Don’t expect city council members to gather around a campfire to sing Kumbaya anytime soon with the future of Beavermead Campground in Peterborough, Ontario.

The city-owned campground divided the council Monday night (Jan. 30), the Peterborough Examiner reported

The council endorsed the city continuing to operate the 98-site campground next to Beavermead Park this season, but stopped short of giving an open-ended endorsement of the service.

It voted 6-4 against removing the year 2012 from council’s direction. Councillors Henry Clarke, Keith Riel, Lesley Parnell and Dean Pappas had argued that council should support operating the campground beyond this year.

A few councillors expressed doubt about whether the city should be in the camping business.

  • Dan McWilliams told council that he wasn’t comfortable with an open-ended endorsement of continuing the campground with the potential costs for improvements looming in the future. “It doesn’t serve the community at large,” he said. “I don’t think we should be in the camping business.”
  • Bill Juby questioned the long-range potential of the campground, citing the 22 percent occupancy rate last season. “I’m not sure we should be in the camping business… We made 200 bucks last year and we’re going to spend $100,000 to improve it,” Juby said.

There’s $100,000 in the city’s 2012 capital budget for improvements at the campground.

A cost-benefit analysis of the campground recommended a new gatehouse and a new washroom, which could cost the city about $1.5 million, according to a preliminary estimate.

After running deficits that ranged between about $19,000 and $41,000 between 2008 and 2010, the campground basically broke even last season with a profit of less than $200.

The greater benefit of the campground, consultants found, is the spending by campers in the city.

Based on the results from surveys, consultants estimated that campers spent $208,000 in the community last year. If occupancy grew to 33 percent, spending in the community would climb to $265,435. At 40 percent occupancy, economic spinoff would reach $321,739. Campers would spend an estimated $402,174 in the community at 50% occupancy.

Councillor Bob Hall challenged the findings of the cost-benefit analysis, calling it “probably the softest document” he has ever seen. Hall argued that only campers and people who support the campground took part in the public consultations and filled out the surveys.

Riel called for the city to spend money to improve the property to attract more people to the campground.

Parnell pointed out that the city spent $500 on advertising for the campground last year and argued that it could attract more campers with more advertising.

“Commit to camping because it is a unique feature to the quality of life in Peterborough” she said.

Councillor Andrew Beamer supported operating the campground this year, but argued that the city should begin looking at turning the campground back into park land.

“This investment is not producing the biggest bang for the buck for taxpayers…. I think we have more pressing needs” he said. “It’s still going to be a beautiful piece of property that the entire community can use.”