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Girl Scout camps up for sale

Girl Scouts of the USA logo.

Jeremy Hobson: The Girls Scouts are selling more than just cookies these days. Money is tight and so the not-for-profit group is taking a cue from corporate America. The Girl Scouts are merging local groups and selling off part of their most valuable asset: land -- as in the scout's much loved summer camps.

Marketplace's Sally Herships has the story.


Sally Herships: Amber Harrison is a 15-year-old Girl Scout in Ohio. Her mom Kathleen is her troop leader. They're standing in front of a local Girl Scout camp, Hilaka, about 45 minutes outside of Cleveland.

Kathleen Harrison: Over here, we have the lodge where all the cooking is done.

Amber Harrison: The latrines.

Kathleen Harrison: And of course, the latrines.

Everything is green and peaceful. But camps are expensive to run. And local Girl Scout councils around the country are selling off camps like Hilaka.

Amber Harrison: I wish we could tell them that this isn't what we want. We don't want this.

Five camps in the Harrison's area have been sold. And five more are on the list, leaving just two. But the local Girl Scout council says it has a plan: to take profits from the sales and give their remaining camps a makeover, creating what it calls premier leadership centers. One of the first things to be renovated would be the latrines.

Kathleen Harrison: If they gave them a survey and said would you like flush toilets, every single one of my girls would say yes. But do they need flush toilets?

Nationally, membership in the Girl Scouts is down.

Brent Gardner: When occupancy is down, you study why occupancy is down and sometimes it's facilities.

Brent Gardner is on the board of directors of the Harrisons' local council. Locally, Gardner says, they're not seeing as many campers as they'd like. He says the camps his council is responsible for are from the 1940s and '50s, when there were 30 girls in a troop.

Gardner: Well today's troops are 10, nine, seven, 13.

Gardner says many of the local camps are in poor shape. Fixing them up would cost the council $30 million. It wants camps to include aquatic
programs, computer labs and communications facilities. The Harrisons are more the latrine type.

Amber Harrison: It wouldn't be the same. Like if we had like hot water and stuff, it would just be like camping at home.

But the Girl Scouts national office says today's parents want camp to include a learning aspect and sometimes the great outdoors might not be enough.

I'm Sally Herships for Marketplace.

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Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.
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Perhaps they should evaluate that the cost of some of these camps is so high for a weekend that it is not affordable for the kids to camp as often as they would like. When I got out as a leader 4 years ago it was $180 for a cabin. Divide that by 7 girls and then add in food and crafts for the weekend and calculate how many boxes of cookies you need to sell to pay that-OUCH. I ran day camps for years and the girls had a wonderful time hiking, creeking, fishing, boating and doing things that they never get to do because parents or their leaders are not familiar with how to do them. We can pack a day camp with 200 girls and while having to use the latrines is not the highlight it can make a lasting impression on these girls. Camping is ruffing it a bit. Technology has a place but not in camping. Watch a girl light her first campfire or a couple of girls carrying a heavy water jug and see what that is teaching them-alot more than staying at a hotel.
The director of the council said the GS council was on firm financial footing. I understand selling some of the camps some are close together and some need lots of work (thank you council for not doing the upkeep) Selling off so many so girls have to travel so far to get to camp and then suggesting that they stay in state parks if a camp is not close is not the GS way. If the GS are so worried about safety and background checks how do you background check everyone that is staying at a state park for the night?!
As for the use of camps ask how many troops were not allowed to camp because council was reserving the camp for training that never happened.

It will NOT take $30 million to fix up the camps. It will take $30 million to turn 2 camps into "Premier Leadership Centers," which is what the membership does NOT want. Camping is not staying in an air conditioned room with TV, Cable and WiFi... That would be a hotel.

If one looks at pp.18 and 19 of the GSNEO Vision 2012 report, one can find that council subsidized all the camps for $927,000 for FY ending 9/30/2009 for operations. The camps brought in about $327,000 a year. Why this is necessarily a problem? The operating budget for the entire council is about $11 million in rounded numbers, $8 million of which is raised (BY THE GIRLS) through product sales. The other $3 million comes from donations and grants. Keep in mind that $5 million of the total $11 million is going for salary and benefits of the Board, Council President, VP and staff. Why is $1 million out of an $11 million operating budget out of line to subsidize the camps for the girls whose product sales primarily support this council?

If this council continues with it's absurd sale of property (during an economic downturn), it not only will lose valuable property, but it will lose membership.

The Board has repeatedly stated to the membership that this decision to sell the properties is NOT a financial one. Then WHY do they continue to tell the media the exact opposite?

It is sad to know this "new-wave" way of thinking is how we are resorting to bringing up our daughters. "Camping" is about roughing it, and Hilaka allows campers to "rough it" while at the same time allowing the girls to feel comfort in staying in beautiful old homes.

I am 42 years old, and some of my best Girl Scout memories are from the times I spent with my childhood troop at Hilaka. What is wrong with teaching girls to be tough and rough it? A latrine isn't something to be afraid of. It is actually a greener way to go. No pun intended. Anyhow, I recently volunteered as a counselor at GSNEO's RAINBOWS summer camp, and I can say with great confidence that all 100 girls that attended loved Hilaka.

Sure they were hesitant about spiders and smelly latrines. But they learned to be brave and by the end of the week, all 16 girls in my group would use a latrine, no problem.

GS of USA needs to keep Hilaka and other camps like it to help modern girls learn to truly love the outdoors. We do not need new state-of-the-art facilities. There are plenty of places to take troops, like the zoo, the science center, the Natural History Museum. Today's girls need to learn the FUNdamentals of camping, how to roll a sleeping bag up, how to solar cook or use a bunsen burner, how to make pie iron pizzas and pies, canoe, kayak, shoot a bow, read a compass and use it in the woods, etc.

