The local Girl Scout Council has backed off a plan to sell its four eastern Iowa camps, but some Scouting alumnae are not backing off the council.
The board of directors for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois, or GSEIWI, is scheduled to vote today on an amended proposal regarding the future of the four camps, including Camp Conestoga in Scott County.
In late March, the board tabled a vote on a recommendation that all four camps be sold. The new proposal seeks to move residential programs to Camp Conestoga, use the three other camps for outdoor programs and some overnights and ultimately sell off any acreage that is not used.
Members of a group calling themselves Save Our Scout (SOS) Camps say the new plan gives no guarantees the council will not ultimately sell most of the camp land.
"In reality, the new recommendation outlines dramatic changes, and includes the probability that a majority of the camp properties will be sold," members of SOS Camps wrote in a news release issued Wednesday.
Joni Kinsey Fields, spokeswoman for SOS Camps, said the group's fear that a "majority" of the camps will be sold comes from the council's written response to a lawsuit that was filed last month by several former camp staff members and volunteers who sought an injunction to prevent the board from voting on the camp sale. The motion argued that members of the council, including troop leaders and other volunteers, also should be permitted to vote.
The council's answer to the suit contained an outline for future uses of the four camps, including specific plans to sell "the majority" of the land at Camp Little Cloud, all of Camp Tahigwa and parts of Conestoga and Camp L-Kee-Ta. Although the recommendation being considered today contains no specific proposal for the sale of land, Fields said, the plan that was outlined in the council's legal document suggests otherwise.
"To be straight forward about it, we just don't know," she said. "We worry it will be a majority. We're just very concerned, because it's not clarified."
The current recommendation contains wording about divesting camp properties that are "underutilized," but Fields said the wording is too vague.
"We don't know what criteria they're using to decide what is underused, for instance," she said. "That's why we're being a little alarmist."
Diane Nelson, the council's CEO, said there is no need for alarm, explaining the details outlined in the legal document are not current. The original proposal by the council's property committee was to sell all four camps. After hearing from hundreds of alumnae and current volunteers at several town hall meetings, she said, the property committee amended its recommendation. The result is what appeared in the council's answer to the request for an injunction.
But the lawsuit changed things.
"After the injunction, we had the vote to table the recommendation," Nelson said. "Since the board was already together, they met for three-and-a-half hours with our property committee, and they had a work session."
That meeting produced the recommendation that now is on the table and up for a vote today.
Asked Wednesday how many former Scouts and current volunteers are represented by SOS, Fields said she could not say for sure, calling the group "loosely organized" and adding, "Let's just say dozens."
Board chairwoman Mary Lagerblade pointed out the council has 19,000 Girl Scout and 5,000 volunteers, yet, “I am seeing a very small group of people who are making one phase of Girl Scout activity a mountain of confusion.”
She said that years of study went into the recommendations over what to do with the camps. A half-dozen community meetings and other forms of public outreach resulted in considerable changes in the final recommendation.
“No camps will be sold,” she said. “Three camps will continue to offer day camp, overnight troop camping, weekend programs and a variety of scouting activities.
“The camp most centrally located (Conestoga) will be developed as a single resident camp. It will accommodate resident camping and horse programs, and it will be designed to function year-round to meet the needs of our girls. Transportation will be provided.”
Lagerblade said no one can say what parts of the camps are “underutilized,” because the exact direction of programming has not yet been determined.
“Once all of our camp programs are established and given the seal of approval by the girls and the volunteers, we will take a look at the land usage,” she said. “ Some of our camps have hundreds of acres that have never been utilized.”
The whole purpose of the property committee's efforts, she said, was to study what aspects of camping are most popular and which ones are experiencing declines in interest.
"Using their findings and surveys from girls and volunteers, input from emails and camp staff, the property committee was part of an effort to change camp marketing, present new program opportunities while preserving the traditional nature of resident camping, all with the intent to attract more girls," Lagerblade said.
"If you look only at numbers and facts, you see where their first recommendation originated. Then adding the voices at town halls, property chats, emails, letters and phone calls, the committee restructured their recommendation while continuing their stewardship responsibilities. I am confident that this is a win-win. Three regional camps for troops, volunteers, special activities and one central camp (which the girls will have an opportunity to rename) for resident camping."