GSHPA votes to not sell Camp Archbald

After a two-and-a-half-year fight, a group opposed to the sale of a century-old Susquehanna County Girl Scout Camp welcomed news that any sale plans have been taken off the table.

Emphasizing the need to preserve outdoor activities for Girl Scouts, the Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania announced July 29 that its board of directors had voted not to sale the camp and to keep the property “moving forward with a viable business plan with measurable outcomes in support” of the Brooklyn Twp. property and other camps under review.

“We are pleased with the board decision to maximize our properties, and create the opportunity for more girls to gain courage, confidence and character by exploring outdoors,” GSHPA President and CEO Janet Donovan said in a prepared release.

The news preserving the 100-year-old camp generated a loud round of applause among neighbors to the camp at Ely Lake, descendants of the family after whom the lake is named, and members of a group of former campers, councilors and others concerned with the camp’s future called Supporters of Camp Archbald, or SoCA.  Camp Archbald is the second oldest Girl Scout camp in the country.

Emily Loder, marketing and Communications Chair for SoCA, released a statement on behalf of the organization.

“Volunteers with Supporters of Camp Archbald are thrilled to hear the news about camp.  We have been working hard the last three years to bring Camp Archbald into the spotlight and help people understand what an environmental and educational value this camp has on Girl Scouts and the community. We look forward to partnering with GSHPA as we move ahead in restoring the legacy of Camp Archbald.”

In making its decision, the Girl Scouts cited the results from an Outdoor Program Team survey conducted last month and designed to assess camp usage over the past three years which indicated that 67 percent of the 1,700 survey recipients “strongly agreed that their girls enjoy outdoor experiences.”

Focus centered on the camp in late 2017 after GSHPA announced plans to liquidate about half, or 144 acres, of the total 228 acres, along with plans to shutter six other camps.

In November 2018, a Bucks County couple purchased 50 acres of the camp property with the GSHPA retaining oil and gas rights.

That June descendants of the Ely family, after whom the lake is named, purchased a 70-acre parcel, partially relieving concerns over the camp’s future.  That family said it plans to preserve the property for recreational use.

Ely descendant Anne Ely Wain, a retired National Geographic researcher, said she was “in awe” of the people of SoCA.

“Using the very leadership skills and confidence gained from their experiences at Camp Archbald, they convinced people in power to acknowledge and preserve the lasting value of this woodland camp and pristine glacial lake,” Wain said.  “Thanks to SoCA’s perseverance and passion, the camp and lake will benefit girls—and their Ely-descendant neighbors—for generations to come,” she said.

Star Katz, the great, great, great granddaughter of Gurdon Ely II, from whose family the Girl Scouts obtained the property which later became Camp Archbald, explained how he settled in the area then known as South Pond arriving there from Old Lyme, Connecticut, around 1818.

Around 1920, Katz explained, Girl Scouts from the Scranton Area Council asked and received permission to pitch a few tents around what was by then known as Ely Lake.  The Girl Scouts eventually purchased over 200 acres of property on the lake’s north side.

“The noble intention, as the story goes, was that the lake’s beauty would be preserved, while also offering it’s unique experiences to young women for generations to come ~ a high hope, which the Girl Scout Council’s recent decisions to maintain Camp Archbald honors,” Katz, an Ely cousin, said by e-mail.

Yasuko Straub, one of many longtime neighbors to Camp Archbald on Ely Lake, said she was “excited” hearing that the camp would be preserved for outdoor activities and called it “wonderful news.”

“The Girl Scouts have always been a very good neighbor,” said Straub.

“I’m so glad the camp won’t close and more outdoor activities will happen,” she said.

“I applaud the Girl Scouts’ decision and the people who worked very hard to reach this conclusion,” Straub said.

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