In 2005, Canton signed a five-year contract with Wellsprings Adventure Camp to run a weight loss program during the summer on a portion of the land. The company also helps maintain the entire property throughout the year. Less than a year later, the town agreed to a two-year contract extension after Wellsprings expressed a desire to build four more cabins on the property. The company said it would not be financially feasible for it to add the additional housing without a longer commitment from the town. Since 2005, Wellsprings has invested more than $450,000 in repair, maintenance and capital expenditures for Camp Hope.
“They have invested substantial funds in the upkeep,” said Burton Smith, attorney for the town of Canton.
The camp, however, caters mostly to out-of-state residents, which runs contrary to the deed’s terms, the Prelazs have argued.
The town is in “flagrant violation” of the deed and has done nothing to ensure that mostly area residents use the property, said Mark Kurdy, the Prelazs’ attorney. If the Prelazs are awarded ownership of the property, it would go from public to private land.
Canton officials have countered that area residents use the land throughout the year for weddings, church gatherings, boy scouts and other activities. Wellsprings’ limited use of the Camp Hope property does not violate the deed, the town said.
“The property is available for use by citizens, residents and others,” Smith said. “(The camp) covers a small part of the property.”
The town has received more than $40,000 in rent from Wellsprings since 2005, according to the complaint. In addition to the property rights, the Prelazs have asked the town to pay them the amount of the rent.
Canton, however, is arguing that too much time has passed for the couple to make a claim to any of the rent money.
The paper company Champion International owned Camp Hope until 1992 when it signed a special deed with the YMCA. The YMCA purchased the land for $10 but ran into financial difficulties and could not fulfill the terms of the deed, which were the same as those for the town of Canton. Since the organization could not adequately comply with the deed, ownership reverted back to Champion International.
“They basically just gave up the property,” Kurdy said.
Champion signed a similar deed with Canton, but the reversion rights now belong to the Prelazs. The Prelazs’ contacted Canton in 2005 before the camp was there, Kurdy said. They only filed suit once it became “overwhelmingly clear” that the town was going to continue to rent the property to Wellsprings, Kurdy said.
Despite the lawsuit, the weight loss camp will continue to operate this summer.
In an affidavit, John Prelaz stated that the couple owns an 11.19-acre plot adjacent to Camp Hope. He and his wife frequently hike, fish and walk their dog at Camp Hope and have helped maintain the property, according to the affidavit.
John complained that in one instance, he was told to leave the property and claimed that Wellsprings posted “No Trespassing” signs despite it being publically owned property.
However, Wellsprings has asserted that it never posted the signs nor did it enforce any sort of “no trespassing” policy, according to a separate statement by Jessica Dean, regional director of Wellsprings. Dean said that camp officials assumed that the Prelazs had put up the signs.