December 14, 2017 10:49:28 AM
The contents of this article have been modified since its original posting.
The Frank P. Phillips YMCA Board of Trustees is taking sealed bids for the purchase of Camp Henry Pratt, its 70-acre recreational facility that has been the highlight of the summer for generations of kids as far back as the 1930s.
The board did not announce its interest in selling the property, but YMCA Director Andy Boyd confirmed the board is accepting bids for the property, located off Highway 45 in southern Lowndes County.
Camp Pratt, as it is commonly known, is located on 70 acres, including 1,700 feet of Tombigbee River frontage and includes nine cabins, a large metal building designed to be used as a cafeteria, an in-ground swimming pool and access to hunting and fishing.
Boyd said today no decision has been made to sell the property, but it is an avenue the trustees are exploring.
"It's not a done deal," Boyd said. "What I can say is that (Camp Pratt) is very under-utilized. The fact is, we have three brick-and-mortar locations, plus Camp Pratt, to take care of on a very small budget. Right now, I'd say we're in a conversation to see if it's a smart option for us to consider."
The board will accept bids until 5 p.m. on Dec. 31.
Boyd said the viability of the camp has been something Y leadership has been discussing for a long time.
"It's not just months or days," he said. "It's something we've been talking about for probably 5, 10 years or longer."
Camp Pratt holds a summer day camp from late May until late June. It is also the site of Camp Rising Sun, a weeklong overnight camp for children with cancer.
Lifelong Columbus resident George Hazard said he remembers attending the YMCA's popular summer camp back in the 1950s.
"There must have been 80 kids that went to the camps, which were overnight camps," Hazard said. "It was the center of your summer to go camp. We had arts and crafts, canoing on the river, swimming, all kinds of things. Then at night, we'd go out near the river and sit in a circle around a big campfire and tell these terrible stories about the river monsters that were supposed to be out there."
Harry Sanders, president of the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors, said today he had heard about the possible sale from fellow supervisor Bill Brigham, who serves on the YMCA Board.
Lowndes County is establishing its own parks and recreation department after ending its joint agreement with the city. The county is currently negotiating with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to take over a portion of Lake Lowndes, an effort Sanders said has been complicated by restrictions and bureaucratic delays.
Sanders said he had not yet considered the possibility of the county purchasing Camp Pratt as part of its recreation department but is willing to look into it.
"I would have to give it some thought," Sanders said. "A lot would depend on the condition of what's out there and what it would cost to get things in shape, what it would cost for maintenance and things like that. I also wonder if it's too far away from the population center to really work for us. But you know me: I would consider anything if it looked good, works out and the numbers are OK."
The decision to ask for bids on Camp Pratt comes several months after the YMCA announced plans to close down the New Hope YMCA, which had been operating at $50,000 deficit. Those plans was put on indefinite hold after a grassroots effort to raise funds to close the deficit.
The Y also operates facilities in downtown Columbus and Caledonia.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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