Heartland News I-Team Special Report: Eagle Sky, Empty Nest? - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Heartland News I-Team Special Report: Eagle Sky, Empty Nest?

Posted: Updated:
The camp being built is called Eagle Sky of the Ozarks. The camp being built is called Eagle Sky of the Ozarks.
County leaders say the huge project is expected to bring tens of thousands of people to our region. County leaders say the huge project is expected to bring tens of thousands of people to our region.
The Eagle Sky Foundation, based in Oklahoma, began planning the camp way back in 2001. The Eagle Sky Foundation, based in Oklahoma, began planning the camp way back in 2001.
Eagle Sky's founder, Oklahoma emergency physician Dr. J. D. McKean. Eagle Sky's founder, Oklahoma emergency physician Dr. J. D. McKean.
According to its website, Eagle Sky is developing Christian Challenge Camps in Missouri, Colorado, and Kenya. According to its website, Eagle Sky is developing Christian Challenge Camps in Missouri, Colorado, and Kenya.
WAYNE COUNTY, MO (KFVS) -

Years of work, and millions of dollars have been spent on a beautiful piece of property near Patterson in Wayne County, Missouri.

So, why are some residents excited, while others question what's really going on behind the gates and massive tree line?

The camp being built is called Eagle Sky of the Ozarks, described as a Christian youth camp offering the finest camping and retreat facilities available.

Wayne county leaders say the huge project is expected to bring tens of thousands of people to our region when it opens.

The Eagle Sky Foundation, based in Oklahoma, began planning the camp way back in 2001.

To this day though, the site's not hosted a single camper.

"It's an enormous undertaking," Joe Kiser tells me.

Kiser, a Wayne County Rotary Club member, has seen the proposed camp project up close.

"You've been up there?" I ask.

"Yes I have," Kiser tells me.

"What's it look like?" I ask.

"Great. They've poured so much concrete, it's almost unbelievable."

According to its website, Eagle Sky is developing Christian Challenge Camps in Missouri, Colorado, and Kenya.

Eagle Sky's founder, Oklahoma emergency physician Dr. J. D. McKean, laid out a plan to build "quality facilities where guests can focus on expanding their faith and relationship with Jesus Christ.

"Their dormitory buildings are fantastic," Kiser tells me. "They built all their own furniture."

But, we weren't going to see those quality facilities simply by asking.

Eagle Sky's current camp manager, Bill Winner, told me he wasn't interested in talking to me.

Numerous phone calls to Eagle Sky's board members, mostly doctors practicing in three other states, were never returned. And no response to my calls or emails sent to J. D. McKean.

Aerial view

Since we could not get permission from Eagle Sky to actually show you their camp, we chartered a plane to fly over the nearly 4500 acre property.

You can see what Eagle Sky's website calls Phase one, a large warehouse, maintenance building, and administration building.

We could see at least two cabins.

And then, there's Frontier Lake, appearing shallow and discolored, the ground around it clearly disturbed.

It's this part of the camp project that sent concerns downstream, courtesy of connecting Camp Creek.

Camp Creek

"How long has Camp Creek looked like it's looking right now?" I asked Bill and Vivian Brooks, looking down at the greenish, murky water.

"It's been solid like this for about three weeks," Bill Brooks responds.

I came out to visit Bill and Vivian Brooks back on March 27. They have a beautiful log porch that overlooks where Camp Creek and Clark Creek intersect.

They say they've watched Camp creek look like this on and off for the last year.

"They'll run some and muddy it up and it turns green. And then they'll stop for a while," Bill says of work on the Eagle Sky property. "And then they'll run it again."

Vivian says she sent a pointed email to Eagle Sky.

"What in God's name are you sending down Camp Creek?" she recalls writing.

The Brooks contacted the Missouri Department of Natural Resources about the greenish sludge traveling from Eagle Sky's Frontier Lake down Camp Creek.

"They're not helping the county out at all," Bill says. "But, they're running it down."

An investigation based on Eagle Sky's operating permit led to a Notice of Violation, dated February 13, noting the camp "discharged water contaminants into waters of the state" by polluting Camp Creek.

Still, others in the county praise the benefits of Eagle Sky. Wendy Babb owns nearby Patterson Market.

"All the workers that come in have lunch here. And people that's passing by to go view it, or people that's wanting to go up there and check it out, they all come here and do business," Babb tells me.

And, despite its non-profit status, Eagle Sky entered into this agreement with the county to pay some property taxes on the homes built out here. Assessor Frances Huitt tells me she collected nearly $76,000 over eight years.

But, not all interaction's been positive. Minutes obtained from the county's Public Water District #2 show the district's efforts to provide Eagle Sky with water, and Eagle Sky's push to create its own water system.

On November 3, 2011 the minutes reflect "Dr. McKean threatened legal action if PWSD#2 did not grant them a waiver" to go it on their own.

In September of 2012, DNR found Eagle Sky offered enough proof that the water district could not meet their needs, and gave them the green light to put in their own system.

