A Shift For Survival

“A camp can be nicely planned within daily reach of many of our large cities, but should be far enough to escape city sounds and smells. It is not a camp, however, if it is where a stream of strangers can pass by at any time of the day or night within sight and hearing.”

–How Girls Can Help Their Country: The 1913 Girl Scout Handbook

Camping has been a core value of the Girl Scout Movement since Juliette Gordon Low gathered 18 girls in Savannah, Ga., to create the first troop on March 12, 1912. At the movement’s apex after World War II, there was almost a religious zeal by the national organization to ensure that every Girl Scout Council would own a camp.

The fervor of the movement until the mid-1960s created hundreds of camps and scout houses throughout the country. Most of these sites remained part of the movement as the national organization led a series of council consolidations from over 1,300 councils to 370 by the mid-1970s. Additional mergers beginning in the 1990s consolidated the total number of councils to 330 by 2005.

For the past three years, the Girl Scouts of the USA has embarked on the most ambitious realignment of any youth service agency in history. By the end of 2009, there will be 109 councils serving every square mile of the country. A key tenet of the realignment is that property will not be dealt with until two years after the new council has been established. Therefore, the impact is just starting to reveal itself, as the councils formed in 2007 are beginning to assess their property situation.

A Bounty Of Land

Based on an internet search of the realigned councils and an inventory of the properties for those councils that have not realigned as of this date, 70 percent of the properties listed include land totaling over 103,000 acres. These statistics do not account for land owned by the council that is not available for program use. It is believed the number of properties will be significantly higher when these additional sites are accounted for.

Land is the greatest asset and greatest liability for all 109 councils. The Girl Scouts of Northern California inherited 35 sites, with 10 being major camp properties. The Girl Scouts Heart of Hudson Council has 19 properties, and the Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania has seven major camp properties representing over 2,500 acres of land.

Similar Resources

Most of the properties are similar from a development standpoint. This is not surprising since the vast majority were developed over the same time period, from 1950 through 1965. The national organization recruited a group of young women under the direction of Julian Salomon to travel the country and help councils find land and develop camps.

The design of the camps was heavily influenced by Salomon’s book, Camp Site Development, which includes development criteria, living unit layouts and building examples. Most of the sites have a camper capacity of less than 150, with primitive or rustic camping units consisting of tents or seasonal cabins, a dining hall if it is a resident camp and a limited series of structured activity areas.

The vast majority of the accommodations at the sites are seasonal. Typically year-round opportunities are limited to a few troop houses or use of the dining hall for over-nights by troops.

Age, Condition And Design

Most of the Girl Scout Camps are over 50 years old. Although the majority of the legacy councils did a good job of maintaining their facilities, the reality is that several of the sites are at the point where replacement, redevelopment or government-mandated improvements have become a necessity. The new councils are faced with multiple properties, developed as seasonal rustic camps and all requiring the same level of maintenance, infrastructure upgrades and repairs. How many traditional (1950s-model) resident and troop camps can a council sustain?

Modern Challenges

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