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Battle over Ohio scout camp closings goes to court
Girl Scouts say they can't afford to maintain camps; opponents say they can't afford not to
by WKSU's M.L. SCHULTZE
and KELLI FITZPATRICK


Web Editor
M.L. Schultze
 
One of the promotional photos on the camping programs offered by the Girl Scouts of Northeast Ohio. Plans to close four camps has led to a lawsuit.
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As with closing churches, people get emotional when it comes to closing Scout camps. And some of that emotion is surfacing in an Akron courtroom.

SCHULTZE Girl Scout hearing

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The group Trefoil Integrity is suing to try to keep the Girl Scouts of North East Ohio from selling four camps in Carroll, Summit, Lake and Seneca counties.  It’s asked visiting Judge Richard Reinbold to issue an injunction blocking the sale, saying the council is ignoring its own bylaws.

The scouts Chief Financial Officer John Graves testified that it’s simply a matter of math beginning with the onset of the recession in 2008.

“That affected two things. One, it affected our donations and the donations dramatically dropped. But more importantly, the biggest source of revenue for the Girl Scouts is the annual cookie sale. And you note from the annual statements that that dropped dramatically.”

Graves estimates the council has been operating nearly a million dollars in the hole for each of the last two years.  The council also says its seven current camps need some $18 million in repairs.

More than cost involved
The Trefoil Integrity group has disputed the numbers and the procedures used to decide on the closures.  And Christine Naizer says the group wants more time and scrutiny.

“I’m hoping the judge will see that we have a valid argument that the membership’s voice has not been honored and that the camps will have a chance to remain unsold until we properly evaluate.”    

Emotion surfaces
But some of the testimony in Wednesday’s hearing went beyond dollars, cents and bylaws. Lisa Allison was a Girl Scout leader for 38 years and served on the board of the Great Trail camp in Carroll County. She says times and interests have changed, and it breaks her heart.

“It doesn’t make sense to spend Girl Scout money to keep that. It makes more sense to use that money to find a place that more people will use if that’s possible.”

 Allison says she doesn’t even know if plans to transform its remaining camps into leadership centers will work.

“You can’t make them go camp.”

The new generation
But current scouts Lillie Trammel and Julia Pittner -- who sat through three  days of the court  hearings --  don’t share her fears. They say they want to continue traditions set by those like the scouts who created Camp Crowell/Hilaka in Summit County.

“In the 1930s, I read this pamphlet about it and it said that they saved all of their money to buy the camp and so I don’t think it would be right for the GSNEO to close it because they saved all of their money to open a camp.

“I like Lejnar, too. That one’s a cool one. They have lots of cool things there. They have that water slide that kind of hurts. It’s a natural water slide in the river. It hurts your back. It does hurt your back.”

The Girl Scouts already have sold or returned to their original owners seven other camps. They also are exploring the possibility of leasing mineral rights at the Great Trails camp to oil and gas drillers.

 


Listener Comments:

If GSNEO goes through with its plan to sell nearly all of its camp properties, then I guarantee that my own daughters will never become Girl Scouts. The GSNEO board isn't exactly proving to be the paragon of leadership that I want my children to emulate.


Posted by: Laura F. (North Canton) on May 21, 2012 1:05AM
As a lifetime Girl Scout I am very saddened by this lack of open communication between the Board and the membership that has led to this point. The Board serves to ensure the Girl Scout organization fulfills its mission, but that is difficult without open dialog.

Camping makes girls stronger -- they learn new skills and self-confidence that they often do not get elsewhere. We need to keep as many camps as possible open in as many locations as possible to ensure all girls have access to this fabulous resource.

I hope that the Board leverages the power of the membership to keep the camps open, repair their facilities, and increase attendance. Cookie sales will improve and increase when the girls are engaged and willing to work for what they love.


