The Wheelock Park Campground in Keene hasn’t been this popular since the heyday of national horseshoe pitching.

Officially shut down by the city in 2018, and hardly active for a few years before that, it’s now being seen as the solution to multiple requests for recreational space or, possibly, as an answer to a longstanding local issue.

The several-acre site at the back of the park dates back to 1959, and has 43 camping sites, plus water and electrical services in some areas. It also has a bathroom/shower facility in the middle of its looping dirt road. The City Council voted in 2018 to close the campground, which had been seeing less activity. At the time, Andy Bohannon, the city’s director of Parks, Recreation and Facilities, said in order to remain profitable as a modern campground, it would need water, road and electrical upgrades. He said it would cost $15,000 to $30,000 just to study what was needed.

In 2020, the city’s capital budget included $40,000 to make some of those improvements down the road. Instead, two local organizations, one looking to locate a city dog park, the other hoping to build a disc golf course, have approached city officials to use the site.

Bohannon has been working on plans that would incorporate both those uses at the campground. And last week, the City Council’s Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee recommended using almost $30,000 for design work to make that happen.

That seems a great compromise — in a vacuum. But, like the family cat, nature abhors a vacuum. So into the equation comes another dynamic: figuring out a safe situation for some of the area’s homeless.

That issue came to the fore a few weeks ago with the clearing of a favorite homeless camping area on private land behind West Street Shopping Center. One of the things made clear is that some of the people in the region lacking homes simply don’t want to deal with the requirements and oversight of shelters and other programs created to assist them.

That led to three city councilors advocating for — among other potential solutions — a more formal camping area in which that population could safely remain outside. It wouldn’t be a perfect fit: There will always be some who don’t want any company, rules or supervision. But it could be part of the answer for others.

And what better place to create such a safe space than an already existing campground, pretty much out of the way, but within reach of social services, and which already has assets such as bathrooms, showers and electrical service?

At least, that’s how some in the city see it. They also see the issue of homelessness as a more pressing one than canine companionship and/or recreational frisbee.

In that, they have a point. But it’s not so simple. To begin with, any of the three potential uses might well be situated elsewhere. Dillant-Hopkins Airport has been mentioned as a possible dog park location, though a previous attempt to build it there was shunted aside — as were other potential sites. We have to imagine that while Wheelock might be an ideal location for disc golf, other areas around Keene, such as Patricia Russell Park, could prove as useful. And we expect there will always be those finding objections to creating a campground for the city’s homeless.

Also each, if Wheelock is used, would come with a cost. That $30,000 in design funding is just a start for a combined dog park/disc golf course. And while both groups have raised some capital themselves, we suspect design wouldn’t be the last of the city’s costs. On the other hand, making the campground usable for a homeless encampment would certainly require some upgrades, as well as ongoing supervision, maintenance and more. Even to plan for such a use would be a burdensome endeavor. And all that keeping in mind there’s no guarantee that if you build it, they will come.

So this isn’t an endorsement of committing the space to any of those specific uses. It is, however, a recommendation that the City Council, given the significance and magnitude of the city’s homelessness issue, figure out if a secured encampment at Wheelock is worth pursuing before committing the campground site to another use.

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