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