By Jack Hunter
Buena Vista has spent at least $1.3 million on renovations to Glen Maury Park, where people and their pets were getting shocked by a rush of electric current when they plugged in their campers to get electricity and water services.
“There were live wires on top of the ground,” City Manager Jason Tyree said. “People were tripping over live wires walking to and from campground locations. It was very unsafe.”
No one was seriously hurt, but it led city officials to close the upper campground a year ago in what they described as an emergency.
Tyree said city officials want to re-open the upper campground by March 15.
Work is underway at the lower campground, where the electrical grid will be replaced, as it was the for the upper campground. The renovations include replacing water lines, building a new playground, and repairing parts of the pool.
The park begins to host events in April, including an Easter egg hunt and a bluegrass music concert.
“We’ve got a lot of events this year, and a lot of them use that [lower] campground,” Tyree said. “So, we want to make sure it is open before all those events start.”
City officials had wanted to do the park renovations for years but couldn’t because of Buena Vista’s poor financial condition. But that changed in 2021 when the city learned it was getting about $8 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, which can be used for infrastructure improvements.
Campground upgrades come at a cost
But BV residents and non-residents are going to pay more to experience the park’s upgrades. Effective March 1, the city increased rates for all campers using water and electricity.
“All the friends that camp, that I know of, I’d say 75, 80 percent are not going to camp this year there,” said Ginger Lanier, a Buena Vista resident.
Daily camping rates for residents hooking up to water, electric and sewage went up to $32 from $24. It increased to $40 from $30 for non-residents. Monthly camping rates for residents hooking everything up went to $383 from $307. The costs do not include added taxes.
“They told us it was going to go up this upcoming year, but minimally, maybe $25, $30, at the most maybe $50,” said Ginger Lanier, a Buena Vista resident who parks her camper at Glen Maury during the summer. “We didn’t expect that big of a jump.”
Residents and campers at the park reacted with anger when the park’s new rates were announced on Facebook. Lanier said she and her family have parked their camper at Glen Maury Park for the past five years. But she said they will go elsewhere this summer.
“All the friends that camp, that I know of, I’d say 75, 80 percent are not going to camp this year there,” Lanier said.
She also said individual spaces at the lower campground were made narrower, and that the city didn’t do anything when the campground flooded multiple times during her stay.
Glen Maury Park loses money for the city
Tyree said the park has been operating at a loss of almost $80,000 a year for the past few years. The city manager said the camping rates will probably go up again in the next three to five years.
“The operations for the city were being supplemented with tax dollars, so basically, every citizen in Buena Vista was paying for the campground, whether they were using it or not,” Tyree said. “My thoughts are, the campground needs to, at a minimum, pay for itself.”
Tyree said another big reason that the park’s camping admission costs are going up is because Dominion Energy has increased the rates it charges. He said charging higher camping prices will allow the city to break even on the park. But he said the city still won’t make money.
“In the future, I’d actually like to increase the rates even more, so that we can start paying for upcoming maintenance over the next three, four, five, ten years,” Tyree said.
Vice Mayor Cheryl Hickman said the increase in camping rates will help the park in the future.
“Really, what we’ll do with the money is continue to put it back in the park,” she said. “You have to have a plan in place to be able sustain what you have.”
Construction still underway
The city still needs to fix the roads, move dirt, and clean up the site at the upper campground. But Tyree said all the wires have been properly placed in the ground.
Roscher Electric, the electrician hired by the city for the project, has started digging trenches at the lower campground to put electrical wires down.
“Once the trenches are dug, it’s just a matter of actually putting the power in the trenches and then running the lines into the boxes where the campers plug in,” Tyree said. “It should go pretty quick here in the next few weeks.”
The Buena Vista City Council approved spending almost $300,000 of the federal funds it received on the upper campground last summer after that part of the park was closed because of safety concerns. Tyree said the lower campground stayed open because it did not have the same safety risk, but it was still important the city completed work on it as well.
Council approved the spending of over $1 million on the lower campground in late 2022.
Fred Roscher, from Roscher Electric, said the old electrical grid at the park was inadequate. The city had not replaced it since the park opened over 50 years ago.
“It was probably, for that time period, it was okay because there wasn’t that much power consumption at that time,” Roscher said.
He said people have gotten shocked because of the electrical system.
Aging wiring responsible for electric shocks
Corey Henson, director of public works, said his German shepherd, Raven, was shocked when the dog touched the steps of his camper when it was plugged in at the park.
Henson said his camper was hooked up to a power pedestal along with four other campers. He said the neutral ground wire was too short for all the power being pulled, which led to a small amperage going into the ground.
“She is totally fine, but this caused us to start looking at why these conditions were occurring,” Henson said in an email. “The wiring was put in in the early seventies, so we determined it was an emergency to replace all the underground services.”
Roscher said it is crucial to have the right size wire to run the electricity. If not, there can be a voltage drop. He said wires and other items connected to the electricity can heat up if the voltage drop is not accounted for.
“When they heat up, they either melt, or catch fire, or the insulation gets compromised, and it makes stuff get energized,” he said. “It’s a big deal. So yeah, it was in pretty bad shape.”
Lanier said people got shocked at the lower campground, which did not close when the upper campground did. She said the electricity fried her air conditioning unit in her camper last summer. She also said her water would stop working at times.
“[We’d] unhook our water, beat on the pipes and let the water run till the brown rust would run clear,” she said.
Federal and private funding supports some of the upgrades
The city is also building a new playground at the lower entrance of the park, adjacent to the tennis courts. Tyree said the playground costs $100,000 and is funded by federal funds, a $30,000 Carillion grant, and about $2,000 of private donations.
“We really need to keep our kids physically active and have something for them to do when their parents are over there camping or get off work in the afternoon,” Hickman said. “Every park should have a playground.”
Tyree said he hopes the improvements at Glen Maury Park will benefit the citizens of Buena Vista, regardless of if they use the park or not.
“Hopefully at some point, the park is not only paying for itself, but generating a substantial amount of revenue, that we could lower taxes,” he said. “We could, actually, one day, go, ‘Hey, we’re going to cut taxes for everyone in the city.’ That’s what I want to work towards.”