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Turtle Island Preserve To Open For Camp June 14, Clear of Building Codes, Must Now Address Health Department

By Jesse Wood

Eustace Conway of Turtle Island Preserve - Photo by Jesse Wood
Eustace Conway of Turtle Island Preserve – Photo by Jesse Wood

June 12, 2013. Turtle Island Preserve plans to open for camps on June 14 for the first time since it closed to the public last fall after receiving building and health code violations from the Watauga County Planning & Inspections and Appalachian District Health Department.

House Bill 774, which recently passed through the N.C. House and Senate, should relieve Eustace Conway, the founder and director of Turtle Island Preserve, of some pressure from the local government authorities following state regulations.

However, the bill, which was presented to the governor last week, won’t become law unless Gov. Pat McCrory signs the bill, which also received bipartisan support and garnered zero nay votes in both the House and Senate.

The bill is titled “An Act To Exempt Primitive Structures From The Building Code” and applies to green houses, primitive camps and primitive farm buildings.

For Eustace the ‘primitive camp’ application is key.

“A ‘primitive camp’ shall include any structure primarily used or associated with outdoor camping activities, include structures used for educational, instructional or recreational purposes for campers and management training” that are:

  • No greater than 4,000 square feet in size
  • Not intended to be occupied for more than 24 hours consecutively.

Exempt ‘primitive camp’ structures include:

  • Shelters
  • Tree Stands
  • Outhouses
  • Sheds
  • Rustic Cabins
  • Campfire shelters
  • Picnic shelters
  • Tents
  • Tepees or other indigenous huts

Now that the bill has moved swiftly through the N.C. General Assembly, Joe Furman, the director of Watauga County Planning & Inspections, said on Wednesday that his department doesn’t plan on visiting Turtle Island Preserve in the future to check on buildings that were deemed in violation of state building codes last fall.

“I think the bill speaks for itself,” Furman said when asked what the bill meant in regards to future potential inspections by WCP&I.  “We don’t have any plans [on visiting Turtle Island Preserve].”

With building authorities apparently out of the way, Conway is now left to deal with the Appalachian District Health Department.

In an email last weekend, Andy Blethen, environmental health supervisor with Appalachian District Health Department, said that his department “remains committed to helping Turtle Island Preserve obtain its goals while complying with state public health rules and laws.”

Blethen noted that Turtle Island Preserve hasn’t submitted its required yearly application to open the primitive camp for the 2013 summer.

“Nor have they made the necessary applications that would allow this department to evaluate and inspect several new privies constructed without permits from this department,” Blethen said. “Once these applications are received, our staff will make every effort to move Turtle Island Preserve through the permitting process as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

As listed on Turtle Island Preserve’s website, seven different camps are scheduled this summer with the first one, a “Father and Son Camp,” starting on Friday, June 14. This morning, Turtle Island Preserve sent out an email blast looking for summer camp volunteers for the 2013 season, too.

Conway didn’t immediately return a phone call on Wednesday afternoon.

For much more background information, click here to read numerous stories about Conway’s plight over the past year.