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Girl Scout camp closures cause controversy
The Girl Scouts of Northeast Ohio plan to sell four of its seven camps, but many troops and their leaders are fighting the decision

Camp Crowell-Hilaka is one of four camps that the Girl Scouts of Northeast Ohio plan to close.
Courtesy of Alison Ritchie
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Next year, the Girl Scouts will celebrate their 100th anniversary. But a dispute over the sale of four camps in Northeast Ohio has raised questions about scouting’s future. WKSU’s Amanda Rabinowitz reports.

Girl Scouts protest camp closures

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Nine-year-old Megan Austin has been a Girl Scout since she was 5, starting out as a Daisy and working her way up to Junior Girl Scout. She loves camping.

"What I like to do is using the camp as a jungle gym, like play on the trees and use vines as swings and all that," Austin said.

But the whole direction for the Girl Scouts and camping is changing. The board that governs all 3,100 troops in Northeast Ohio plans to sell four of its seven camps. The money from the sales will transform two other camps – Camp Ledgewood in Cuyahoga Valley and Camp Timberlane west of Oberlin – into leadership centers.

The centers would keep some camping, but would emphasize math and science training.

But members who grew up with the camps are fighting the sale. They have collected enough signatures to force a meeting of the 99-member general assembly, hoping that council can change the board’s mind.

Lynn Richardson is what the Girl Scouts call a “Greenblood” – a volunteer who has dedicated herself to the program. She joined scouts in the fourth grade, and became a troop leader when she was 18.

Richardson says she’s not sure if the general assembly will succeed in blocking the sales.

"At this point, it could go either way," said Lynn. "We have a very good shot. Obviously, in order to get the special meeting, we had to get signatures from a majority from the general assembly. So people want to have it discussed. But how they’re going to vote after the discussion, I don’t know."

But members of the scouting board say their options are limited. Brent Gardner says the decision comes down to finances.

"If money was not an object, we wouldn’t sell any camps and they’d all be great camps," said Gardner. "We need to improve all the camps roughly to the tune of about $30 million. Well, where do we get $30 million to make the improvements? And so, at the end of the day, we can’t keep everything."

But opponents say the $30 million figure is too high and needs to be re-evaluated by an outside contractor. Girl Scout troops have protested the closures by camping out on the lawn of their headquarters in Macedonia. Gardner says the board understands their concerns.

"We understand their love of their particular camp that their grandmother may have camped at, that their mother may have camped at," said Gardner. "It’s probably not much different than selling the family home. We get it. We understand. And it is emotional for all of us. This is not easy work that we have to do."

Still, the board did reverse its plans to close a fifth camp – Camp Sugarbush in Trumbull County. It’s not clear if that, too, will become a leadership center. 

But Richardson argues that many of the changes are not necessary.

"What is it that you’re going to do exactly to help girls into the leadership role that we’re not already doing?" Richardson said. 

Richardson is concerned that the three remaining camps will not have enough space for the region’s 40,000 Girl Scouts. Yet she expects a large drop off in members because many parents won’t drive the longer distance to the camps.

The Girl Scouts’ 99-member general assembly will meet this Saturday at 8 a.m. to consider the issue. The assembly is made up of board members, and national and regional delegates. They’ll vote on an amendment that would give the assembly the right to make real estate decisions, instead of leaving it only to the board. That would halt the sale of the four camps, until the properties are re-evaluated.

(Click image for larger view.)

Related Links & Resources
Friends of Crowell-Hilaka

Trefoil Integrity

Girl Scouts of Northeast Ohio

Related WKSU Stories

Newly Formed Girl Scouts of Northeast Ohio Names First Chief Executive Officer
Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Listener Comments:

Kip Gardner gave me permission to post the following comment:
'I think the most revealing thing about the radio story was that the Board member who spoke implied that the primary reason people were upset was because they were losing their 'legacy" camps. No mention was made anywhere in the story that a MAJOR aspect of the discontent was the fact that the PROGRAMS that would be emphasized at the "enhanced" (a debatable idea) facilities would be a significant departure from the traditional programs

Posted by: Joan Porter (North Canton, OH) on October 28, 2011 12:10PM
Mr. Gardner is not being entirely truthful. After watching this situation unfold, I have come to the personal conclusion that something less than honest is happening behind the scenes.

Do the Girl Scout members realise that the administration has leased camp properties out for gas exploration? Do they know that GSNEO has hired a forester to log the's stated on their own website.

This is about MONEY, people. Someone is getting enriched off of Girl Scout DONATED and WORKED FOR assets aquired over GENERATIONS..WHO?..why else is there a big rush to sell? The market is the worse it has ever been to sell. If camp sale deals are signed before the membership has a say, I would certainly be suspicious.

Why doesn't the GSNEO listen to the outcry of it's memebers? They should quit trying to shove their 'new agenda' down their members throats!!
Girls and moms want traditional Girl Scouting.

It is SICKENINIG to watch honest people get worked over by professional corporatists. They women and the girls in this organisation have trusted their interests to the wrong people!I hope they take back their rights and get rid of these carpetbaggers.

Posted by: George Nash (Leroy, Ohio) on October 27, 2011 8:10AM
Dear GSNEO Board and CEO,

Please RESIGN.

There is no honor in what you are doing.

Is this the example you were given when you were not raised as a Girl Scout?

These women and girls are NOT THE ENEMY! You should be honored to SERVE them and implement THEIR wishes and vision. STEP ASIDE and let PEOPLE WHO CARE ABOUT THE MEMBERS VALUES make these decisions. You are obviously not qualified.

Posted by: Dan Beard (BSA) on October 27, 2011 7:10AM
As an NPR listener, I appreciate that WKSU is following this important story. As a troop leader, I can share that camping is definately still one of the favorite activities for most girl members of GSNEO. The members want the Delegates to pass the amendment this Saturday so a true and accurate evaluation of our camp needs can be done. We also want the Delegates to elect a new Board and we want that Board to put staff in place who will work with the members. There has been an enormous amount of damage done to this organization since the merger in 2008. It will take both time and putting new people in place to heal the organization.

Posted by: GSLeader (Stark County) on October 27, 2011 3:10AM
Very disappointed that Mr. Gardner was either mis-quoted or mis-spoke. The GSNEO website tells a very different story. $30 million is to turn all seven properties into Premier Leadership Centers. It was estimated that it will take $2 million to provide basic repairs. That's a $28 million dollar discrepancy.

Last year girl members provided $8.5 million of the $11 million earned ( Camping is the most popular program offered. Less than 10% was spent on the properties last year ($990,000). Girls provide more than 80% of the funding and less than 10% of the money is spent on their favorite program. That is a huge concern for delegates.

Community members and donors have also contacted the Board and stated their future contributions will be based on this Saturday's vote.

We, the delegates and the membership we represent, are disappointed that our leadership continues to not tell the whole truth to the community. This article will only remind the membership what we are voting for on Saturday: a fair, accurate, and transparent re-evaluation!

Posted by: Corey Ann Ringle (Shaker Heights, OH) on October 26, 2011 8:10AM
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