CHARLESTOWN — A private contractor working in the little-used North Camp section of the Burlingame State Campgrounds installed one tent platform, a second platform near the shore of Watchaug Pond, and at least one “no trespassing sign” warning that the area is under video surveillance. The platforms have since been removed, but Charlestown officials said they learned of the work only when they were notified by hikers.
Owned by the state and managed by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the North Camp area of Burlingame once offered campsites but has not been used for at least two decades. It is designated as Open Space / Conservation in the town’s Comprehensive Plan.
The south side of Burlingame is a popular, heavily-used campground with 700 campsites and 20 rustic cabins. If the expansion project moves forward, the North Camp would provide about 96 additional campsites.
The work, which has been described as preliminary, was performed by an independent contractor, B.A. Services, which already does work in the south side of the campground.
Town Council President Virginia Lee said that after being told about the activity at Burlingame last week, she had spoken twice with DEM Director Janet Coit, who said that she, too, was not aware that work was being done there.
“She hadn’t yet heard,” Lee said. “This is really in the beginning stages. We’re going to hear more definitively from DEM. This is one company bidding to resurrect the campground.”
Lee said she had requested that Coit send her additional information on what the DEM is planning for the North Camp. “I asked for a clarifying statement from Janet to find out what’s going on,” she said. “I’ve asked for a site plan. There are many concerns about public access. There are real concerns about policing.”
DEM spokesman Michael Healey said reports of a planned expansion of camping areas were premature.
“Contrary to information that’s been shared recently on social media and in emails, DEM has not agreed to or undertaken any plan to build new campsites at the North Camp area of Burlingame State Campground, nor has DEM removed trees or cleared land for this purpose,” he wrote in an email. “B.A. Services Inc. is the vendor that manages Burlingame. Last week, B.A. Services built a temporary, demonstration campsite near the north edge of Watchaug Pond to allow the leaders of DEM’s Division of Parks and Recreation to see a product that we might consider offering to campers in the future. To access the site, B.A. cleared brush along the main trail leading from Buckeye Brook Road to the pond. The ‘demo’ campsite consisted of a wooden platform with a canvas tent on top. The demo model was installed only temporarily; B.A. took it down on June 27."
Healey said the contractor had presented its proposal to DEM's Parks and Recreation officials on June 24. “Parks and Recreation briefed Director Coit. Director Coit briefed the Town Council president in a series of phone calls June 26,” he said.
Council Vice President Deborah Carney said she had spoken with Tom Rosa of the Parks and Recreation division and intended to visit the site this weekend. “My concerns would be the increased burden on the police department, the fire department and our rescue service,” Carney said. “Additionally, the traffic, the increased flow of traffic up in that area.” Lee shared similar concerns.
Carney said she was also troubled by the appearance of at least one “no trespassing” sign that warns of video surveillance. “The thing is, the town knew absolutely nothing about this until we heard from residents who were up there and noticed a sign, noticed that structure that’s been built,” she said.
Police Chief Michael Paliotta, a former DEM auxiliary park police officer, said his department had a good relationship with the environmental police.
“They staff the park currently and when they can’t staff the park, sometimes they ask us to do paid details at the park,” he said. “When they’re not staffing the park, we’re the first responders, basically, for most calls for service there.”
The addition of nearly 100 campsites, Paliotta conceded, would increase his department’s workload.
“If they added 90 spots in the north end of town, it would be a slight increase on police services," he said. “It’s always been out there, the possibility. We have yearly talks with DEM because we’ve got the biggest campground in the state and we have several state beaches we have to deal with and the Charlestown breachway campground and another campground on East Beach, so we have a really close working relationship with DEM, probably more so than many other communities. "
Healey said the DEM would make an effort to keep the town apprised of further developments at Burlingame.
“As we move forward in considering outdoor recreational opportunities in the area, DEM will be sure to reach out to and communicate with the town of Charlestown along with Burlingame’s neighbors,” he said.
Paliotta said he hoped the expansion would move forward.
“I look forward to it,” he said. “I think it’s a good opportunity, if it’s done correctly.”
Burlingame will be on the agenda of the next Town Council meeting on July 8.