A split Hailey City Council moved closer to building a campground out Croy Canyon on Monday night, with Mayor Martha Burke casting the tie-breaking vote needed for her to submit a grant application to the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation seeking $731,340 to help fund the 33-site proposal.
But after a well-attended meeting—culminating in a 3-2 vote—the city vowed to hold series of public workshops in the coming months to fine-tune the campground proposal using community input, with a goal of reaching communitywide consensus by late spring.
As currently proposed, Croy Creek Campground would span about four acres on a 29-acre city-owned parcel between Mountain Humane and Lions Park. The campground would offer 24 pull-in RV sites, nine camping areas with tent platforms, two ADA-compliant vault toilets, picnic tables, fire rings and other amenities, including dishwashing stations and potable water, for an as-yet undecided nightly fee.
The council was presented with two main options Monday: Approving the grant application for submission or shelving it indefinitely to focus on gathering public input over the next year.
Council President Kaz Thea said that while she was “personally excited” about a campground close to downtown, the public needed more time to understand the proposal, as evidenced by dozens of comments received by the city.
“I think we need to explain [the site] a little better to people, and consider looking at traffic [concerns] before we get further into this,” she said. “When you have a lot of passionate comments, it’s time to work with the community to build something that we get more support for.”
Councilwoman Heidi Husbands agreed.
“The [grant cycle] will be open again next year. I think we need to have more buy-in from the community and I do feel this was a bit rushed,” she said. “It’s a good idea, but I think we need to settle residents’ minds on what the campground will actually offer.”
Councilmen Juan Martinez and Sam Linnet, however, made a case for submitting the grant application this week.
Martinez said a designated campground close to city limits could provide a “sanctified” spot for inexperienced campers who would otherwise go out into the high-desert backcountry, as well as a cheaper alternative to lodging.
“I don’t think we should kick this down the road,” Martinez said. “I think we’re ready for this type of thing here in Hailey. When you consider events coming back online, it’s going to be crucial to have this infrastructure ready to go.”
The parcel, acquired from the Blaine County School District last October, is zoned for a wide variety of uses, Community Development Director Lisa Horowitz said. Possible developments could range from a retirement community to a cultural education center.
“When the city purchased this property, we understood that there were public uses without limitation,” she said.
Linnet said the application would not necessarily result in funding, but would serve as a “launching pad to have a conversation” about the campground. Linnet added that Monday was only the second public hearing on the matter, and a “lot of public input opportunity is ahead, around half a dozen more public hearings and steps in front of us before this gets built.”
City Administrator Heather Dawson said if the state approves the city’s funding request for $731,340 this spring, the council would need to make a formal decision at some point in May on whether to sign a grant agreement.
“In the past the city has obtained big grants that we did not sign the grant agreement for, because we decided [projects] did not fit our needs at the time,” she said.
City, county residents disagree
In a busy public comment session Monday evening, several Croy Canyon residents objected to the proposed campground, citing concerns of fire danger, increased traffic and disturbance to wildlife. Two Hailey residents supported the general idea of a campground but found the funding process rushed.
Jane Drussel, owner of Jane’s Artifacts in Hailey, said she viewed the campground as an important revenue source for local businesses.
“If we don’t approve this application for the grant now, who knows when this is going to happen,” she said Monday. “I’ve been hoping that we would have camping for probably the last 10 years.”
Mike McKenna, executive director of The Chamber of Hailey & the Wood River Valley, said a nearby campground with daily fees would bring in local-option tax dollars, which would in turn support the city’s police and fire departments.
“We should be going forward with this right now as soon as possible. The Chamber alone receives thousands of inquiries about camping in Hailey every year and we have no answers for them,” he said. “Whether we like it or not, Idaho is growing like crazy and the camping trend is going nuts.”
Croy Canyon resident Barb Acker said she and her neighbors were “stunned” to learn of the proposal two weeks ago.
“Fire is a big issue. Wildlife is a big issue. Traffic is a big issue. I ride my bike on [Croy Creek Road] and it is dangerous,” she said. “Let’s look at all of the effects and please slow down.”
Croy Canyon resident Cory Chalmers, an ex-fire captain from Southern California, said he was most worried about campers starting brush fires.
“We saw posts on social media all summer long about Wood River Fire & Rescue finding and dealing with unattended campfires. For anyone who doesn’t know Croy Canyon, every afternoon we get moderate to severe winds—that’s going to push embers into the sage, toward the city,” he said. “Thirty-three campsites, that’s 1,000 potential campfires each month. You can’t tell me there isn’t a danger there.”
Amy Trujillo, deputy director of the Wood River Land Trust, complimented Hailey city staff for a “great job on a short turn-around application period” but suggested a longer, countywide input process.
“If there’s a commitment to a more robust community outreach process and planning for the area, we would be happy to partner in that,” she said.
Before casting her tiebreaking vote to settle the 2-2 split, Burke said she was disappointed by the public’s growing consensus to delay the application.
“I have to say, my heart is broken. I thought this was going to be a gift to the entire city of Hailey and its families,” she said. “But I want it to be done well and make sure we’ve looked at all options.”
The council previously approved an application to the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation on Jan. 13 for a $500,000 grant award to help fund the campground but did not end up submitting that request because building costs were “higher than expected,” Horowitz said.