Nine-year-old Megan Austin has been a Girl Scout since she was 5, starting out as a Daisy and working her way up to Junior Girl Scout. She loves camping.
"What I like to do is using the camp as a jungle gym, like play on the trees and use vines as swings and all that," Austin said.
But the whole direction for the Girl Scouts and camping is changing. The board that governs all 3,100 troops in Northeast Ohio plans to sell four of its seven camps. The money from the sales will transform two other camps – Camp Ledgewood in Cuyahoga Valley and Camp Timberlane west of Oberlin – into leadership centers.
The centers would keep some camping, but would emphasize math and science training.
But members who grew up with the camps are fighting the sale. They have collected enough signatures to force a meeting of the 99-member general assembly, hoping that council can change the board’s mind.
Lynn Richardson is what the Girl Scouts call a “Greenblood” – a volunteer who has dedicated herself to the program. She joined scouts in the fourth grade, and became a troop leader when she was 18.
Richardson says she’s not sure if the general assembly will succeed in blocking the sales.
"At this point, it could go either way," said Lynn. "We have a very good shot. Obviously, in order to get the special meeting, we had to get signatures from a majority from the general assembly. So people want to have it discussed. But how they’re going to vote after the discussion, I don’t know."
But members of the scouting board say their options are limited. Brent Gardner says the decision comes down to finances.
"If money was not an object, we wouldn’t sell any camps and they’d all be great camps," said Gardner. "We need to improve all the camps roughly to the tune of about $30 million. Well, where do we get $30 million to make the improvements? And so, at the end of the day, we can’t keep everything."
But opponents say the $30 million figure is too high and needs to be re-evaluated by an outside contractor. Girl Scout troops have protested the closures by camping out on the lawn of their headquarters in Macedonia. Gardner says the board understands their concerns.
"We understand their love of their particular camp that their grandmother may have camped at, that their mother may have camped at," said Gardner. "It’s probably not much different than selling the family home. We get it. We understand. And it is emotional for all of us. This is not easy work that we have to do."
Still, the board did reverse its plans to close a fifth camp – Camp Sugarbush in Trumbull County. It’s not clear if that, too, will become a leadership center.
But Richardson argues that many of the changes are not necessary.
"What is it that you’re going to do exactly to help girls into the leadership role that we’re not already doing?" Richardson said.
Richardson is concerned that the three remaining camps will not have enough space for the region’s 40,000 Girl Scouts. Yet she expects a large drop off in members because many parents won’t drive the longer distance to the camps.
The Girl Scouts’ 99-member general assembly will meet this Saturday at 8 a.m. to consider the issue. The assembly is made up of board members, and national and regional delegates. They’ll vote on an amendment that would give the assembly the right to make real estate decisions, instead of leaving it only to the board. That would halt the sale of the four camps, until the properties are re-evaluated.