MORROW COUNTY — Hidden Lakes Campground board member and long-time property owner Rick Hodges is hopeful that the coalition the board and county officials built will bring positive results to the campground resort.
Hodges would like to see the campground be restored to the lively place it was in the 70s, 80s and 90s when the pool was open and there were many events for campers.
Process under way
As a first step, Hodge and board members are working closely with Franklin Township Trustees, county commissioners, county auditor, Health Department, Land Bank and law enforcement to begin a clean-up of abandoned and condemned properties at Hidden Lakes.
Franklin Township Trustee Jim Jahn began his four-year term Jan. 1 this year. He has worked with county commissioners to get a grant to obtain ten 30 roll-up Dumpsters to begin the clean-up.
“This will be an ongoing process of clean-up for quite a while,” Jahn said. “What we are trying to do is work with the county and the Land Bank to get rid of abandoned and condemned properties. Many of the properties were owned by people who are deceased.”
Jahn said there were 31 properties listed as condemned in 2012 and they are now just getting started on the clean-up of those properties. He credits Commissioner Tom Whiston and Warren Davis for getting the grant to get DKMM Solid Waste District involved and get the dumpsters to clear out the properties.
The plan is to work section by section in the campground to get rid of any trash, abandoned utility buildings, scrap metal or abandoned RV’s. Jahn is directing the work alongside of the campground maintenance workers and property owners who are volunteering to help.
As abandoned, foreclosed and condemned properties are available, board members and the township are working with the Land Bank and county to see that the properties are turned over to leasing and management by Hidden Lakes Board.
Hidden Lakes history
Hodge gave some history of Hidden Lakes that was created in the late 60’s by developers Maurice River Company. They had 1006 lots which were available for sale with some kept for common ground and for recreation.
There are now 940 lots owned by 425 owners with some owning 2-5 lots. The company turned over the management to the campground board in 1972. The property owners pay an assessment of $543 per year that covers water, maintenance of roads and facilities.
“Unfortunately, we became known as a cheap place to live with that $543 assessment fee,” said Hodge. “Most campgrounds have an annual fee of at least $1,000 to $1,500.
What gradually happened is that many individual property owners began using their lots as permanent, year-around residences even though the campground by-laws state it is a seasonal campground from April through October.
“It saddens me to say,” said Hodge, “there has been deterioration over several years due to several boards who didn’t maintain or enforce the rules and by-laws.”
Since there are no water services after Oct. 30, property owners have to be self-sufficient in maintaining their lot as they stay through the winter. That is almost impossible to do for some who are in tents or in RV’s without running water, shower facilities, or other amenities.
County Auditor Pat Davies said that a big part of why she wants to see all the stakeholders work together is for the children who are residents of Hidden Lakes. As a veteran herself, she also has a heart for the veterans who have chosen to live there.
Whiston is encouraged as the clean-up begins. He is glad to see that Jahn is taking on much of the organizing for it and Hidden Lakes Board and property owners are behind the project.
“It’s a long way to go,” said Whiston. “We are hoping for progress to continue.”
• Establishing a good working relationship with Franklin Township Trustees, County Commissioner, Auditor, Health Department, Land Bank officials, law enforcement and Morrow County Prosecutor.
• Work on clean-up of abandoned and condemned properties with campground maintenance staff and property owners who volunteer their help. Then maintain trash pick-up consistently.
• Looking for good ways to communicate with interested property owners and to have all work together for improvements of lakes, overhaul of pool and recreational facilities.
• Board commitment that any property lots the board gets back through the Land Bank will be leased and managed by the Hidden Lakes Board.
• Working with law enforcement in numerous ways to reduce any criminal activity.
• Turn around and improve the financial situation with increased payment of property assessments and working on past due amounts on deceased and abandoned properties.