Fate of Camp Sussex still undetermined

Future uncertain for the 88 acre camp with a well-known past

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  • Photos by Leigh Tenore The future of 88 acre Camp Sussex, located on state route 565, which now sits abandoned is of much discussion locally.

Camp Sussex on state route 565 was originally founded as a camp for city youth, but since 2005, the 88 acre parcel has been left to the elements and currently sits abandoned.

Options for what to do with the area are few, but one proposal put forth is to utilize the Vernon Township Open Space Funds to purchase and reinvent the campground into an open recreational area and park to reintroduce the American Chestnut back into the Vernon highlands.

Much debate has been sparked over whether or not the tax payer funded Open Space Fund should be used to reinvent the area or if those funds would be better suited for the completion of the Greenway Corridor, a four season pathway stretching from Warwick to Hardyston.

Impacts of abandoned buildings
Proponents of the park cite concerns over vandalism, health and safety issues, fire hazards and alleged drug use in the abandoned buildings.

“I can see the value of this property,” said Jessie Paladini, Secretary for the Vernon Environmental Commission and President of the Vernon Historical Society, “I was here about 15 years ago and it was bustling with children and it is unbelievable to see what has happened here. Left the way it is, it is a danger to our community.”

“There is so much potential,” says Beverly Budz, President of the Vernon Environmental Commission, “But, we are just two miles from the Vernon High School and it’s a ready made playground for bad behavior. It gives the youth an unsupervised place to go and engage in mischievous and sometimes dangerous behavior.”

Budz is a project supporter and is credited with presenting the proposed park to the Vernon Town Council.

“We would be preserving Camp Sussex for Vernon to give it back to the people,” says Budz, “We have a grant of $354,000 to plant new trees to reforest Vernon and we have numerous groups and people that want to donate time and resources, they want to help. It would in no way deplete the Open Space Fund.”

Concerns of environmental impact

Still, some members of the community are not convinced and have expressed their concerns about the environmental impact and costs of demolition and development of the property, which they say could deplete the fund.

Opponents argue that the drug abuse accusations are unfounded and in need of further investigation. Furthermore, they argue that much more information is required before purchasing the property — in particular how much acquisition, demolition, development and maintenance will cost and how much of the Open Space Fund will be used.

“We were told that only half of the Open Space Fund would be used for acquisition, development and maintenance. Development is a broad term, which could take all the funds,” says Sally Rinker, President of the Vernon Tax Payers Association and former Mayor of Vernon.

Rinker sits on the Petition Committee to stop the purchase.

“They want us to believe that Camp Sussex is the epicenter of drug use, it is very disturbing and almost like a scare tactic. It is an exploitation of a serious issue,” said Rinker. “We have been given no information, no solid plan and no estimate. We believe there are environmental issues such as oil tanks, septic tanks and lead paint to be removed. We have concerns with the condition of the lake that borders a private community. There are lots of questions and not too many answers.”

Petition to stop purchase

To that end, a petition is being circulated to enact an ordinance to stop the purchase of the property and put any Open Space Fund purchases to a ballot vote. In order to pass, the petition must have 10 percent of voters who cast a ballot in the last election. Should it be adopted by the council, the purchase would be halted, if not, it would then go to the voters on the November ballot.

“You never hear from the silent majority until it goes to the ballot,” said Rinker. “We’d rather put it in the hands of people whose money it belongs to.”

While the discussion lingers, the fate of Camp Sussex remains unclear.

During the June 9 Town Council meeting, Town Council President, Brian Lynch went on the record as saying, “The Township does not have an ordinance to purchase Camp Sussex. The Council gave direction to the Mayor to begin negotiations. I think it’s in the best interest to wait for the information the Council has asked for before a decision is made.”

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