No summer camp this year at former Camp Gabriels

The former Camp Gabriels prison will not open as a summer camp for Orthodox Jewish boys next month.

Rabbi Eli Hersh of Spring Valley told the Enterprise in a Thursday phone message that the details of the project haven’t come together quickly enough to allow Camp Hamachane to open as planned in early July.

“Right now, we’re still trying to finish up a few things with the state,” Hersh said. “Hopefully, we should be able to be finished, but we will not be in there for this summer, which we hoped.”

Hersh outlined details of the project at a public meeting in April. He said at the time that the seven-week camp would draw between 150 and 250 boys ages 10 to 18 from Orthodox Jewish communities, mostly in the New York City area.

Hersh started Camp Hamachane eight years ago. Over that time, it’s been held in several locations, typically on college campuses, in New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut and North Carolina. He said in April that he’s been looking for a permanent location for the past three years.

With the financial backing of his partner Adam Fine of Rockland County, Hersh bid $166,000 for Camp Gabriels when the state auctioned it off in October. Theirs was the second-highest bid, but the property came to them after the highest bidder was unable to complete the transaction.

The project had been scheduled to come before the state Adirondack Park Agency at its June 12 meeting; however, it was pulled at the last minute.

“That’s primarily because the property has not been conveyed from the state to the project sponsor at this point,” APA Deputy Director Rick Weber told commissioners at the time. “We have been working closely with the applicant and are looking to the July (meeting) for moving that to the board, a date that’s more closely aligned with the projected closing date.”

As of Friday, the sale of the property still hadn’t closed, according to Joseph Brill, a spokesman for the state Office of General Services.

Hersh couldn’t be reached for additional comment, but he said in his message that he and his partners knew it was “an ambitious thing” to try and open the camp by this summer.

“We got stuck in some legal stuff, and we therefore are not able to be in there this summer, but God willing, we should be able to be there for next summer and we’re looking forward to that,” Hersh said.

Town of Brighton Supervisor Peter Shrope said Friday that town officials had learned earlier this month that the camp won’t be open this season.

“It would have been nice to have them in town this summer,” he said. “I had several conversations with Eli about the possibility of him using our soccer and ball fields at the town park in case they couldn’t get their athletic fields ready in time. It’d be nice for them to be here, sure, but we still have business to do in the town, and we’re not going to wait for something to happen.”

Shrope said he got a call from state Sen. Betty Little about the project. He said he was told that the delay in getting the camp up and running was due to the parent organization that’s buying the property, Let’s Camp LLC, having difficulty getting title insurance.

“The last I spoke with them, they were working on trying to get the title insurance situation squared away so that they could bring it before the APA in their July meeting,” Shrope said.

Hersh said in April that the camp would be a summer school in the morning and provide a range of activities and outings in the afternoon, including canoeing, kayaking, hiking and trips to the Olympic venues in Lake Placid and the Great Escape in Lake George.

The six dormitories on the campus, which have a combined 360 beds, would be used to house the campers. Some would be renovated to provide more suite-style accommodations for families. Hersh said the biggest changes to the property would be the addition of an outdoor swimming pool and the clearing of some trees for athletic fields.

It couldn’t be determined Friday how much, if any, work has been done on the property. Shrope said he hasn’t seen any signs of activity at the former prison in the last few weeks.

“Both gates are basically kind of closed all the time,” he said.

Camp Gabriels was one of three prisons the state closed in 2009 as a way to cut costs due to a declining inmate population.