Elodie Reed, St. Albans Messenger
‘We have to evolve with the times.’
SHELDON — Several changes are in motion at Maple Glen Campground following state action that led to the closing of the former nudist campground and a fine for numerous violations of environmental regulations.
Among the recent shifts regarding the 300-acre property is a transition in leadership, an Act 250 minor application to improve facilities, and a switch from a nudist to conventional campground having about a quarter of the original 100 sites.
A state inspection led to the camp’s closing in 2010. That was followed by a Vermont Environmental Court-ordered Assurance of Discontinuance (AOD) enacted this summer due to numerous environmental and permit violations, and a resulting $28,750 penalty.
Camp owner and partner De Chantal, who requested that his first name be withheld, said he and the other partners in Maple Glen, Inc. want to do whatever they can to be in state compliance, re-open the campground next year, and attract new clientele.
“We have to evolve with the times,” De Chantal said in a recent phone interview. “We’re just trying to keep what we have.”
Maple Glen Campground opened in 1968 as a communal nudist campground and club off of Poor Farm Road. It was purchased and continues to be owned by Maple Glen, Inc., which is registered as a domestic profit corporation with the secretary of state’s office and is run by the firm’s president, De Chantal, vice president Claude Hurtubise and treasurer Raymond De Chantal.
According to the AOD, prior to the campground being inspected in 2009 by state Environmental Enforcement Officer Ted Cantwell and personnel from the Natural Resources Board and the Agency of Natural Sources (ANR)’s Wastewater, Wetlands and Solid Waste Programs, there then were 18 campsites, 10 dwellings, and eight RV sites.
In addition, there was a combined bathhouse and utility shed, a clubhouse with a kitchen and bathrooms, a pool and a pavilion with an outdoor shower.
Following a complaint five years ago this month inspectors looked over the site and found eight violations. According to court documents, the infractions included construction of a new wastewater system without a permit; the use of a failed wastewater system; placing fill in wetlands and its buffer zone without a Conditional Use Determination (CUD); disposal of solid waste outside a solid waste management facility; a failure to obtain certification before operating a solid waste management facility; a failure to obtain a Land Use Permit (LUP) before making substantial changes to a pre-existing development; constructing and using a public water system without a permit; and open burning of prohibited materials.
The results of these violations included wastewater effluent surfacing to the ground, which had to be regularly pumped out and gray water from a washing machine, showers, and kitchen and bathroom sinks all draining directly into the ground.
In addition, 1,000 yards of solid waste including refrigerators, a partially full container labeled “sulfuric acid,” lead-acid batteries and other items were found deposited in class-II wetlands. There also was evidence of a pond constructed in class-II wetlands, other solid waste disposal sites, including a meadow where the remains of three mobile homes were openly burned, and other sites where prohibited items had been openly burned, releasing toxic chemicals into the air.
According to De Chantal, many of these violations sourced from 1984. In the AOD, there was evidence that several of the violations had been committed in the past few years, including the unpermitted extension of a wastewater system leach field in the spring of 2009, earthwork on the in-stream pond in recent years prior to 2009, and the three mobile homes burned around 2006.
Penalties and permits
As a result of the numerous violations found at Maple Glen in 2009, numerous actions have been taken, both required and not.
One of the first things that happened, according to De Chantal, was a shift in administrative leadership at the campground. “That’s where we got ourselves into some difficulty with the state,” he said.
As for what the state has required, owners and ANR filed an Assurance of Discontinuance (AOD) with Vermont Environmental Court on June 23 of this year, stipulating, among other things, that Maple Glen, Inc. pay a $28,750 penalty in four installments over the next year.
The campground owners, since 2009, have been required to bring their property and operations back into compliance. For starters, the solid waste on the property was cleaned up and removed in 2010 after a plan was approved by the state in November 2009.
The number of water system connections on the campsite also was reduced after the inspections from 15 to 12 and from serving more than 25 people to only 22. The system became small enough that it didn’t require permitting as a Transient, Non-Public (TNC) water system.
In addition, the owners obtained a Wastewater System and Potable Water Supply (WSPWS) permit shortly after the inspections, authorizing existing and new water supply and wastewater disposal systems on two lots. Construction was completed by 2011 on one lot, though it was not finished on the other.
The construction had not been done as of the AOD’s filing in June, but according to court documents, this was due to the owners’ desire to redesign the system. An engineer was hired early this summer to prepare and submit an amended permit application, and the AOD stipulates that permitting and construction are to be completed by Sept. 15.
The AOD also required a new Land Use Permit (LUP) in accordance with the new water supply and wastewater disposal systems to be submitted this week as well.
In addition to the various other permitting and construction projects, Maple Glen, Inc. has applied for an Act 250 permit to both recognize several developments that were originally constructed without a permit, and to also approve of other minor changes to the campground.
The application, which, if not contested, would allow for construction after August 25, looks to recognize the campground’s pavilion, a well, and an electric gate as “as-built.” It also would reduce the number camp’s 100 retained sites to 24, change a bathhouse to a storage shed and remove its dependent campsites, and limit the camp’s clubhouse to using its bathrooms during events with 20 people or fewer. With more people, the bathhouse’s restrooms would be locked and Port-O-Lets provided.
De Chantal pointed out that the Act 250 permit application, in addition to the other permits and cleanup, haven’t exactly meant a lot of change for the campground itself, but more in how its operated – mainly, in state compliance. Once everything is all set with the state and the approximately $100,000 cost in fines, repairs, cleanup, and engineer fees is absorbed, De Chantal said he and his partners could start thinking about real changes for the campground.
“We’re getting to the improving part,” he said. “It costs an awful lot of money to get back where we were.”
A different future
According to De Chantal, the campground is currently not open for business, though five families are currently living there, four of which are in charge of managing the grounds.
On an invited visit to the site last Thursday afternoon, signs led to a broken electric gate, an empty clubhouse, and deserted area at the remote campground. Mobile homes that looked cared for and lived in and water was running in the campground’s pool, though no people were to be found.
De Chantal said he thinks the campgrounds will definitely be open by Spring 2015. When Maple Glen campground does re-open, there will be some notable differences – fewer campsites, and well, everyone will be wearing clothing.
De Chantal said the move from nudist to conventional is a business one – between losing clientele to the violations and to new naturalist camps that have opened in Canada, he and his partners needed to look at ways to keep the campground going.
“[I’m trying to] not limit myself to a specific clientele and open myself up to whomever wants to come to Maple Glen campground,” De Chantal said. “It’s was just going to be a stronger move for us,” he said of the decision to switch. “It would open up more avenues for us.”
De Chantal said that he and his partners are also looking at tapping maple trees for revenue, holding various events such as volleyball tournaments, and being open year-round for winter activities as well.
“That’s the direction we’re going,” De Chantal said. He added that the campground will start with its 24 sites for now, and will grow as needed with more clientele.
De Chantal said, “Anything is possible.”