Winslow Park Commission Vice Chairman George Connick says a longtime lottery system that awards campsite rentals in perpetuity could open the town of Freeport to legal action. Contributed

FREEPORT — The seasonal campsite lottery system at Winslow Park and Campground would be eliminated under a proposal by the town commission overseeing the park.

At issue is whether 30 of the 100 campsites at the park that were assigned to people in perpetuity via a lottery are allowed under the park’s trust, which governs its operation.

Councilor Doug Reighley, who is the liaison to the Winslow Park Commission, said if passed, the proposal would allow people who have sites to keep them next year. Going forward, if the number of applicants exceeds the available sites, campers would be chosen on a first-come, first-served basis.

Reighley said the proposed amendment will be sent to the Ordinance Rewrite Committee for review and a recommendation to the Town Council.

Winslow Park is operated seasonally and closed at the end of September. Campsites and trails offer views of Casco Bay, and the campground includes amenities such as a boat launch and picnic areas. Campsite rentals start at $30 a month.

Winslow Park Commission Vice Chairman George Connick said the lottery issue was first raised by the town manager more than 40 years ago and brought up again two years ago when there was significant turnover on the commission. The question of seasonal campsites was raised when members asked how the park was managed.

“Last year, there was a contentious meeting where about 80 to 100 people showed up, and mostly all argued in favor of seasonal camping,” Connick said. “The ones who think there may be a chance to end seasonal camping have been very vocal about defending the practice.”

Connick thinks very few Freeport residents are aware of the lottery and “the people I’ve talked to about this can’t believe there is such a policy.”

“How can it be that certain people have a lifetime campsite at our city park?” Connick said. “I’m trying to raise awareness that there is a major issue before the Winslow Park Commission.”

Reighley said Connick has been on a crusade to change the way campsites are managed at Winslow Park for at least the two years that Reighley has been the council’s liaison to the commission.

“He has his own interpretation of the trust and, as a result, we’ve had prior meetings where we’ve had the trust attorney make sure we’re doing things properly,” Reighley said. The trust attorney concluded that seasonal campsites are permitted, but Connick wanted the trust reviewed by the town solicitor, who also agreed with the trust attorney.

“What George is suggesting is that if we continue to let people from outside of Freeport occupy the park, then it is not for the benefit of the people of Freeport, which by the terms of the trust, could lead to the park’s removal,” Reighley said. “The trust attorney doesn’t see it that way.”

The practice of giving out seasonal campsites started sometime in the 1970s, Connick said. It was a way for the park — which has never received any money in a Freeport budget — to generate revenue.

A question about seasonal campsites was first raised by Freeport’s town manager in 1977, when he asked whether the policy violated the terms of the park’s deed. According to an opinion given by Bernstein Shur, which represented the town in 1977, if the park got crowded and the policy was challenged, the town could face a legal problem.

Connick said over the years, Freeport councils have taken a cautious approach to the policy and didn’t really discuss the practice.

Connick said the town could end up in court if the council ultimately votes to keep the seasonal campsite policy, though the council could choose to not even address the policy at all. He thinks a legal challenge could be brought by a group of concerned residents.

“The town would not be abiding by the trust and a new trustee should be found that would implement the original deeded trust,” Connick said. “The council could choose to tell the commission thanks but could decide to avoid the issue.”

There has been public comment throughout the process, Reighley said, and the commission, committee and council will refer to public sentiment as the proposal review process moves forward.

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