What should district do with the Vail Lake RV park?

Rancho Water board mulling options, including leasing it to a company or making multi-million dollar upgrades to the property and bringing in a vendor to run it on a concession agreement.

Rancho California Water District board members are still trying to figure what to do with the Vail Lake RV park, a vacation destination that used to be known as Butterfield Country in the 1970s.

The options that are being considered are selling it to the highest bidder, paying for upgrades and hiring new district staffers to run it, paying for upgrades and paying a vendor to run it or leasing it to a company that would pay for the repairs and pocket the bulk of the revenue it generates.

On Wednesday, the board, which features two new members who were elected in the district’s late August election, debated the various ideas in a workshop setting, which will be followed by a formal vote at a future meeting.

Although hiring new staffers would give the district the most control over the property — which abuts a body of water the district uses as a reservoir — the board seemed reluctant to seriously consider that idea because it would entail forming a new division from scratch.

The most popular idea was keeping the property and leasing it to a company that would pay to rehab the property, which needs around $15 million in upgrades, to turn it into an amenity for the community.

But before that happens, some members of the board — notably Director Danny Martin and President Ben Drake — said the property needs to be appraised.

Once the district figures out what the property is worth, Martin argued, it can enter into serious lease negotiations with a company and make sure the district is getting the most money possible for ratepayers.

Last summer, the board voted 5-2 to start lease negotiations with the California Parks Company, a Red Bluff-based company that operates recreation activities at Diamond Valley Lake, Lake Hemet and Lake Perris, among others.

Those negotiations were shelved after the election, which resulted in two of the five people who voted in favor of California Parks losing their seats on the board.

If the new board decides to once again seek out companies interested in leasing the property, it may go about it in a different way.

Board Vice-President Bill Wilson said he’d like to see detailed proposals from each company that would give the board a better idea of what they planned to do with the property, which includes 467 RV slips, marina, snack bar, 15 permanent structures, a swimming pool and water slide, cafe, arcade, basketball court and mini-golf course.

California Parks has been working as an interim manager of the property, which is now called the Vail Lake RV Resort, since the district purchased the land surrounding the lake in a bankruptcy proceeding in 2015 for $50 million. The previous operator ran the resort as a members-only club.

After the district stepped in, the rules were loosened and the resort was opened up to members of the public who wanted to pay to camp, fish or visit for the day, a setup similar to the 1970’s version of the resort when it was branded as Butterfield Country.

During their interim stewardship, California Parks made some renovations — new patio tables and umbrellas and upgrades to some of the buildings that had fallen into disrepair — but there are a lot of unchecked boxes on the resort’s “to do” list: buildings that should be torn down and replaced and amenities, such as the pool and tennis courts, that need overhauls.

The district purchased the property, in part, to safeguard and boost its supply of local water, which is much cheaper than imported water. Under previous management, the park was a comparatively free-wheeling place that hosted an artists’ menagerie of metal sculptures and extreme races such as Tough Mudder and Spartan.

It has become a more peaceful area — for better or worse depending on your worldview — under Rancho’s control, which included ending deals with the operators of extreme races and asking the artist to vacate district property.

The water level at Vail Lake fell drastically after the district tapped it to avoid the high cost of imported water a few years ago, a drop that led the district to scrap boat launches at the property’s marina in early 2017.

The water level has rebounded since but access to the lake was severed during a recent storm, which knocked out the dirt bridge from the RV resort. The district has not announced a timeline for repairs to the bridge or the resumption of boat launches at the lake.

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