A second Mineral meeting on a proposed YMCA camp got off to a rocky start on Wednesday, Sept. 15. The plan to cycle the small crowd through stations to learn more about the project and submit comments was delayed by some participants’ insistence that their concerns be heard in a more open forum.
Sitting in the Mineral School gym, those comments were mostly against the project, which would rezone much of the land around Mineral Lake for an overnight youth camp. While most of the property would remain forested, opponents point to the 400 kids that would eventually fill the camp — a number higher than the town’s overall population.
And as a frustrated crowd aired its grievances, one woman — who declined to give her name to the Nisqually Valley News — was met with applause as she urged the crowd to take their concerns to the county, which will ultimately decide if the rezone can go forward.
“We have to let the county know what our concerns are, and make it known that we’re not just a few, that we’re a huge group, and it’s alarming for us that this has gone this far,” she said.
Mingling before the meeting, some aging residents joked that the youth camp would be great — but its development should wait until they’re no longer around.
Those in the crowd supporting the project weren’t as vocal. Mineral resident Margot Page, who sent her three kids to YMCA camps when they were young, said she “deeply supports” the nonprofit's mission and that those most opposed to the project tend to be the loudest. Page qualified her statements by noting she's not a long-term resident.
“I have no idea if they’re in the majority,” she told the Nisqually Valley News. “They talk like they are.”
The last community meeting featuring YMCA representatives was held last month, where similar concerns were raised.
“We heard loud and clear at the Lion’s Club meeting that you all want to hear more from us and talk more with us as this unfolds, so we’re excited to hear from you,” said Meredith Cambre, senior executive director of camping and outdoor leadership at the YMCA of Greater Seattle. “We want to listen and learn from you, and we hope to collaborate to do something that’s good for this community, as well as kids.”
While she didn’t say if the YMCA had completed the purchase of the property, Cambre told the crowd “we are very close to making an announcement about that. You’ll hear very soon.”
Some pressed the YMCA on why it didn’t approach the town sooner about the plan, while others expressed frustration that questions of water, sewage and traffic impact are still unanswered.
According to Cambre, internal discussions began in 2019, but budget concerns in 2020 meant the organization was unsure if the plan would be cut.
“We’re talking out of both sides of our mouth here,” said Kathy Johnstone, an educator and Mineral pastor. The community can’t say the YMCA should’ve opened dialogue sooner, she argued, while also complaining about details not yet hashed out.
Like Page, Johnstone also brought kids — her former students — to YMCA camps. Camp Seymour in Gig Harbor, she said, is a great example of the YMCA’s “class act.” And something similar at Mineral Lake would be optimal — far better than the expensive homes previously planned for the land, Johnstone contended.
Johnstone also took issue with the many comments centered around the Nisqually Indian Tribe, which has partnered with the YMCA on the project. While still on the bleachers, some in the crowd described the partnership a “sleight of hand” and a “land grab,” saying the tribe’s involvement felt “fishy.”
It’s hardly fair to use the term “land grab” when it was tribal land to begin with, said Rebecca Peterson, artist and summertime resident.
And the tribe won’t be co-owners anyway, Cambre clarified. “So we’ll own the property and there will be no casinos.”
According to the YMCA, the tribe will be offered expanded access to the land for traditional and cultural uses, and will help create educational programs about the land and its history.
At the meeting on Sept. 15, YMCA representatives offered answers on other lingering questions. Yes, Cambre said, the organization will pay property taxes, “at least for the foreseeable future.” And tax from sustainable forestry — which will continue under the YMCA — will still funnel into the county.
The lake won’t be overrun by campers, she told the crowd, since swimmers and kayakers will be limited to small cohorts, ensuring adequate supervision.
More YMCA community meetings are likely on the horizon, with the nonprofit framing Wednesday’s forum as the beginning of community dialogue.
The way Page sees it, change is inevitable for the rural town.
“I’d love to see Mineral be a giving and gracious community,” she told the Nisqually Valley News. “I’d like us to show our best self.”