Camp Hickory Hill puts land up for sale

Sunday, November 8, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST
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Camp Hickory Hill, a summer camp for children with diabetes, is closing and selling its 77-acre land plot. The camp cites financial troubles for its closing.

COLUMBIA — Camp Hickory Hill, a summer camp located five miles north of Columbia that provides education and support for youths living with diabetes, has put its land up for sale.

Don Stamper, a local real estate agent, is advising the camp's board of directors on the sale.

Stamper said the camp sits on 77 acres and has a "significant cave," which he said is one of the "most unique" features of the property. The value of the land is still being assessed, he said.

Kathryn DiFoxfire, chairwoman of Columbia's Chouteau Grotto, a local caving group, said the Camp Hickory Hill land is home to Holton Cave, which was among the first five caves documented in Boone County. DiFoxfire also said the cave is home to an endangered gray bat population in the summer.

DiFoxfire expressed concern about the endangered bat species and said she hopes that whoever buys the property will manage the cave properly.

Stamper said the land has potential for recreational use and that he expects the land will continue being used similar to the way it is now.

Stamper said he has received calls from potential buyers expressing an interest but that he will conduct more research before moving further.

"It was gorgeous," Stamper said of the land after he took a preliminary tour. He also said he plans to take an extended tour.

While there is no money owed on the land itself, the camp has had trouble staying out of debt since Ronald James, a physician who founded the camp, died in 2006.

Michael Trendle, president of the camp’s board of directors, said for the majority of its history, the camp was almost single-handedly managed by James.

“The camp was his true passion,” Trendle said.

When James died, Trendle said, “The huge amount of energy went away quickly.”

Since then, Camp Hickory Hill has hired staff members to perform maintenance on the facilities and to organize volunteers, which has cost extra money.

Also, the local United Way, a nonprofit organization that operates to support community programs, decided it would no longer help fund the camp, Trendle said. In 2007, United Way gave the camp almost $24,000 but decided they would not donate money in 2009, he said.

In an attempt to generate revenue, the camp opened the land to outside groups for a fee since the diabetes camp only lasts three weeks of every year. Despite fundraising efforts, the board thought its only option to generate enough money to keep the camp open would be to hire a professional fundraiser, Trendle said.

But the camp would have to go into debt to pay for a fundraiser, Trendle said, and the board was wary that a professional fundraiser might not raise enough money to keep the camp open, and the cost of hire would be a waste of assets.

If the property is sold, Trendle said, the board wants any money it makes on the sale of the land to go toward diabetes education, to keep in line with Camp Hickory Hill’s mission.

Trendle said the board is considering opening a scholarship fund in James’ honor to send local youth to other camps that provide diabetic education, sending money to support a diabetes camp in the Republic of Georgia, or spending the money on educating school nurses about young people with diabetes.

Trendle said that although the property is up for sale, the board doesn't have to sell it.

“If anyone in the community has a proposal that might save the camp, we’re all ears,” he said.



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