Posted by: clsmit (Solon OH) on May 20, 2012 7:05AM
The bottom line is the GSNEO Board has a different set of priorities than do the Girl Scout members. The Board is not interested in what the membership wants. They have shown they are interested in their fancy office building in Macedonia, in providing social services and in technology, like their hardly ever used mobile robotics lab. The majority of members - both girls and adults - want our camps open so the membership can use them and we want local, traditional GS programing for our girls. More than anything, the members want the truth from the GSNEO Board, something that has been in short supply ever since the merger in 2007! At membership meetings we are told the council is doing great and there are no financial concerns, then in court they cite negative investment results and a poor economy as reasons for 3 years of operating losses. Gee, do those operating losses have anything to do with increasing staffing levels while losing membership? And giving the CEO a $10,000 bonus at a time when she is breaking IRS rules related to non-profit organizations by publicly endorsing a candidate? Not to mention the fact that many girls


Posted by: GSLeader (Canton, OH) on May 18, 2012 11:05AM
These properties should not be sold. If a girl doesn't want to camp overnight, the properties could be used for the day. Troops should be encouraged to explore nature. Troops could have their meetings during the week. GSNEO could have an office at each camp instead of separate offices and a 3 million dollar building they purchased. We should honor the women before us that gave us these beautiful properties by working hard to raise the money. After the merger, GSNEO does not respect the members wishes. This is a rogue board and I beg they resign along with the CEO.


Posted by: MissB (Cleveland) on May 18, 2012 5:05AM
There is something dreadfully wrong in a nation that raises children who are selling cookies to fund (and pay salaries) a supposed youth organization who is supposed to build moral character in our young women, and the very organization is taking CAMPING away from these young ladies.

There is so much more contributing to the drop in membership (such as busy, two-income families, too many extra-curricular activities and competing youth groups), as well as sales (this year cookie sales were boycotted by many troops and girls to show their dissatisfaction in selling the camps)-camping has nothing to do with it.

As a leadership organization who should be teaching girls to appreciate the outdoors, it is EXTREMELY disheartening to say the least that GS is conforming to what it believes modern girls need. Let's assume that GSNEO's statements true regarding girls under-utilizing our camps that we have worked so hard to purchase in the past. Maybe they are not drawing in the girls that they should-all the more reason to teach our leaders to love and embrace these places of tranquility and beauty and to share them with today's youth instead of throwing in the towel and conforming...it isn't a message I want to teach my daughters.

I do not agree with selling the camps off and sending a message that GS does not support or appreciate nature, or that we conform to children when things don't go as planned. We should be striving even more to encourage our girls to spend time outdoors, not cringing at the very word. It is a horrible message to send to young ladies-that the outdoors are not worth saving, especially in today's day and age. What are we saying to our young women???

And then to top it off, lying about numbers and usage, etc. to manipulate membership into believing these sales are right and necessary is wrong. We are deviating from the original intentions of our founder!!

And stretching the truth so that it seems these lands will remain undeveloped when in fact, talk is going on about drilling, fracking, etc. is maddening. GS should be preaching about saving our environment-respecting and honoring our past, instead of looking for the highest bidder to take these properties off of our hands. Really, what is wrong with our society?

With these camps gone, yet more girls throughout NE OH will miss out on opportunities to embrace nature. Many girls aren't affording the opportunity to experience everything the outdoors can teach them. Enough with the classrooms. Leave that to our schools. The outdoors is an important classroom. Maybe some of our Board did not have the opportunity to learn in a camp setting, so they just don't "get it". Shameful that they may have the opportunity to take the best "learning centers" away from our membership.

Lastly, GSNEO would rather lose leaders and members due to their unhappiness about the camps and try to entice new girls into joining. That is so wrong-abandoning your loyal supporters to recruit new blood. Shameful.

I only hope justice can prevail for the sake of all of Girl Scouts and our country. Sad times...


Posted by: Michelle (Richfield, OH) on May 17, 2012 12:05PM
I sure hope the judge rules in favor of the Trefoil group because I think it is important for the camps to stay open! In the last year I have just finally started camping with my girl scout troop and my daughters. I've been to Great Trail Camp once for Camp Snoopy and it was wonderful the place is beautiful and I would hate to see it be closed forever. I've been camping twice to Camp Ledgewood and that is very nice too. I would have loved to try some other camps, but since you have to book 3 months ahead, I have no idea of what everyone will be doing. Please Save Our Camps!


Posted by: Jodi Owsiany (Canal Fulton) on May 17, 2012 11:05AM
It's frustrating and outrageous that they continue to cry poverty as the reason they cannot afford to keep all of the camps, when they're actually planning on spending tens of MILLIONS of dollars to update the three camps they're planning to keep.

As Corey Ann pointed out, the annual portion of the budget to operate these camps is less than 10% of the annual operating expenses of the council. If they need to make cuts, I'm fairly certain they could easily find a way to make those cuts in other areas that would not directly affect the membership.

