By Sanne Specht
The impending closure of two longtime Girl Scout camps — Tomlin Woods, east of Medford, and Low Echo, at Lake of the Woods — is upsetting to some Southern Oregon scouts.
“I am extremely unhappy. It feels personal,” said Michelle Payne, a Girl Scout mom, former troop leader and current day camp director at Camp Tomlin Woods.
Southern Oregon sites were “unfairly targeted” when the Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington compiled a “hit list” of many camps it wanted to close or abandon to save on maintenance or to increase revenue for other programs, she said.
The two local campsite closures leave local scouts with limited options, Payne said.
“They have closed every camp south of Eugene except for Camp Ruth Hyde in Grants Pass,” she said. “We’ve sent letters, videos … they’re not listening.”
Payne’s 13-year-old daughter is planning to boycott the annual Girl Scout cookie-sale program in protest.
“She no longer wants to fund the council if they are going to limit our availability to properties in this area,” Payne said.
The recently formed, two-state Girl Scout council was deemed “property heavy” by the national organization’s standards. It ranked sixth in the nation by property ownership or use, but 50th of 112 councils in usage by membership, said council Communications Director Sarah Miller in Portland.
Selling or closing some camps will mean funds can be redirected to “keep programs at the highest standard, in accord with our goals,” she said.
“I understand it’s a very emotional process for people,” Miller said, noting the camp she grew up attending is also on the sale block.
Low Echo, the only residential camp in Southern Oregon, had “shameful” attendance numbers. Local scouts typically preferred to attend Camp Cleawox in Florence and Camp Whispering Winds outside Salem, Miller said.
“It was a long process,” she said. “We got some great feedback, particularly on Camp Tomlin. And we took that consideration to heart. But it was not a sustainable plan.”
The final plan — which sealed the fate of the two local camps as well as multiple other properties across both states — was approved on Nov. 10, 2012, Miller said.
Payne said the decision to shutter Camp Tomlin Woods, a 240-acre day camp in the Cascade foothills at the end of Hillcrest Road, is a “land grab that hurts local girls.”
“We can use the camp until June 30,” Payne said. “Then we’re locked off.”
A council property committee recommended Tomlin be sold because it gets used only a dozen times a year — and because houses are being built nearby, said Mark Allen, chairman of the properties committee, in a previous story in the Mail Tribune.
Local leaders also questioned whether sale revenues would stay in this region. Allen said the money would go into the general fund for use where the board decides in Oregon and southwest Washington.
Miller said the troops can use Tomlin for this year, and the council will pay the costs next year to set up local scouts in existing camps operated by churches, youth groups and the Forest Service.
Purchased for about $20,000 in 1959 at the bequest of John Tomlin, owner of Timber Products, the property has few structures and costs little to maintain. Zoned as Forest Reserve land under Oregon land-use laws, it can be sold only for logging or recreation, not development, Payne said.
“They don’t even know how and if they can sell it, and they’re shutting us off our land,” Payne said.
The 32 acres of land at Camp Low Echo is leased from the U.S. Forest Service for $2,153 a year, with total operating expenses of $195,000 annually and a net deficit of almost $20,000. Many of the buildings are owned by the Girl Scouts, and several structures, including the lodge and kitchen, need work estimated to cost about $85,000. Because of snow, the camp can be accessed only in summer.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.