(LINTON) - Members of the Linton Saddle Club are questioning why the city council decided not to renew its lease for a campground this year -- something that the club has been done annually since 1999.
Nick Schneider of the Greene County Daily World reports that Club President Paula Buskirk says the previous lease agreements started with the city council when the late Jimmie K. Wright was mayor. They continued with the administrations of Tom and Patti Jones.
The city has owned the land since the 1930s.
In 2012, when Mayor John Wilkes took office the $1-a-year lease agreement was again signed allowing the club to continue using the public grounds for its activities.
At the time, Mayor Wilkes acknowledged that the 18-acre site, located north of the city-owned Sunset Park property, was beautiful and well-suited for riding. However, he wanted the club to work on promotions and activities that would increase utilization.
He also expressed concern that a planned construction of a horse arena where equine events could hosted had not been done.
"They wanted us to do an arena on the front part which we have been trying to get going, but it would take us a lot of fill dirt. There is a hole there on the one side," she said. "It has been hard to get the fill dirt in and it was going to raise our insurance."
This year, the lease was not renewed.
Club members can still use the property for camping, but the cost has been drastically increased.
Previously, club members paid $5 a night that covered the cost of electricity used.
The fee is now $18 a night for members or $200 per person per month.
Buskirk said the Saddle Club members feel a little bewildered about the council's move because so much work has been done on the grounds.
The site is a reclaimed strip mined land that was cleared, a road was built, water and electricity was installed ---- all at no cost of the city.
Over the years, the club has maintained the campground, mowed it, cleaned it and did whatever was necessary ---- again at no cost to the city, according to Buskirk.
"It was nothing but stripper hills, trees and brush," she said. "We went in with volunteers and it took us a couple of years to get it looking like it does now."
She said a variety of events have been conducted by the club, including yard sales, Easter Egg hunts, Halloween parties and hog roasts all of which were open to the public.
"For the city to come and just take it from us is not right. The Saddle Club put thousands of dollars into it," Buskirk stated. "It really sucks. We have no recourse at this time."
Mayor Wilkes defended the council's action by saying, "They (the council) really wants to utilize it a much as we can...They (the Saddle Club members) can still use it for camping and riding, just like always."
He did acknowledge that access to the grounds has been limited with a chain that has a combination lock on it.
Club members have been given the combination to the lock, so access is still available, Wilkes stressed.
Buskirk said she has distributed the combination numbers to members.
A year ago, Wilkes mentioned to club members that he'd like to see work progress on a planned arena to host shows and horse events on the grounds. It's something the club has talked about for a number of years.
Buskirk said the arena plan has not moved as fast as the club would have liked.
"They (the council) said last year that we're not utilizing it, making money and that wasn't the purpose of the campground. It was for the Saddle Club members to camp and ride," Buskirk said. "There was a lot of people that didn't actually have horses. They were members and enjoyed the camping."
Wilkes said officials are in the process of developing a master park plan for the 580 acres of land that is owned by the city and improvements to the Saddle Club grounds are in the plan.
Wilkes said he didn't want to talk about the master plan in detail until it is complete, but he noted, "We'd like to utilize it (the campgrounds) more."
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