BY MELANIE BUCK –
Entertaining and teaching young girls about adventures in nature since 1945, Camp High Point that sits just outside of Mena is one of four Girl Scout camps around the state being closed. The announcement was made by the Diamonds Council last week to much dismay amongst current and former scouts. Along with Camp High Point, Camp Noark, Camp Kemp, and Camp Taloha are also on the chopping block.
“It was the decision of the board of directors that Camp High Point will be rested at the conclusion of the 2016 residential summer camp, spending only what is necessary to address critical safety issues,” stated a letter sent out by the council. The letter also said that if there is not enough interest from girls or volunteer support, the summer residential camps may be cancelled as well. Diamonds Council has vowed to honor current Girl Scout and community reservations but said “no new reservations will be accepted, effective immediately.” Once current obligations are honored, utilities will be disconnected and the camp will enter a ‘discovery phase.’
The discovery phase will include professional evaluation to determine the estimated value of the property, estimation of inherent natural resources, such as timber, shale, natural gas, etc., and exploration of marketability for private lease opportunities.
The council expects the discovery phase to be completed by October 1, 2016. The letter went on, “It is the discretion of the board to consider all information compiled during the discovery phase and make a determination as to the future of the camp during this time.” The letter also stated, “We are sensitive and realize some people will have difficulty embracing this decision.” And, in fact, there are many that are having difficulty understanding why the council has made such a decision.
Back in 2006, the national Girl Scout Council had a ‘realignment’ and began looking into their program portfolio. Since then, their program has changed to focus less on the outdoors and more on new technology. Many of the old badges are gone and girls now work on ‘journeys’ as a part of their curriculum. Hundreds of camps across the United States have been sold off in the past decade for millions of dollars. Where did that money get spent? Much of it has gone towards building new urban mega-centers where girls learn more about technology. As one parent put it, “aren’t we trying to get the devices out of their hands and get them to be more involved with their communities and environment?”
However, the national council isn’t listening and they have created a storm of upset Girl Scouts and leaders who don’t understand why measures can’t be taken to keep the camps running. Citing high maintenance fees and lack of interest, councils across the country continue to sell off properties – properties that were either bought and paid for by volunteer work and the sell of cookies, or donated for the enjoyment of the scouts. This concept leaves many to wonder how regional councils continue to sell properties that were paid for with donated money? But they are, and they plan to continue to do so. Causing suspicion amongst some groups is that in recent years, the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) underfunded their pension plan by almost $350 million, leaving them scrambling to fix it.
Around the country, many groups have been formed to keep camps open, either by raising the funds and actually buying the camp from the council, or by fighting legal battles. Many are still in limbo and many have been lost but that hasn’t kept them from trying. For the four camps in Arkansas that are in jeopardy of being closed forever, there has been a group formed. Social media has helped launch Save Our Girl Scout Camps on Facebook for camps across the nation and Save Camp High Point and Camp Kemp, also on Facebook, for the local camps. Information on meetings and how to contact the local councils are included, as well as the national council. If you would like to let the national council know how scouting impacted your life through camps, contact GSUSA at 1-800-478-7248 or write them at: Girl Scouts of the USA, 420 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10018-2798. Mark any mail correspondence: Attn: Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, Board President.