Children are not going to stand in the freezing cold in February to sell boxes of girl scout cookies so that they can pay fir the privilege of participating in programs during their free time which offer the same content as they're already getting in school.


Posted by: Julie B. (North Canton, OH) on May 17, 2012 10:05AM
Girl Scouts should not be relying on children to do the majority of fund raising for this organization- that's an adult responsibility. The amount of money raised for this court proceeding shows that adults will support camps for Girl Scouts. Let the board, made up of experienced business leaders, concentrate on raising funds for what the membership actually wants. It appears from the uproar over selling camps from girls as well as adults- that camp is what is wanted- and needed. In this generation of "nature deficit" and helicopter parents, girls need a place in the woods to contemplate the natural world and gain confidence by practicing outdoor skills. Girl Scouts have been successful in nurturing caring, confident and courageous girls for 100 years. Much of this transpired in the out-of-doors. Girls need camps!


Posted by: Kathleen (Cuyahoga County) on May 17, 2012 10:05AM
It is such a shame that money has to spent to keep what is already owned. GSNEO needs to listen to what is being said,


Posted by: Geri (Streetsboro) on May 17, 2012 10:05AM
Girls raise over 80% of the annual budget ($8.5 million of $11 million) Roughly 50% of the girls camp (20,000 of 38,000 girl members) Only $990,000 (less in the previous years) is spent on camping.

Why is less than 10% of the income spent on camping that is enjoyed by 50% of the membership when said membership is responsible for 80% of the operating budget.

The plaintiff's council raised a great point. We have 6 offices and 7 camps. Were any studies done to determine if all the offices were needed? Were any studies done to see how far someone is willing to drive to an office as opposed to a day camp or 2 hour program? I've only seen a handful of programs offered at the offices and all of the programs could have easily been offered at camp instead.

I don't think they've crunched all the numbers. Camps with $500,000 endowments are being sold. Donations are being returned to donors and gifts turned away. One of the plaintiff's witnesses included Mr. Renkert who donated Great Trail Camp. He was never even called when his donation was being sold. He learned from the news paper!

I don't believe the Board is being financially responsible. If you rely on the membership (cookie sales) and community for funding (donations), you need to be willing to work with them, or risk losing financial stability.

If they sell Camp Lejnar and Camp Crowell Hilaka, Cleveland will lose all their camps. Cuyahoga makes up 22.5% of the 18 county membership. The cost to keep Camp Pleasant Valley is less than the CEO's bonus (that's right, not her salary, just her annual bonus)


Posted by: Corey Ann Ringle (Shaker Heights, OH) on May 17, 2012 10:05AM
This whole thing is such a shame. I camped as a girl at Great Trail many times. Remember the burros? My oldest daughter was only able to camp there occasionally, because access had been restricted and her troop could rarely get a spot. We had even signed her up for summer camp but that was the year the camp closed (temporarily) and there was no summer camp. My younger daughter has never been able to camp there.

My older daughter camped at Lycopodia as often as her troop could get a spot, yet that camp was sold for "lack of interest." HA There was so much "lack of interest" that the camp was booked. Our CEO has a vision and it does not involve camping. Daisy said herself that she hated camping as a scout.

Since my girls have been scouting (this past 10 years) we have seen a huge decline in girl scouting. Camping availability is nearly nonexistent. Day camps have been done away with. (At least any near us.) My younger daughter is 11 and has outlasted 4 troops. They keep disbanding because the leaders get tired of the hassle and hoops to be jumped through to keep the troop going. It is NOT for lack of interest. The girls still want to be scouts. I've taken my "girl scout" to "cub scout camp" since she couldn't go to her own.

Why not take a page from boy scouts and have "good turn work days?" The troops converge on a camp for all day Saturday and fix whatever is needed. They gather donated materials (ask Lowe's and Home Depot) and get adults to supervise. They do this several times a year and their camp, Seven Ranges, is wonderful.

I hope that the judge will see this for what it is - a power grab. The land is too valuble for the girls to use it. GSNEO thinks that selling the camps will improve scouting - I think it will signal the death of girl scouts once and for all. There's always Venturing, I guess.


