Canton officials have been operating in overdrive to get the town’s flooded recreational facilities in town back online, but one property will require a longer view.
The town-owned Camp Hope is located at the southern end of the county along the East Fork of the Pigeon River where it is closer to the entrance of the Blue Ridge Parkway than town limits.
Camp Hope was hit hard during the Aug. 17 floods, said Pam Kearse, who lives next to the property and serves as a hostess for the many weddings, family reunions, retreats and other gatherings regularly held on the property.
“The cabins took a huge hit,” Kearse said. “The road is gutted out, the backstop fence was a debris catcher, the fence at the ball courts was a debris catcher. The back wall was blown out of the rock cabin and there was huge hole washed out between the office and first wood cabin. The building we called the bride’s cabin could have been a swimming pool.”
Champion Fiber Company purchased the original tract that grew into Camp Hope in 1926 when it was regularly used for company and town activities, for youth summer camps and special events. The property was eventually conveyed to the town, though specific provisions on how it was to be used were challenged in court nearly a decade ago. Canton ended up wining the lawsuit, but it cost about $200,000 to do so.
Since then, improvements to the property have slowly been made and the facility has been regularly used between May and October each year.
“We had rentals for family reunions, church retreats, church camps, weddings,” Kearse said. “We were booked every weekend through October. The hardest thing was to call those with weddings and cancel. Everybody, for the most part, was very understanding. All of them would ask about our personal safety, also.”
Despite the damage to the cabins where up to 150 individuals could sleep in the bunk-bed setups, the main lodge that offers the iconic view of the property got no water damage. The open-air pavilion was covered in mud, but is intact as well.
Kearse gave a huge shout-out to neighbor Bobby Paxton, who cleared the bridge with his tractor, a chainsaw and a rope, with the help of his son-in-law and the caretaker who lives at Camp Hope, Edward Rogers. Rogers’ home on the property got water in the basement, but couldn’t be lived in because the power to the property was shut off.
A bright spot is that the three Eagle Scout projects on the property all survived the flooding.
A 2021 project by Caleb Holcomb to shore up the structural supports at the pavilion won a districtwide award and may well have saved the structure from collapse during the flooding. Another project was a privacy fence around the solid waste container near the picnic shed that is intact, Kearse said, and the third was a giant wood box for the fire ring that was displaced by the flooding, but is still intact on the property.
The insurance adjuster has visited the property, Kearse said, but she has heard nothing about the financial extent of the damages or what the long-term future could hold for the property.
“Camp Hope took a beating, but I feel hopeful the town and the community moving forward will choose to rebuild and it will come out better on the other side,” she said.
For now, town officials haven’t had a chance to visit the site as they focus on getting municipal buildings and in-town parks back in service.