New plan worries opponents of Iowa Girl Scout camps sale

Proposed changes too dramatic, would lead to likely sale of 'majority' of camp properties

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March 28, 2014 | 1:49 pm

After outspoken critics prompted the local Girl Scouts last month to back off a proposal to sell all of its camp properties, a council committee this week has made public a new recommendation that opponents say isn’t much better.

“The public perception seems to be that this new recommendation will save the camps and is a big win for those who have worked for that cause,” according to a news release from the opposition group, Save our Scout Camps. “In reality, the new recommendation outlines dramatic changes and includes the probability that a majority of the camp properties will be sold.”

The new recommendation, which is scheduled for a Thursday vote by the Board of Directors for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois, suggests redeveloping and upgrading one of its four existing camps – Camp Conestoga in New Liberty, north of the Quad Cities and within 65 miles of 75 percent of the members.

Redevelopment would begin in the fall with an estimated completion date of 2015, according to the recommendation. After the project is complete, Conestoga land that is not needed will be sold, according to the council’s property committee.

Plans for the new camp “should include modern and rustic elements, as well as buildings equipped for year-round use,” according to the recommendation.

“Our new (camp) should meet the program and outdoor educational needs of today’s and tomorrow’s girls,” according to the proposal. “A task force of girls and volunteers from (the council) will be asked to participate in the designing, naming and planning of this project.”

Camp for this summer will continue as scheduled, meaning resident camp will occur at Camp Conestoga and Camp Little Cloud in Epworth. Camp Tahigwa, in Allamakee County, and Camp L-Kee-Ta, in Danville, both will offer a variety of other programs for girls.

While Conestoga is being redeveloped, Camp Little Cloud will serve as an interim residence camp, according to the council’s proposal. The other camps will continue to provide a space for troop events and other activities.

Those “outdoor program centers” will be supported by volunteers and part-time staff, who will be responsible for providing program and maintenance needs, according to the recommendation.

“When the specific land and facility needs for these properties have been determined, and the new resident camp project build out schedule has also been finalized, land which is not needed for these outdoor program centers will be divested,” according to the committee’s recommendation.

The new proposal is based on opposition to the original proposal to sell all four camp properties and rebuild one new center that could meet all the girls’ needs.

Opponents said the council was making an ill-considered decision based on finances, and they pleaded with the board – and took legal action – to keep them from voting to shutter the camps.

“Our members clearly communicated that they, as volunteers, want the opportunity to raise funds to support local traditional camping opportunities; support, market and lead local year round programming for girls, and mentor leaders and girls in camp traditions,” according to the new proposal.

Still, opponents are not happy with the new recommendations.

According to the opposition’s news release, they believe the new recommendation still leaves most camps in jeopardy, fails to define a vision and financial plan for the new modern central camp, and doesn’t identify criteria for “unutilized land” that could be sold.

The group also is concerned that the proposal doesn’t allow the members to vote on the potential sale of any properties and doesn’t explore alternatives to selling unused land.

“Furthermore, they worry that the proposal lacks a strong commitment to traditional, rustic camping as a central component of Girl Scouting,” according to the release.

In response to the new recommendations, the group is preparing its own proposal to work with the council on its camping program. Among its suggestions, the proposal will include ways to improve camp planning and marketing strategies, work with new volunteers, and implement fundraising efforts.

The opposition group filed an injunction to keep the board from voting on the original proposal, and they filed a lawsuit to make it possible to vote on the sale of camp property.

They withdrew their injunction when the board decided not to vote last month on the first proposal.  The lawsuit is still pending.

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