Field dreams: Camp looks to buy Blue Ridge Swim Club

For the past 11 years, Field Camp owner Todd Barnett has run his nature-centric summer program out of the Camp Albemarle site on Free Union Road. With cabins for overnights, fields, outdoor shelters, and woods for exploring, the location is just about ideal for a camp with one notable exception: there's no on-site swimming pool, a bummer on 90-degree days when tired, hot campers aren't always up for a hike to a local swimming hole. Now, Barnett's hatched a plan to bring the wonder of water to his campers while saving a historic swimming venue.

"I think it needs a little life in it, and I think my camp can bring it," says Barnett of the Blue Ridge Swim Club, the century-old swim club on Owensville Road in Ivy that famously features a 100-yard-long, spring-fed, chlorine-free pool. Barnett says he's negotiated a purchase of the Swim Club that would allow him to relocate his camp there while keeping it open for public membership. Now, he needs County approval in the form of a special use permit that will enable him to operate his camp in the residential zoned area (the pool itself, he notes, is grandfathered in, although he's applying for a separate special use permit for that as well on the County's advice).

The 13-acre property was first developed in 1909 by R. Warner Wood for use as the all-boys Blue Ridge Camp, says Barnett, who also operates the all-boys Field School in Crozet. Numerous sports teams used the club for recreation in its early days, and Barnett says his research suggests the pool is the oldest concrete outdoor commercial swimming pool remaining or in use east of the Mississippi– and among the oldest in the nation.

"The fact that the Blue Ridge Pool has stubbornly remained is a real credit to all its owners and caretakers over the years," says Barnett. The price he'll pay for the property is still being negotiated, he says, but it's "a lot less" than the $424,100 for which it's assessed.

Members voted by super majority– 65-1– to sell to Barnett, according to one of the club's former presidents, Rip Verkerke, even though they could have gotten significantly more if they'd sold the property for real estate development.

"One of the reasons behind it was the sense that Todd understood the history of the pool and its special qualities that we value so much," says Verkerke. "We felt that he really 'got us' and that he would preserve those special qualities and be a responsible steward for the property into the next generation."

Another longtime club member concurs.

"I think it's a wonderful idea," says Murray Whitehill, who has a stake in the Blue Ridge Swim Club where he first swam in 1946. "My mother told me that I swam in the pool when I was one," laughs the now-65-year-old, who was an active member for much of his life and lives in the house closest to the pool, about 300 yards away.

While Whitehill says the Club's members are delighted to clear the pool's debt while improving the facility and protecting the pool, Barnett says he's aware that some neighbors may have concerns about  disturbances the addition of a camp could bring.

In general, Barnett says, "People don't like noise and don't like people they don't know in their neighborhoods."

Whitehill, however, says he doesn't believe that will be a problem at the Swim Club.

"I didn't get the feeling that anyone was up in arms over it," he says of neighbors, noting that Barnett has been active in addressing such fears, contacting residents and welcoming questions.

"There is going to be some increased traffic, and with a bunch of kids down there, it's going to make some noise," says Whitehill, who, as the pool's closest neighbor, will likely hear that noise more than anyone else. "From my point of view, I think it's neat," he says, "to hear kids outside playing again."

The proposed deal and the requested special use permit for Barnett to operate his camp in the residentially zoned Owensville area will go before the Albemarle County Planning Commission on Tuesday, February 22. Barnett hopes the County Supervisors will consider the deal by early March, and if it's approved, he'll start renovations immediately to prepare for summer activities.


Correction: The original online and print version of this article stated there was no on-site swimming at Camp Albemarle. It actually has access to the Moormans River.–ed


Excellent work, Todd.
I hope to see this landmark site in such capable hands. My son is a Field Camper and he and I can not wait to see what the future holds for the camp and the swim club.
Go Falcons!

This is very good news. Todd is an especially considerate and well intentioned leader. I cannot imagine a better future for the Blue Ridge Swim Club or for Field Camp. Sounds like a win-win situation.

I truly hope this happens! Blue Ridge Swim Club deserves to be taken care of and enjoyed! Todd Barnett will do a good job

This is certainly a great and fitting use for such a unique resource. Good luck Todd.

