Heaps of garbage are scattered around Glorieta Camps, a sprawling Christian retreat tucked in the mountainous Pecos woodlands just a few miles southeast of Santa Fe.
Helicopter footage aired on KOB 4 Monday night doesn't offer a flattering view of the camp. Frankly, at least part of the land is a dump. But the camp's owners never applied to zone any of the 2,900-acre property as a landfill.
Nor did they seek the necessary permits to construct zip lines, lake slides, diving boards, a coffee shop, extreme biking trails or a skeet shooting range, all of which are offered as amenities at the Christian getaway.
Now, the nonprofit that purchased the camp in 2014 is facing potential fines for violating laws related to development, zoning, littering and public nuisance, according to a February 22 cease-and-desist letter sent to the camp from the Santa Fe County Land Use Department.
By law, penalties accrue for each day the camp continues to be in violation and can include jail time.
Camp director Anthony Scott says the he is working "very closely" with the county to remedy the situation. "We've hired several experts in the different areas we need to fall into compliance with," he adds. The camp has temporarily closed its zip line and waterfront activities. Scott says it's currently only serving a couple dozen children, but hosts thousands during the summer.
According to Scott, the camp has already faced scrutiny from multiple state agencies, including the Regulation and Licensing Department, State Fire Marshal, State Engineer, and several divisions of the State Environment Department, including regulators of food safety, solid waste, hazardous waste, air quality and federal workplace standards. Three of the five environment cases are closed, state officials tell SFR.
"We have been working with the owner for the last several months to bring some structures on the property into compliance," says Alex Sanchez, deputy superintendent for the Regulation and Licensing Department. She adds that the department typically takes a "business-friendly" approach to inquiries, meaning that it tries to work with owners to fix problems before proceeding with full-scale investigations.
"We've always wanted the safest camp in America," camp director Scott tells SFR. "That hasn't changed. We welcome these investigations to make sure this is a safe place for children."
Glorieta Baptist Conference Center opened in 1952 on the site, but it has changed hands a couple times over the years before coming under the current ownership in 2014. David Weekley, a wealthy homebuilder from Texas, chairs the board overseeing Glorieta 2.0, the corporation that took over the property. The same board oversees a camp in Texas called Camp Eagle.
Changes started happening immediately. The new management beefed up the activities offered at the camp, constructing a zip line, slides, diving boards and decks around the property's lake. Formerly public trails suddenly closed off to hikers. Neighbors complained of water shortages due to the camp's increased pumping.
Former camp cook and Glorieta resident Michael Adney says he also raised concerns to camp management in the fall of 2016, after he was promoted to take over the retreat's largest kitchen.
"I found a mouse in the cereal. I found black mold inside the cupboards. I found rancid oils and rancid eggs in and around the grills. I threw away five dumpsters of food that had been sitting out for too long," he says. "I told these guys about it ... and they simply ignored me every time."
Adney, who identifies as a whistleblower, says he got fired after reporting the camp to Santa Fe County health inspectors. After, he made calls to several other state agencies.
Santa Fe Reporter