BY REGGIE SHEFFIELD
Less than a year after campers at a local Girl Scout camp learned it was slated for closure due to budget woes, a Harrisburg architect has outlined a $4 million expansion project for a Harrisburg-area camp run by the same Girl Scout council.
The posting by Chris Dawson Architect caused the Supporters of Camp Archbald to issue a strongly worded press release harshly criticizing what it sees as a move contradicting claims by the Girls Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania, or GSHPA, that Brooklyn Township’s Camp Archbald should be sold because it is too expensive to operate.
“This four million dollar project demonstrates GSHPA’s intent to invest significant resources into Camp Small Valley, near Harrisburg, while neglecting needed repairs at Camp Archbald and the other two council camps currently under review for potential closure,” read the release issued last weekend by the group known as SoCA.
“We believe that the mission of Girl Scouting would be best served by maintaining and promoting all existing camp properties equally. This will provide opportunities for camping for girls throughout GSHPA’s thirty-county service area, especially for those who may not be able to travel to the Harrisburg area,” the group’s release continued.
According to the Chris Dawson Architect website, planned work on the 762-acre, 63-year-old Camp Small Valley includes “new buildings, renovations and site/vehicular upgrades” and construction of an amphitheater seating 300.
“In total there are 20 distinct projects at the camp. During the conceptual design phase CDA has been thinking about how best to overcome the ad hoc feel at Camp Small Valley while creating a 21st century camp aesthetic through an honest expression of durable materials,” the posting reads. The website provides no expected start or completion date.
GSHPA spokeswoman Amy Mountain confirmed her receipt of the press release but declined comment, saying it contained inaccurate information.
“GSHPA’s only comment is that the information contained in the document is inaccurate and doesn’t correctly convey the facts,” Mountain said in an e-mail.
GSHPA had planned to demolish some camp buildings at Archbald after announcing in November that fiscal constraints would force it to retire about 144 acres, or half of the camp properties.
But in March, following complaints and outcry from SoCA membership, GSHPA announced a temporary halt to demolition of some Camp Archbald buildings.
Concern over the camp’s future sparked earlier this year after GSHPA’s surprise announcement in January, met with vocal complaints from local scout leaders, that citing budget concerns it would no longer offer resident, or overnight, camping at the camp. One of the nation’s oldest scouting camps, the 228-acre Camp Archbald, located at Ely Lake, has been operating since the 1920s.
Critics pointed out that gas revenues from the camp – which Mountain confirmed in a June 25 e-mail totaled $5,010,975 from 2009 to 2017 – should have been more than enough to cover operating expenses.
But Mountain said that even after spending most of the $5 million from gas royalties – she said 75%, or $3,765,325, went directly to the camp – the camp still showed a deficit.
“Capital improvements totaled $2,593,647 and operating deficits from 2009-2017 were $1,171,678. The remaining 25% funded Financial Assistance for girls; as well as costs related to other camps,” Mountain said in the same June e-mail.
Calling them “blatantly incorrect,” Mountain also emphatically denied numerous press reports on various media websites that the Girls Scouts have liquidated several camps nationally strictly in order to compensate for overextended and underfunded pension funds.
Despite the disagreement over the intent behind the closures, some groups local to those camps have formed non-profits and some have sued successfully to take over the camps.
In April the Girl Scouts for Eastern Pennsylvania announced that a 1,054-acre former Girl Scout camp near Dingmans Ferry, Pike County, is now part of the National Park Service’s Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.
In 2012, the Girl Scouts closed Camp Hidden Falls in the Pocono Mountains as part of a regional camp consolidation effort. The Girl Scouts turned to the conservation community including Natural Lands and Delaware Highlands Conservancy in order to make sure the lands were protected.
Over a five-year period, the Conservancy found a buyer and secured grant funds to pay for the property. The Conservation Fund purchased the property in May 2017 and transferred it to the National Park Service on April 23.
In June GSHPA announced that descendants of the Ely family which had lent its name to the lake had purchased a 70-acre parcel at Camp Archbald.