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News Link • Unintended Consequences

Why Are Girl Scout Camps Being Closed?

• Daily Beast
The Girl Scouts are selling their camps, changing their program, and reportedly face serious problems with their pension liabilities. Has the iconic nonprofit lost its way?

Eagle Island, a 32-acre refuge in Upper Saranac Lake, N.Y., is a National Historic Landmark and one of the finest examples of Great Camp architecture in the Adirondacks. Bequeathed to the Girl Scouts by a wealthy banker in 1937, the camp served girls in the urban enclaves of northern New Jersey for 70 years until it was “rested” and then closed several years ago. Now it’s for sale—at $3.25 million.

And Eagle Island isn’t the only Girl Scout camp on the block.

The Girl Scouts, for whom cookies and camping have long been synonymous, have decided one of them has to go, and it isn’t going to be the addictive cash-cow Thin Mint.  In the past five years or so, Girl Scout councils across the country, backed by the parent organization Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA), have put up for sale more than 200 camps in 30 states—more than a third of Girl Scouts properties with acreage are threatened. The regional councils defend the sales by citing the rising costs of maintenance. And, they say, today’s girls aren’t as interested in camping.

Although camping remains a part of the Girl Scouts experience, in recent years it has been sidelined by controversial new programming that places less emphasis on outdoor learning. And camping hasn’t been promoted by cash-strapped councils that have proceeded with sale plans despite fervent protests from their memberships. That the 101-year-old organization reportedly has a woefully underfunded pension plan—currently down by $347 million—at the same time regional councils are trying to unload valuable land assets—has put the organization in the hotseat. While many pension funds took serious hits during the 2008 recession, critics, including one Tennessee council, contend that GSUSA made poor decisions, such as a massive realigning of councils and excessive buyouts, that exacerbated their loss.

 

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