New Castle campground expansion given limited approval
A long-established private campground outside New Castle will be allowed to expand its operations, though not to the extent the owner had requested of Garfield County commissioners on Monday.
“I need this approval to make this park economically viable,” said Elk Creek Campground owner Briston Peterson, pleading with commissioners to be allowed to operate 10 months out of the year, from March through December, and add 10 new tent sites.
“This park has been a financial drain on me,” said Peterson, who is now the sole owner of the park after breaking with the previous investor group.
“As an investor-owner, I do view it as a major regional draw and an economic benefit to New Castle and Garfield County,” he said.
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After a public hearing that lasted nearly two hours, commissioners agreed 2-1 to allow the park to operate eight months of the year, from April through November, and to expand from the existing 67 camping spaces to 77 with the 10 new tent sites.
The approval is subject to more than 20 conditions, including that the owner obtain state health department permits for wastewater treatment facility improvements prior to the expansion.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky also added conditions that the perimeter of the 10-acre campground site be posted to avoid trespassing problems on neighboring properties, and that there be a 120-day limit for stays in the campground.
The former KOA Campground has been in operation as a seasonal campground under various owners since the 1950s.
However, the county sued the owners in the mid-2000s after the park had evolved into a year-round man camp for gas industry workers, resulting in complaints from nearby property owners.
A 2008 court order stipulated that the park operate only between May 1 and Nov. 1 with a maximum of 67 camping sites, including 53 RV/camping sites and 14 guest cabins.
Any expansion or other modification of the campground is to require a full land-use review hearing before county officials, according to the court stipulation.
Peterson had originally asked for year-round operations, in addition to the extra camp sites. In hearings before the Garfield County Planning Commission late last year, he agreed to shut down during January and February.
But he said he often receives camping requests during the fringe months in late fall and early spring. That’s business Peterson said he now has to turn away.
In allowing the eight-month season, commissioners eliminated a planning commission recommendation that the private driveway into the campground be rebuilt to county standards.
The driveway, which existed before county codes, now has a 15 percent uphill grade going into the campground. Current code calls for no more than a 10 percent grade for driveways and access roads.
Commissioner Mike Samson opposed the campground expansion, saying the driveway needed to be improved to county standards.
“Safety is a big concern,” he said. “You’re going to have 35-, 40-foot rigs (recreational vehicles) going in there, and that’s not a good deal when it’s that steep.”
Peterson will be required to clear vegetation where the driveway intersects with County Road 241 (Elk Creek Road) to improve sight distance.
Several neighbors were opposed to any expansion of the campground, and were especially concerned about campground traffic on the county road during late fall and early spring.
“That’s a hazardous intersection when the campers are in there during their regular months of operation,” nearby resident Milton Blakey said. “In the winter months, it is a dangerous intersection.”
However, New Castle Mayor Frank Breslin said the town board was unanimous in supporting the requested campground improvements and extended season.
“This is a very valuable economic asset for the town of New Castle to have this campground,” Breslin said.
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