Traverse City Record-Eagle

Newsmakers 2011

December 31, 2011

Newsmakers: Little Artshram fights to survive

TRAVERSE CITY — Penny Krebiehl remains optimistic Little Artshram will prosper, despite the fact her agency recently received an eviction notice from the Historic Barns Park at the Grand Traverse Commons.

Members of a recreational agency operated by Traverse City and Garfield Township this month voted to terminate a management deal with Little Artshram, a nonprofit group that came under fire this summer for running an unlicensed summer camp where children used a bucket as a toilet.

Local health department and other officials shuttered the camp in August, and portions of a community garden were plowed under because Little Artshram fertilized with horse manure that was not fully composted.

"In my estimation some things that would normally be common sense weren't followed by them," said Molly Agostinelli, a Garfield Township trustee and member of the recreational authority board. "I was concerned for the health and welfare of people who came to the park."

The recreational authority decision eventually could deny Little Artshram use of 4.3 acres at the barns park site north of Silver Lake Road it's used since 2003.

But first, under the agreement, the two groups must try mediation to resolve their differences.

Should that fail, Little Artshram plans to take its case to binding arbitration, said Krebiehl, Little Artshram's director and founder.

"We've been serving people as an organization in Michigan for 18 years and in Traverse City for 10 years," Krebiehl said. "We feel pretty certain we can get past this impasse. We're devoted to working out our differences with the authority."

Mediation will begin in February.

"We're really just trying to help make things better over there," Krebiehl said of the Historic Barns Park. "We've worked on that property longer than anybody, even longer than the authority board."

Krebiehl acknowledged Little Artshram officials made mistakes, but contends the matter was "blown out of proportion."

The defecation bucket for children was a homemade, above-ground composting toilet, part of the camp's composting theme, she said.

Camp workers composted human waste by burying it under trees and flowers.

Krebiehl said she took down the toilet when contacted by Grand Traverse County health officials and said she'll comply with local and state regulations.

Recreation officials in August informed Little Artshram officials of changes needed for the group to continue its camps for children at the barns park.

"They were given several things to accomplish and we thought a reasonable time and they didn't accomplish them, so we are going to move on," said Ross Biederman, recreation authority chairman. "It's the board's intent to continue with the community garden activities ... but we are going to have to find another manager."

Krebiehl said she informally reported to the board Little Artshram's progress, but said the board continually altered its demands.

"We're trying to figure out sincerely the different nuances of what the board wanted," Krebiehl said. "We're making progress but we're a small organization. It takes time and patience."

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