Legal troubles

Dr. J. D. McKean has had his own legal troubles.

Back in 1994, federal prosecutors accused him and his medical billing company Emergency Physicians Billing Service of defrauding Medicare and Medicaid.

"The court finds it abundantly clear that his intent was to get what he could by fair means or foul," wrote the judge. McKean paid a $15 million fine.

Five years earlier, McKean was penalized $100,000 by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation for banking violations tied to his Frontier State Bank in Oklahoma.

According to published reports, J. D. McKean has spent $20 million on his Wayne County camp.

How much more work is needed out here? Will it open soon?

I go back to that very brief phone call to Camp Manager Bill Winner where he told me, "We'll make the public aware when the time is right."

Rotarian Joe Kiser expects the camp will open.

And when it does, what will that mean for your county? I ask.

"It means more employment and bring a lot of people here and exposure to the Ozarks."

Take a look at the Eagle Sky Foundation's web site.

You see reference here to three Christian camps: Eagle Sky of the Ozarks in Wayne County, Eagle Sky of the Rockies near Leadville, Colorado, and Eagle Sky of Kenya, located near Lake Victoria.

The website reports these two camps are currently on hold.

I tracked down the man behind the Kenya project, Oklahoma businessman Calvin Burgess.

"It's kind of a humble beginning and a few years late," says Burgess of the 200 bed vocational training center he opened last year in Kenya. "We feel pretty good about it."

But Burgess says, back in 2007, his humble plans quickly grew into a massive, multi-million dollar project under the direction of fellow Oklahoman Dr. J. D. McKean and his Eagle Sky Foundation.

"We told him that we wanted it for 200-300 beds, and he kind of thought that was ridiculous and wanted to get to 2000," Burgess recalls, "which just overwhelmed us quite frankly. But, we thought ok, I guess maybe he's the expert and he says he has the money and he wants to put it up."

Back to Kenya in a moment, but first here's what I learned about McKean's first camp effort in Colorado.

Colorado camp effort

According to Lake County records, McKean bought land just outside Leadville in 1997, and began developing a plan for a huge Christian youth camp.

McKean took his plan to Lake County leaders, per zoning requirements. Minutes obtained from the Board of Lake County Commissioners meeting December 18, 2000 reveal numerous concerns.

"Eagle Sky at full build out will cost this county $2.5 million in property taxes," said Commissioner Charles O'Leary.

O'Leary also expressed concern about the massive camp's impact "on our Sheriff's Department....our landfill.......transportation on our city and county roads....."

All three commissioners voted to deny Eagle Sky's plan.

Commissioner O'Leary added, "Mr. McKean may resubmit a substantially changed, hopefully lesser impact development request to Lake County."

Current board member Bruce Hix tells me to his knowledge, Eagle Sky never came back.

Kenya camp effort

Back in Kenya, Calvin Burgess says J. D. McKean attends a huge rally in 2007 and locals are impressed.

The massive camp project starts on what turns out to be a familiar path.

When J. D. McKean began construction in Wayne County, he built a warehouse, a maintenance building, and an administration building.

Calvin Burgess tells me that's exactly what happened out in Kenya. When McKean came in, the first thing he built was a huge 21,000 square foot warehouse.

"It seemed a little odd we weren't getting around to doing much for the kids," Burgess recalls about the warehouse construction. "But, that's where he began and we just thought that would follow right along."

But in 2008, Burgess recalls a sudden change of heart. He says McKean wanted all the money he'd spent on the Kenya Camp converted into loans.

Was there ever a loan agreement between the Kenya Youth Camp and Eagle Sky for $824,000, as Eagle Sky reported in its tax returns back in 2009? I asked.

"I don't know what they reported, but we have no loan agreement, never have had one," Burgess responds.

In late 2009, the bottom falls out. Burgess says McKean pulls out, taking his money and leaving the Kenya Camp with hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid bills. I asked Burgess what happened.

"I, I don't know," he says. "It baffles us. "I just want it behind me. You know some things you're just better off just to put behind you and walk away from."

Calvin Burgess tells me he hopes J. D. McKean really does honor his commitment to Wayne County, and opens a first class Christian camp that benefits children and the community.

I want to stress I've reached out numerous times to Dr. McKean, his board, and his Camp Manager Bill Winner.

I'll let you know if I hear from them, as I continue following this huge project.

I've worked very closely with Wayne County Resident Susan Elayer Eaton on this report. Eaton helped gather many of the documents I've used.

She says she wants Eagle Sky to know not everyone in Wayne County believes in the benefits of the project. I want to personally thank her for her interest and all her help.

Copyright 2013 KFVS. All rights reserved.

Powered by WorldNow

310 Broadway
Cape Girardeau, MO 63701

FCC Public File
publicfile@kfvs12.com
573-335-1212
EEO Report
Closed Captioning

All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Worldnow and KFVS12. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.