Selling Camp Coleman

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For many children, summer vacation means the chance to go to camp. For Girl Scouts around Birmingham that tradition is about to change. Last month, the Girl Scouts of North Central Alabama announced it would sell four of its six camps, including the 87-year old Camp Coleman. The facility in Trussville is among the oldest continually operating Girl Scout camps in the country. As WBHM’s Andrew Yeager reports, one group is trying to prevent that closure from happening.

A half-a-dozen girl scouts are inside the wooden gym at Camp Coleman playing softball. It’s campers versus counselors, although the counselors seem less than aggressive as girl after girl rounds the bases. These squealing and rambunctious kids are among the last to use this Girl Scout camp.

“We definitely understand how emotional it is.

Hilary Perry is spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts of North Central Alabama.

“Camp Coleman is very well loved. You know we say it’s been loved a lot.”

But it’s become expensive to run. Perry says the council subsidized its camps by about $750,000 last year and by more than $900,000 the year before. Camp Coleman had the biggest loss. Perry adds the facilities are underutilized, with only about 10% of members attending camp.

So last fall, the council performed a property review. That culminated with the council deciding to sell two camps at the end of this summer and two more next year. Camp Coleman is in that second round. This decision does not sit well with everyone.

“Thank you for joining us today…”

Sarah Edwards is a former council president. She stands with a handful of other Girl Scout leaders underneath the Camp Coleman entrance sign at this news conference. The group Save Camp Coleman formed in response to the property announcement. They’ve circulated an online petition and are holding public meetings. Edwards says the group, first, wants to verify the council’s numbers, especially on measuring camper interest.

“We know in particular Camp Coleman turns away campers every year and turns away troops from coming out here and troop camping because there’s no room for them to do so.”

Edwards says they also want to work with the council to fundraise and try to establish an endowment for the camp. The Girl Scouts’ plan still calls for having camping opportunities, but that’s not good enough for former council president Pam Callaway.

“It’s not Camp Coleman. This property. The traditions. The river.”

This type of battle is not unique to Birmingham. A group in Ohio lost a court battle this year to block the sale of four Girl Scout camps. Last year, a troop in Minnesota protested sales there by refusing to sell cookies. Greg Copeland wrote about the trend for Camp Business magazine. He says sales of Girl Scout camps picked up the last few years because the national organization forced local councils to merge in 2005. These new councils started looking at the properties they inherited.

“One of the issues is that the majority of Girl Scout properties were developed in the 50s and the early 60s. You know this was all pre the kind of regulatory environment that we’re in now.”

So with disability rules, building codes and environmental laws, it takes more money now to maintain properties. He adds camp attendance is low across the country. Copeland isn’t aware of any council that’s reversed a decision to sell a camp based on outside pressure. That doesn’t deter Girl Scout alumna Larrisa Lambert, who says she’s been coming to Camp Coleman for 20 years.

“I want when I have kids to come here. That’s my fight for it is to continue the generations. And see all the generations that will come after that.”

Hilary Perry with the Girl Scouts of North Central Alabama says the council has voted and the decision has been made. It’s done. For some members though, they can’t imagine a future without Camp Coleman.