Your article is completely off base as to the "neighbors" not being upset over the possibility of noise all day and at night from 60 to 100 kids in our back yard. Mr. Whitehill, who you noted, has a financial interest in selling the property, is not the closest neighbor to the property. I am closer as are at least 4 others in just our subdivision. The property is not a secluded 13 acres. It is a small piece of property completely surrounded by houses in 3 subdivisions. It is not a good fit for what is being proposed and I can tell you very few people were notified. I found out only because my neighbor did get a letter from the county. Every person we have spoken to, with the exception of Mr. Whitehill and a couple others who have been members in the past, are adamently against establishing a camp with a parking lot for 50 cars, the accompanying traffic, noise from a large group of children, within sight of our yard.

Mr. W. Frazier Bell, I Mapquested the distances between your property and the swim club and Mr. Whitehill's property and the swim club. (Anyone else can do it--you can get the street addresses from the county assessor's page.) It sure doesn't look to me like you're closer than Mr. Whitehill, even doing an "as the crow flies" reckoning. You look more like 600 meters away, as the crow flies, while Mr. Whitehill looks to be about 400 meters away. At best, you guys look to be more or less equidistant. But anyone else can check to see what they think.

Mr. Bell, I want to apologize for not alerting you to this.  I sent a notification letter to 21 neighbors adjacent to the Blue Ridge Swim Club property plus your immediate neighbor who struck me also as close, thinking that was adequate to alert the neighbors.  The swim club has historically functioned without a special use permit, and its use is grandfathered (including many camps there over the years), but I particularly wanted to get special use permits for the uses in order to be up front with the neighbors before operating there.  I just didn't imagine I would need to send the letter to non-adjacent neighbors.  If you have any questions about what I am proposing, please feel free to get in touch with me.  I hope I can alleviate your concerns.

First, in response to "Hoolarious", my house is approximately 600' from the swim club property. I have 3 neighbors where the club is literally in their back yard. You can see the pool from their houses. It is, at best, 200 - 300 yds away. Mr. Whitehill is close to the club. I was in error thinking his house was farther up the hill. However, it still remains that he has a financial interest in the property that will be paid off, plus he gets continued use of the pool.

Mr. Barnett,

I understand you are a great person. We have mutual friends and they have nothing but good things to say about you. This is not an attack on you or your ideas for a camp. It is very simply opposition to a large camp in a suburban area surrounded by homes. We have lived in our house for over 32 years. Lewis Hill III and Ivy Oaks did not exist. They were a farm and woods. The swim club was small and created very little noise. Rarely did we here them. On 2 occassions that I remember, they had parties with a band. The band could be heard all the way to the other end of our neighborhood. Now, the property is completely surrounded by houses.(Hoolarious can pull up tax map 058C.) If there were camps there, they were either before my time(1978) or so small as to be unnoticeable. In addition to the noise of a large number of campers, you will have traffic issues entering and exiting the road with no turn lanes. I am also interested in how you plan to meet septic field standards for that many people. All of the land is either slope of stream bottom land, which would not function well for a large septic field.
As for the notice, it is my understanding the county is only required to notify those properties that actually adjoin the club. Mine does not.

I have faith in Mr. Barnett, as he has been and will continue to be a good neighbor. He worked with the county and neighborhoods when Field School first opened in Claudius Crozet Park. He continues to be a good neighbor in the current location in of the former Crozet Elementary. Campers broken up into groups, some learning lessons of nature, hiking, or simply exploring does not lend to constant noise. Majority of the children are bused in, therefore not leading to over fifty cars daily. I feel certain the concerns will be addressed, all awhile continuing the "life" of another jewel in our community, such as the Blue Ridge Swim Club.

How will this camp effect the public members who like to come to the pool for a peaceful swim on a hot summer day? I was thinking of joining this year, but now I am not so sure.

