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Winter damage closes Camp Happy Valley

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hundreds of kids will have to find another camp or stay home this summer after local Salvation Army leaders announced they won't be opening Camp Happy Valley this year.

In addition, several dozen counselors and other camp employees will be out of a job for the eight-week session, which was to start in June.

Maj. Owen Gilliam, the acting Salvation Army area commander, blamed the closure on a lack of funds to fix a number of maintenance issues at the 167-acre site in Teays Valley.

"It's several years where we haven't had the money -- donations down, economy down," Gilliam said in a phone interview from the campgrounds Wednesday.

"Then you have trees down and water lines breaking ... one water line broken cost $15,000," he said.

"When you have no money -- rope training for a rope course costs $15,000 to $20,000. When we were kids, we had no rope training. Now you have government regulations.

"Our salaries are $91,000 -- 32 employees for an eight-week period," Gilliam said. "We need $200,000 right now to open this camp and we don't have it."

Of that, $80,000 is needed for repairs, some of which date back more than a year, he said.

"Storm damage, pipes froze. The swimming pool [bathhouse] has pipes up along the wall, not in the ground. Gas lines -- leaks. We have one gas leak we're still trying to locate. It's a combination of things."

Volunteers started working in January, cleaning up storm damage and otherwise preparing for the season, he said. They finally realized they wouldn't make it.

"We have 16 of the finest people in Charleston on our board," Gilliam said. "They voted unanimously to close -- or, as they put it, stand down -- this year in hopes of opening again next summer. That decision was made last Monday [April 22]."

Salvation Army staff sent out a news release about the closure Wednesday afternoon, but word of the situation had already been circulating. Jessica Eads, a secretary in the group's West Side offices, said she was doing nothing but fielding phone calls about the camp on Wednesday.

Gilliam didn't know how many campers had already registered, but said normally 120 attend each of the weeklong sessions at the sleepover camp.

"There are four weeks of regular camper stays and three weeks of camp rentals, where companies rent," he said. "We aren't even able to do that, get the cabins ready.

"Nobody wants to close it," Gilliam said. "There's so much tradition."

For information or to learn how to help reopen the camp, call Gilliam at 304-344-4548 or email owen_gilliam@uss.salvationarmy.org.

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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