Point Mallard exists as an amenity. It’s there to improve the quality of life of the residents of Decatur and Morgan County, and to make the area an attractive place for people to live or visit.
In many ways, Point Mallard is Decatur’s calling card. The wave pool at the Point Mallard Aquatic Center, for example, is almost unique, and it helps sell the city to newcomers.
The aquatic facilities, golf course, ice rink and trails are all there for everyone to enjoy at modest or no expense. They also help promote tourism.
Point Mallard does not exist to turn a profit — although the more it can be self-sustaining, the healthier it is for surviving lean times and ensuring it’ll be there for future residents and their children.
Looking at the Point Mallard Campground as a moneymaking venture has diverted the campground from its original purpose. When The Daily looked recently at who is using the campground, we found a significant number of short- and long-term residents — not campers, but residents.
The 25-acre campground has 233 full hook-up sites. There are 53 sites that have had the same tenants for one year or more, including eight for five years or longer, 13 for three to five years and 32 for one to three years, according to Parks & Recreation.
As a result, there sometimes are not enough camper spaces to accommodate people who want to use the site for its designed purpose, which is camping.
Decatur Parks and Recreation Director Jason Lake is, according to City Council President Paige Bibbee, working on a plan to add additional sites for short-term use. Those spots could displace some of the long-term campground users.
This is good news for residents who would like to use the campground for a weekend or two, but bad news for those who regard it as their home.
“Personally, I’m against people living at the campground, but I understand the financial need it fills,” Bibbee told The Daily.
According to Lake, long-term stays make the campground the most financially viable asset in Point Mallard Park. The campground made over $1 million annually in recent years, and upped that to $1.7 million last year. It’s the main reason the park has stayed in the black for close to 14 years, he said.
“The money we make at the campground goes back into the park and it allows us to make improvements at the the golf course and the aquatics park,” Lake said.
So, even with plans to add more short-term spaces, the temptation to allow some people to live full-time at Point Mallard remains.
This means, essentially, that the city is in the mobile home park business. The same city leaders who would never allow a privately owned mobile home park on prime Decatur real estate, are allowing a city-owned one in the middle of its recreation and tourism showpiece.
Generating money through the campground should come from focusing on its core purposes. Residential housing is not among them. Attracting vacationers and providing an amenity for residents are.
But keeping Point Mallard entirely self-sufficient should never be the goal. It should be a bonus that comes with maintaining a facility that makes living in Decatur better for all.