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Questions and concerns over operations at Levi Jackson Park property - especially the campground policies - generated a heated discussion at the City of London Tourism meeting on Monday night.

The first concern came from Margaret Keith, who has camped at the local park for years. But Keith said since the city took over operations at the park, policies at the campground had changed and was causing ill will among its patrons.

"There are rumors that some people camp for free or at reduced rates. People are having problems getting reservations, spots are being blocked off. There needs to be something done. The first-come first-serve spots are the ones that bring you the most money and they should not be blocked off."

Keith added that the park is special to her since her childhood - her grandfather, Russell Dyche, served as the state's first commissioner of parks and established Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park. He also started the annual Laurel County Homecoming in the park area in 1935.

Gary Osborne also voiced concern about the policies at the campground, stating that he had camped at the park for 40 years.

"This is my biggest concern and what brought me to this meeting and pushed me over the edge," he said. "The first come first serve people are getting kicked out of both sides, saying they're reserved for people coming in for Halloween. I don't know if you're familiar with Halloween but I am because I've been there for 20 years straight for Halloween. It's a big deal for me and a big deal for my family."

Osborne said park camping policies had previously allowed campers to make reservations only a year in advance. But when checking recently, Osborne discovered that the Halloween season for 2021 was already booked full.

"That tells me that somebody told their friends - and I can't help but almost think it's a personal thing - but it's a strange thing to me that people who have gone there for years in the last week or two have just found out that it is 100% full in the year 2021," he said. "I don't know how the word got out. It wasn't published in the newspaper....nobody saw it posted. They heard it by word of mouth by somebody that tried to make a reservation."

Osborne added that the local people are getting "hooted."

Joey Engle, park manager, said the confusion and discrepancies came after the park campground reservations were switched from Reserve America to Book Your Site, the reservations were extended out several more months. Engle said he had contacted the organization to keep the year-in-advance only status, but that had not been done, adding that this was "not the first or the last complaints that I've gotten."

Osborne continued to question how the issue could be resolved, with Engle replying that when the state relinquished the park property to the city, the state switched the reservation company from Reserve America to Book Your Site. Engle then added that he had told the company of the one-year reservation policy but to no avail.

"But you all own the park," interjected Justin Young. "Can't you do what you want to do? Ultimately, it's your decision."

Karlyle Young added that the city paid money for that service and that the city should be able to correct the issue.

Mike Holt, commissioner, said that Book Your Site might operate on a yearly basis from January through December and didn't transition with Reserve America started their year from July through June of the following year.

Although there were several other campers wishing to speak, the meeting came to an abrupt halt after one of the members of the audience experienced a medical emergency, with Parks and Recreation director Mackey Williams performing CPR on the person until medical personnel arrived at the scene at the London Community Center. That person was transported to Saint Joseph London but was pronounced dead a short time later.

njohnson@sentinel-echo.com

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