Camping sadly, is becoming a lost art in our modern world. Please, please, please we ll need to continue to voice our opinions to Council and higher-ups that there are "old-fashioned" people like me out there that will teach these modern girls from modern urban families about how truly fun and inspiring nature and the OUTdoors can be. If a young girl has never ever camped nor has her parents, then sure, naturally she wouldn't be very interested in camping. I've experienced this within my own troop. But, with enthusiatic, knowledgeable leaders to guide them and help them build confidence and esteem, they will try "new" things, and learn to love camping and the outdoors.

Like I said, all 100 girls who attended RAINBOWS truly loved the experience. I had a few girls who were scared of certain activities, but with guidance, they learned to overcome their fears and were sooooooooo proud of themselves for trying new things, and they learned their fears were really unwarranted. If we allow society to change us, we are giving in, giving up on our girls. We need to stand tall and proud and encourage all Girl Scouts to do as Juilette Low did, and camp and enjoy nature. I for one, will never take my troop to a new, modern facility. I'd rather travel down to Mohican to the big family scout camp, Mohican Wilderness to allow the girls to be outside in the fresh air and sunshine doing things that make all children well-rounded individuals. Canoeing, archery, horseback riding-these are all things that urban and many suburban kids do not encounter. They NEED these activities in their lives to build their character.

The environment is more important that any of us realizes. By creating new facilities, we stifle our children's curiousity about the outdoors and love of nature when in fact we should be doing all we can to encourage our children to love and appreciate Mother Nature so they understand how important it is to protect our sweet Earth.

Come on, latrines? If they fear latrines, God help them as adults.

We looked into girl scouts for my daughter but found it too expensive. The anual dues aren't that much but you need all the "stuff" too. Maybe membership is down because people don't have the money to be members.

The media has once again misrepresented why the Girl Scouts are selling their properties. Part of this story is true--Girl Scouts nationally have turned to a corporate identity, and in the process they have decided that the outdoors is not important to them anymore. They want to be seen as the "cool kid on the block", attracting as many members as possible rather than focusing on the quality of the experience for the members they already have.

In Northeast Ohio, the membership has been told multiple times by the GSNEO board and staff that this is NOT a financial decision to sell the 5 camps. The Girl Scouts of Northeast Ohio (GSNEO) are expected to make a small profit in 2011. This decision to sell the 5 camps will NOT save GSNEO money in the long run. The $30 million cost to upgrade the 7 camps is to make EACH camp into a leadership center with drama center, sports facility, etc. The cost cited last year to fix up all 7 camps by GSNEO was $1 million, and then all of a sudden changed to $30 million this year when Brent Gardner (GSNEO board member spearheading the sale of the current 5 camps) cited the need to make each camp into a "leadership center". In 2009 GSNEO, under the direction of Brent Gardner, sold/relinquished 6 of their camps/properties, leaving them with the 7 they have now.

If you look at pages 18 and 19 of the Vision 2012 report, http://www.gsneo.org/media/137991/vision%202012%20report_final.pdf
GSNEO subsidized operations of all the camps for $927,000 for the FY ending 9/30/2009. However, the camps brought in about $327,000 a year. The operating budget for the entire council is about $11 million, $8 million of which is raised (by the girls) through product sales. The other $3 M comes from donations and grants. Also, $5 M of the total $11 M operating budget is for salary and benefits. Why is $1 M out of an $11 M operating budget out of line to subsidize the camps for the girls whose product sales primarily support their council? Further, most of the GSNEO board members are out of touch with what the girls in their council want, and have never experienced a camping trip at any of the camps they have decided to sell.

As a graduate student studying the environment at Duke University, I take the most offense at the last quote of this article:

"But the Girl Scouts national office says today's parents want camp to include a learning aspect and sometimes the great outdoors might not be enough."

With all the technology and structured time in school and after-school activities that kids have today, and the overwhelming obesity rates in this country, kids need more time in the great outdoors, not less. And if we want the next generation to care about saving the environment, we have to get them outside now, so they can experience and appreciate nature when they are young.

And who says you can't learn in the outdoors? While at camp, kids use the outdoors to learn about science, math, engineering, technology, financial literacy, history, the arts, music, etc. Camping trips also foster independence in kids, and allow them to interact with their peers, thereby developing
communication, cooperation,
leadership, and diplomacy skills.

In regards to the statement: "…today's parents want camp to include a learning aspect and sometimes the great outdoors might not be enough"
I am a licensed public school science teacher with degrees in biology, natural resources political science, fish & wildlife biology and am working on a PhD in ecotoxicology. I have worked for traditional and alternative high schools, camps, outdoor education centers and social work agencies. I have devoted most of my life to improving how we teach in this country. There is NO BETTER PLACE TO LEAN THAN THE GREAT OUTDOORS!!!!!!!!!!! This goes for the sciences as well as history, humanities and languages. Please clarify the last statement in your story. Was that direct quote? Does the national girl scouts office really not know how to keep the rustic camping experience and provide a marketable educational experience that is superior to a classroom? I am hoping that they do and that the last statement was Mrs. Herships words.

HI-LAY-KA! Not hi-la-ka!
The camps are not just "SUMMER" locations. Troops USED to go camping year-round. Since the merger, troops throughout the merged Council (Girl Scouts of North East Ohio) have been told repeatedly that there were no spots available, when the camp was empty the time!

You all ought to do a follow-up on the number of camps that were sold to high end developers that covet the "greenspace" and have gotten their supporters and allies on local Girl Scout Council Boards.

Ask about Camp Margret Bates and the swanky "Forest Lake Development"

I was born and raised in NEO, I attended camps and trainings at Council Owned properties, and it is a great shame my nieces cannot have the same types of experiences their grandmother, and their own mother had!

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