Portage Park District puts Camp Spelman up for sale, but no development allowed

The 58-acre Camp Spelman in Franklin Township is for sale. Image via Google Maps

The Portage Park District Board of Commissioners is looking for a buyer for the 58-acre Camp Spelman property in Franklin Township because of liability and cost issues related to its dam.

The board is selling Camp Spelman, located on Ferguson Road, as is, including the lake and dam, which are nearly 70 years old. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources classified the dam as Class I in 2019. Lake management has been complicated by split ownership of the dam and spillways with one of the five neighboring residences that share lakefront property.

Regardless of who purchases Camp Spelman, the Park District is ensuring the property cannot be developed by placing a permanent conservation easement on it, although low-impact recreation will be permitted.

“This is an unprecedented and unique situation and the decision to offer the property was not made lightly,” Executive Director Christine Craycroft said in a statement. “We felt that the liability and continued investment in the dam was not a prudent use of public funds, but at the same time we wanted to be respectful of community members or other public agencies who may want to take on that responsibility for various reasons.”

The Park District acquired the property in 2005 from Carrie Martin, whose family owned it for decades and made it available for use by civic groups and area churches for camping and picnicking. The Park District has since offered use of Camp Spelman to community groups by reservation at no charge, although demand has waned over the years.

The board will consider all bids to purchase Camp Spelman, including the lake and dam, and will award the “highest and best” bid, with land management and other non-financial factors receiving top consideration. If the board receives no acceptable bids, the dam will be removed and the area will be restored to wetlands.

Interested parties can find information on the property and how to submit a sealed bid by Sept. 2 at portageparkdistrict.org.

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Tom Hardesty is a Portager sports columnist. He was formerly assistant sports editor at the Record-Courier and author of the book Glimpses of Heaven.