It's too bad that we can't roll back the clock and invite the Blue Ridge pool neighbors out to Camp Albemarle to see a typical day of Field Camp. I'm sure they'd be impressed by its operation and by the quality of Mr. Barnett's staff. The experience is serene and very much like that of going to the Blue Ridge pool. Hard to imagine a better fit. The kids who go to Field Camp are the ones who value that kind of experience and setting, and won't seem like invaders destroying the bucolic rural setting. Some kids may actually miss the creek at camp Albemarle.

For 25 plus years my family has lived with the Blue Ridge Swim Club (BRSC) in our backyard. We were very active members for several years. Historically, even on the most populous of days, such as July 4th, there were no more than 50 people present at one time. On a normal day at the pool one could expect less than 10 sporadic visitors, the majority of which are well beyond their boisterous teenage years.

The proposed 2000 sq.ft. pavilion that will shelter 65-100 kids (ages 8-15) is directly behind our back deck. As is the case with many families, we use our deck to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet of the rural residential area in which we reside. Would you appreciate the sound of bullhorns being used for field day, game day, swim day, family day, and any day they choose? How would you like to hear all of this during the proposed hours of operation 8am-8pm? Any rational person can expect that a significant amount of noise will be generated by a camp of this scale, and will cause an unreasonable level of disruption. Our quality of life will undoubtedly suffer.

As pointed out in the beginning of this article the nature-centric Field Camp has operated for the past 11 years out of Camp Albemarle with has cabins for overnights, fields, outdoor shelters, and woods for exploring. Hardly, can 13-acres in the middle of several established neighborhoods replace such as near perfect setting. How is this historic and quaint swim club going to remain untouched and preserved when construction activities are proposed such as: clearing of trees, paving, graveling, upgrading of drainage/run-off for the 50 car parking lot, and the construction of a large septic field to accommodate waste from 100 plus people? Will this property lay dormant in the fall and winter after all these upgrades are made? What will prevent the Field Camp from expanding operations in the future and becoming nothing than a money making venue?

There are very real issues here that can only lead to one conclusion; the BRSC is not the right place for the Field Camp. Aside from the increased noise and disruption there are numerous other serious pitfalls such as: fire and rescue access, the increased environmental impact, and increased risk of trespassing. What other groups/events will use this pavilion and who will the authority to approve/deny the events? If noise becomes a nuisance will the tree line and landscape be upgraded to create a sound barrier? What guarantees are there to protect our quality of life beyond one individual’s word to limit disruption? To disrupt the quiet, peaceful, wooded backyard is not in keeping with the neighborhood environment.

As the Daily Progress Editor’s column on February 18, 2011 (in regards to noise pollution in Charlottesville), “… residents of nearby neighborhoods certainly deserve, legally and morally to be able to enjoy the comfort and serenity of their homes.” Simply stated, the proposed use of the Blue Ridge Swim Club for the well intentioned Field Camp is sorely misguided.

Why would you want to put a camp in a neighborhood? Seems like a dumb idea. Would it not be better to find a piece of land where it is not in the back of a neighborhood, and maybe a piece of land that has a lake or pond so you could swim and canoe and have fun in the woods? I don't think exploring a nieghborhood seems like a fun camp. And swimming in a pool, obviously in my opinion does not make it a field camp.

Thanks for reading

As a parent of two young children that go to summer camps in the area I think that camps are a great idea and are vital to the growth and development of our children. However, the BRSC location isn't a viable location to hold day camps of more than 40 or so children. If you've never been to the location in question you can't have an opinion about it, sorry! The property is simply unusable for anything other than what it is being used for today and that obviously isn't going very well. Had it not been for the pool being built next to the stream this property would have been designated as common area amongst the sub-divisions that surround the creek. This is true of similar property that is just downstream. The neighbors in the communities that abut the creek maintain an extensive trail network that is one of the treasures of being a property owner in this area. These trails will be lost with this project as they will either be cut off by fencing or destroyed by all of the traffic that the camp will create. We purchased our house in the woods to have peace and quiet, to listen to the birds and enjoy our own piece of earth. The overnight camps, special events and inordinate amount of traffic going in and out of this "common area" piece of property will destroy that as well as our property values if an unattended camp fire doesn’t destroy it first!