Township endorses Vacamas's loan application for dam

| 12 Jul 2012 | 11:48

By LINDA SMITH HANCHARICK WEST MILFORD — Camp Vacamas has been a presence in West Milford for 57 years. The non-profit organization has provided a rural refuge for underprivileged children as well as a day camp for local elementary school children.

Now, this group has been mandated by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to rehabilitate its dam at Lake Larriwien at a cost of about $900,000. If they can't get the loan, camp administrators fear they may be forced to ultimately close the camp. They came to the township council two weeks ago looking for its support as it applies for a loan from the DEP. And they got it,

Fixing the dam The state DEP has mandated that Vacamas rehabilitate the dam at Lake Larriwien, which was found to be in need of repair during a routine inspection. The DEP found that if the dam is not repaired, it could fail and result in significant property damage. If they are unable to repair it, the DEP will decommission the dam, causing the lake to revert back to a stream. If the lake can't be saved, according to Vacamas officials, they would ultimately be forced to close the camp.

The $900,000 price tag is steep, even for a group with an endowment of $2 million. William Stein, chairman of the Vacamas Board of Directors, said they could take money from the endowment but that would limit their ability to award scholarships.

The loan they are applying for is a 20-year loan at 2 percent interest. They would borrow between $800,000 and $900,000.

About two-thirds of the Vacamas 230-acre property is in West Milford, with the rest in Bloomingdale. All of the 50-acre Lake Larriwien is in the township.

Mayor Bettina Bieri said she was in favor of the township endorsing the loan request since fixing the dam will have a direct impact on township residents. Although the township's endorsement won't guarantee Vacamas will receive the loan, they couldn't even apply for the loan without the council's approval.

Great neighbors Vacamas Programs for Youth Executive Director Michael H. Friedman told the council they need the township's approval to get the loan. He ran through the benefits Vacamas is to the local community as well as to the urban communities it serves. The West Milford camp serves 1,200 overnight campers each year and the day camp is available to about 200 local kids each summer. Vacamas has donated land to Apshawa and deeded 250 acres to the state. Friedman described Vacamas as a "great neighbor" to the township. In addition, they employ 30 young people in the summer and 20 adults year round, Friedman said. With limited requirements for services, he said the camp is not a great burden on the township.

"I think we are and will remain great neighbors," he said.

"Vacamas has cared for this unspoiled natural resource for over 50 years," according to Friedman in a release. "We want to ensure that many future generations will have the opportunity to swim, fish, and boat in Lake Larriwien. These experiences are unknown to the urban children we serve."

Vacamas Programs for Youth serves 5,000 children each year at four rural camps, as well as urban after-school programs throughout the new York/New Jersey metro area. Vacamas programs combine work in the urban school environment with experiential education activities in the rural camp environment.

For more information about Vacamas, or to make a donation for the dam repair project, visit