping to once again upgrade and renovate part of the facility with help from the community.
Preliminary site plans have been received by the town and sent to the county for review, following the regular meeting Tuesday evening of the town Planning Board.
Lime Hollow Executive Director Glenn Reisweber attended Tuesday’s meeting where he talked about the need to upgrade Camp McLean, the staff housing, picnic pavilion, outdoor stoves and old farmhouse next to the Visitor’s Center off McLean Road.
Upgrades would include adding three bathrooms and three showers to staff housing along with new filtration and septic systems. A new kitchen and preparation area would also be built off an extension planned for the pavilion space.
Reisweber said improvements are not merely aesthetic. In addition to much-needed renovations to infrastructure, the upgrades are primarily intended to keep up with the 252 percent increase in enrollment the camp has seen since 2006.
The nature center tracks enrollment by counting how many children spend time at the camp each week over the course of the summer. For example, if one child spent five weeks at summer camp, that would be counted as five so-called “camping opportunities.”
Reisweber said Lime Hollow provided a total of 314 camping opportunities in 2006. Last year, there were 1,104.
So that means changes had to be made to accommodate the increased number of campers and staff, which Reisweber noted was also another positive change for the nature center.
“We have become a small business — we used to have no business,” he said. “In the summer we have 25 to 30 people on the summer staff, so in terms of an economic driver and an employment driver, that’s a big seasonal boost in the work force.”
More importantly, though, is creating an environment where new and returning campers can come to learn and interact with nature and the outdoors.
“We are bucking that big trend in a big way as a summer camp,” he said. “We have more kids than ever before spending more time outside than we’ve ever seen.”
Lime Hollow’s operation was expanded in 2015 with the completion of Camp Gustafson, the $1 million project which upgraded four existing structures and created an amphitheater and the Environmental Education Center classroom building. More than 200 donors and volunteers helped to complete that project.
Reisweber said Thursday that much like the Camp Gustafson project, progress on the new project would be largely contingent on community support.
He added he and his staff are in the middle of calculating costs, and while he would like to see the improvements gradually phased in over the next two years, he’s willing to wait as long as it takes.
“We have to raise money to keep the doors open, so I’ve got to balance the numbers,” he said. “We’re not going into the deficit spending model on this — this may be a long-phased operation because I’m coming off a major capital campaign. I don’t intend to operate in the red.”
So while there is no cost estimate or slated date of completion for the small, but significant improvements Lime Hollow wants to make, Reisweber said the wait would be worthwhile if it keeps campers coming back.
“We’re going to make it a little better for the kids,” he said, “Because we can and we want to do better for the kids.”
Hunter Barlow, 9, of Caroline has been attending camp at Lime Hollow since he was about 4 years old, his mother, Laura Barlow, said this morning.
“He loves nature,” his mother said. “He loves being outside. They teach about environmental issues. They also have themes for each week. Even though they are fun, they have an educational component to them. During the time he has been there, it (the camp) has grown exponentially.”
Town Supervisor Richard Tupper also praised the Lime Hollow summer camp.
“They do an excellent job,” Tupper said. “I haven’t heard a negative word about their program. It is a huge, huge program. It’s fantastic.”
He said the town for the past three years has contributed $3,000 or $4,000 to sponsor children to attend the camp and the children have loved it.