Posted by: Kathleen Clay (Canton) on May 17, 2012 7:05AM
I have listened to testimony for three days and eagerly await Judge Reinbold's decision on May 24 at 1:30 pm. While I am not one of the plaintiffs, I am one of many members of the support team working behind the scenes. My interest is in keeping ALL camps so ALL the Girl Scouts in Northeast Ohio will have camps close enough to them that they can actually get to them. My home camp is Great Trail Camp in Malvern. I want to point out some interesting points that were made or not made in the testimony regarding the sale of the camps and the mineral rights at Great Trail Camp.

For the first two days of testimony, there was no mention of keeping Great Trail Camp open for the girls. Council's written response to the plaintiffs' complaint clearly indicated their desire to sell or lease the mineral rights at four camps, including Great Trail, to upgrade Timberlane, Sugarbush, and Ledgewood.

During yesterday's testimony, the following was stated. GSNEO Board of Directors Joan Villarreal said that the BoD had had an offer to purchase Great Trail Camp and it was twice as much as what the current mineral rights lease offer is. She added that the royalties have already been taken into consideration to arrive at that number. According to her, GSNEO is still negotiating with the oil and gas company on the mineral rights lease. Upon cross examination, Villarreal also stated that Great Trail Camp could still be sold. She also testified that she cannot say that Great Trail Camp will be reopened for girls.

When GSNEO CEO Daisy Alford-Smith took the stand, she commented that speaking for herself, she would keep a small portion of Great Trail Camp open for the girls and make it safe and environmentally friendly for the girls. The problem is, the CEO does not make the decision. The BoD does.

Furthermore, I am not sure what constitutes "safe" unless it is building a bridge or tunnel near the intersection of Linden and Lorric Rds. for the girls to cross from one side of the camp to the other. Many of you familiar with Great Trail Camp are probably scratching your heads at this point. This "project" is actually on the list of work that needs to be done at Great Trail Camp and its cost figures into the decision to sell it.

Many of you are familiar with Great Trail Camp and how it is laid out. It is split by a road. But this is not a heavily traveled four-lane highway. It is a country road with very little development along it. There is not even a line down the middle of it. Precautions have always been taken to ensure safe crossing. To the best of my knowledge, there has never even been a close call with any of our girls.

Please, do not sit idly by while YOUR camps are at risk. Work with us to re-open them and make them a viable part of Girl Scouting. Go to www.trefoilintegrity.org for more information about all the camps slated for sale and to donate to help save the camps. You may also contact Camp Friends, a non-profit charitable organization supporting Great Trail Camp, at campfriends09@gmail.com.


Posted by: Joan Porter (North Canton, Oh) on May 17, 2012 3:05AM
It is so obvious that the board and CEO are "spinning" the facts and lying about the situation. Let's hope that the Judge can see this.

I don't care what any defendant witness may say, the majority of girls in Girl Scouting want to camp. The ones that don't - don't have to.

If they think that they are in financial trouble now, if these camps are closed, they will see the largest drop in membership numbers and financial support in the history of Girl Scouting. They got a hint of it during this year's cookie sale.

What a shame that girls will suffer because of the arrogance and shortsightedness of a few people in charge. They are forgetting that this is a girl-led organization, or their egos are too big to allow the girls to have their say.


Posted by: Comet (Cleveland) on May 17, 2012 2:05AM
There are several "inaccuracies" about the council GSNEO reported figures.

For the FIRST THREE years (2007-2010) of the merger of the former FIVE councils (Lake Erie (Cuyahoga County), Lake to River, Erie Shores, Western Reserve (Akron area), and Great Trail), Girl Scout troops could only camp at camps WITHIN the boundaries of their old council.

The Council DID NOT HAVE, nor does it have at present any accurate why to schedule troops and groups to use any of the camp facilities, nor to accurately report the number of the membership that ARE using the camp facilities. The 50% number is only a "rough guess." This does not include the number of membership that WOULD use the camp facilities if they were able to get scheduled.

The Council has REFUSED assistance from community groups, as well as from local businesses, industries and educational facilities to maintain and repair camp facilities.

Where once local Girl Scout Council Boards were make up of a mix of adult members, and local business and community leaders, it is now a cohort of other senior employees from other non-profit corporations and a smattering of financial planners, lawyers and real estate developers.

Where once Board Meetings were open to ALL the adult membership and to older girls to attend, there are now always held behind closed doors and in secret, only senior employees of the Council in attendance along with the Board.




Posted by: Sandra Dent (North Olmsted Ohio) on May 17, 2012 1:05AM
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