KILLINGWORTH, Conn. – While cash-strapped Boy Scouts sell off a number of campgrounds, conservationists, government officials and others scramble to find ways to keep them open space.
A $2.6 billion bankruptcy settlement proposed Designed to pay thousands of victims of child sexual abuse, this has put more pressure on an organization Years of declining registrations, and the Scouts and their local councils have capitalized on their extensive holdings, including properties where some of the abuse took place. Developers have bought some. Conservation groups hope others can be protected, and some lawmakers have taken note.
“I stress to my colleagues that there is a clear urgency here,” said US Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who believes federal funds may be available to purchase Scout properties. “We have no time to lose.”
For over a century, Boy Scouts and their local councils have acquired lands across the country where generations have learned to appreciate the great outdoors through camping, swimming and canoeing.
In Blumenthal, Connecticut, the Scouts’ Yankee Council is considering a $4.6 million bid from developers for a 252-acre property, Deer Lake, near Long Island Sound that will offer camping, fishing and hiking. The council has rejected bids from two conservation groups but is negotiating with one of them, which has made a revised offer.
Senator Blumenthal said he is exploring the potential use of money from the National Park Service’s Land and Water Conservation Fund to help buy the Connecticut camp and the other Boy Scout properties that are for sale across the country. The individual states decide which projects will be financed with this money.
Other properties to be preserved include 96 acres of former Boy Scouts’ Camp Barton on the west shore of Cayuga Lake in New York’s Finger Lakes region. It includes forests, streams, trails and a 23 meter high waterfall.
“They’re not building lakefront lots anymore,” said Fred Bonn, regional director for the Finger Lakes state park system. “Access to the lake is challenging, both because of its topography and what is privately owned.”
Several local cities and the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation are working with the Baden-Powell Council of the Boy Scouts to try to preserve the land. A nearby 41-acre parcel has already been sold by the Boy Scouts to private prospects.
It is unclear how much land in the United States is owned by Boy Scouts, in part because it is owned by local Boy Scout councils. But evidence in the bankruptcy filing indicated that councilors own nearly 2,000 properties that could be worth between $8 billion and $10 billion, said Timothy Kosnoff, an attorney representing more than 12,000 bankruptcy filings.
The proposed bankruptcy settlement with Boys Scouts of America would result in its more than 250 councilors contributing at least $515 million in cash and property and a $100 million interest-bearing debenture. Kosnoff said the Boy Scouts would have to sell much of their land to help bring national unity or, if that fails, to pay for continued litigation.
“I can’t predict how long it will take for all of these properties to be liquidated, but I think it’s inevitable,” he said.
Some abuse victims have mixed feelings about the sale of the camps.
Joe, a victim who did not want his last name used because his family was unaware of his experience, was molested in the 1970s at age 8 by his Boy Scout master at a Connecticut camp that was sold years ago, to make room for lodging at Candlewood Lake. He’s not sure he wants people camping on land where boy scouts were once abused.
“I don’t have these warm feelings about these places,” he said. “It’s almost like ‘Poltergeist.’ Want your house on land where these things happened? So I don’t know what to do with these places.”
The Boy Scouts of America said in a statement the sale of the camps may be necessary in some cases to compensate victims.
“Every decision must consider finances, profitability of potential buyers, sustainability and meeting commitments to provide the best service to youth within their respective council,” the organization said.
Councils in states like Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have all recently sold camps or announced plans to sell.
Senator Blumenthal said selling camps to developers goes against tenants from an organization designed to teach environmental stewardship.
“Unfortunately, local scout councils sell to the highest bidder,” he said. “So, I think it’s a national challenge, but it gets to the heart of what scouting is and the ethos and ethics of scouting that they might betray.”
In Michigan, a merger of local Boy Scout councils that began a decade ago has resulted in the sale of numerous properties, including Silver Trails, a 269-acre camp about 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest of Port Huron. A group called the Thumb Land Conservancy tried to buy it in 2019 but lost when the Scouts sold it to a gravel mining company.
“They’re sold out, I think 15 camps across the state,” said Bill Collins, the executive director of the Conservancy Group and a former Boy Scout who used to camp at Silver Trails. “So now sometimes people have to drive a few hundred miles across the state to get to the camp. Well that makes most day camp activities unfeasible and things like weekend camp outs are a lot more onerous for everyone involved.”
In Maine, Androscoggin Land Trust has a deed of sale to purchase 95-acre Boy Scout Camp Gustin near Lewiston, which includes a large pond and bog teeming with wildlife. Aimee Dorval, the trust’s executive director, said the state government’s Land for Maine’s Future program has agreed to contribute half of the property’s estimated $415,000 worth. The rest is raised by private donations.
The purchase would be part of the trust’s larger effort to preserve approximately 1,000 acres of open space along the Androscoggin River near Lewiston, land also targeted by developers. The Trust plans to continue allowing Scouts to use the land while also opening it up for camping and other activities for the wider community.
Dorval said it’s important that groups like hers take action when these camps go up for sale.
“There are accredited land trusts across the country that can do that,” she said. “I think it would be foolish for people to stay away from it because of the (Boy Scout abuse) controversy. We don’t care about that. It’s about conservation and trying to preserve an area for youth and nature-related activities and access to historic scouts.”
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https://www.local10.com/news/national/2022/06/04/scouts-sell-off-camps-under-strain-from-sex-abuse-suits/ Boy Scouts sell camps under pressure from sex abuse charges