By Tim Cox
Concerned citizens should disregard a newspaper advertisement urging residents to contact Mercer County Commissioners to object to the sale of the county 4-H campground to a private developer.
No such proposal exists and the 4-H campground is not in any jeopardy of being sold or otherwise developed, commissioners say.
The ad, which appeared in the Aug. 4 edition of The Daily Standard, claimed that a developer may be trying to acquire the 4-H property and urged citizens to contact commissioners to oppose the plan.
Commissioners came to work Tuesday clutching copies of the ad clipped from the newspaper. So far, they have received only a handful of calls from alarmed residents. All three men said they are stumped and have no idea what the advertisement means.
The ad was placed by Danny Walls, who is the president of the Grand Lake House Boat Association, a group of about eight people with large boats docked at Ohio Marine near the 4-H campground. "It's never been discussed," Commissioner Jim Zehringer said of selling the lakefront land.
"We haven't (talked about it), and we won't" Commissioner Bob Nuding said.
The 4-H camp, located along Grand Lake at Harbor Point, was originally used to house German prisoners during World War II. After the war, the prison camp was donated to the county for use as a 4-H camp. It has operated as a youth camp since 1951 and is managed by the county parks district.
Walls said he believes the issue is tied to a dispute between the county and Ohio Marine regarding ownership of the boat docks at the business. Walls said he believes county officials would like to sell the campgrounds and docks to reap huge profits from the waterfront property.
Walls, who lives in Marion, Ind., and spends weekends on Grand Lake, said he and other neighbors have seen numerous people looking at the 4-H camp in a suspicious manner. On one occasion, a group of people including a man "with a briefcase and a pencil behind his ear," roamed the 4-H land, "pointing and waving their arms," Walls said.
"It looked real fishy to us," said Walls, who has been coming to Celina for the past six years.
The land is valuable to neighbors who walk dogs in the campground, ride bicycles and use the beach located there, Walls said.
Jerry Laffin said even if there was any merit to Walls' claim that a developer is looking at the campground, county officials' hands are tied. The property includes deed restrictions that prevent the county from selling it, Laffin said.
The issue was researched several years ago when a group of local citizens wanted commissioners to pursue a public-private partnership to build a lodge on the site. That is when county officials learned they cannot do much with the property other than run the 4-H camp, he said.
"The bottom line is, it's not for sale," Laffin said.