Editor’s note: This is the second story in a series about the Camp Aldrich Feasibility Study commissioned by Barton Community College, which owns the facility.
It’s been called a "hidden gem," but for some, Camp Aldrich is Barton Community College’s white elephant. A consultant hired to explore the feasibility — and cost — of making the rural facility profitable again suggests college leaders must decide which it will be.
What Camp Aldrich has always needed, according to the report by Ted Eubanks with Fermata Inc., is an identity and a purpose. At present it operates "as an ad hoc community/church camp, with many of the functions there having little or no relationship with the college or its mission."
College officials should make a commitment to integrate Camp Aldrich’s identity with the mission of the college, Eubanks writes. Otherwise, "we would recommend that the college explore all possible ways to transfer the camp and its property to another owner."
However, Eubanks says giving up Camp Aldrich would be "grossly premature," especially in light of its proximity to Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Refuge. Since 2002, Fermata has been advising area agencies such as the Great Bend Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) on the development of recreation and tourism. Fermata was involved with the Wings & Wetlands Scenic Byway committee, promoting the Byway that connects Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.
Eubanks lists several ways the college has supported these efforts, especially during the opening of the Kansas Wetlands Education Center on K-156, also near Camp Aldrich. He recommends a close alignment along those lines. "Given the Byway’s emphasis on outdoor recreation, it would be hard to imagine a better fit."
Camp Aldrich has overnight facilities that would be ideal for wildlife and natural resource students and faculty, he notes. "What better place to stay during your field work than actually in the field?" Enhancements that fit that purpose, such as trails, blinds and nature habitats, could be educational while meeting the mandated criteria of being recreational.
"We recommend that the college reposition the camp to better reflect the Byway, Cheyenne Bottoms, Quivira NWR, and the myriad of nature tourism and outdoor recreation initiatives developed by Cris Collier at the Great Bend CVB," Eubanks writes.
The consultant recommends "significant reorganization" of Camp Aldrich, starting with the creation of a nonprofit entity to take over operation of the camp. It should be managed by its own board of trustees representing tourism, education, economic development and recreation, as well as local elected officials. "The inclusion of a representative from (Kansas Wildlife and Parks) may aid in getting that agency’s permission for such a transfer of management," Eubanks says.
The first task of the board would be to develop a mission for Camp Aldrich, and plans for the next five years, including descriptions of its initial programs and a strategy to at least break even.
Barton’s Board of Trustees is scheduled to discuss this report today during its June study session, which will start at 4 p.m. in room F-30 of the college’s Fine Arts Building.