The Friends of Camp Coleman (FoCC) and their supporters celebrate tonight, knowing the 88-year-old camp will not forever lock its gates to the Girl Scouts on Friday.
Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama (GSNCA) board members met for a special meeting at 7:30 a.m. this morning and voted to amend the contentious three-phase property plan that included the May 31 closure of Camp Coleman and Camp Trico.
To announce the decision, Board President Rachel Russell sent the following message to membership:
“Camp Coleman and Camp Trico will not be ‘closed effective May 31, 2013’ as originally approved by the Board, but shall instead be ‘rested’ effective May 31, 2013. Further, it is resolved that Camp Coleman and Camp Trico shall remain ‘rested’ pending further evaluation and vote of this Board.”
“Resting” a camp means that though a camp will remain unsold, it will not be open to campers until a later date, when its status may change.
The board president has yet to return Weld’s interview request; however, GSNCA Community Partnership Chief Russell Jackson relayed her message, along with a note that read:
“As an FYI, the decision was made after concerns were raised that the official ‘closing’ of Camp Coleman would impact its historical ranking as one of the oldest operating camps in the U.S. (if not the oldest). By ‘resting’ the camp, very much like camps do for renovations and repairs, it will allow the GSNCA board ample time to continue reviewing the property plan in its current form.”
Jackson explained that “resting the camps accomplishes two things: one, [it] ensures that the historical status is not impacted, and two, [it] provides our new board of directors time to continue participating in full board work sessions to ensure all board members have the information they need to fully understand the plan, how it came to pass and to feel confident in making any decision on the future of the property plan.”
The announcement arrived on the very day a new motion was filed against GSNCA and less than two weeks after Jefferson County Circuit Judge Don Blankenship ruled in favor of Karen Carroll in the discovery motion against GSNCA, giving the membership access to the local Scout counsel’s fiduciary and operational documentation.
According to William Bradford, lawyer for Carroll, a “declaratory judgment complaint [was filed] on behalf of Karen Carroll today. The complaint asks the court to determine who has the authority to decide the issue of selling or not selling the camps.” Readers can find the document at the end of this post.
Carroll and the local Scout members, who have fought the three-phase property plan for nearly a year, are happy with today’s events.
“Resting,” Carroll said, “means [Coleman] won’t lose the continuously operated status. Great news!”
“The decision to rest the camps rather than closing them is a huge step in the right direction,” said 14-year-old Scout Lindsey Waggoner. “We still have a long way to go if we want to save the camps, but this shows that the new board members are taking the historical significance of Camp Coleman into account. After all, Coleman is the third-longest continuously running Girl Scout camp in the country.”
April Ellis Smith is the troop leader for the Pell City-based Coleman Girls, the group that fought for Coleman’s position on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage.
“I am so glad that the board recognizes the rich history of Camp Coleman,” Smith said, “and how important it is in the lives of the girls.”
In a March interview with Weld, Hilary Perry, GSNCA director of communications and advocacy, had this to say regarding the historical acknowledgement: “While this is a prestigious listing of historic, architectural and archaeological landmarks, it is an honorary designation imposing no benefits or restrictions on property owners.”
The shifting sentiment that Coleman’s history is valuable — and potentially worth saving — has Smith and her troop rejoicing.
“Women have sacrificed so much over the years to keep Coleman going in order to provide opportunities that girls otherwise would not have. Camps are instrumental in helping girls grow into strong, confident young women. … It is vital that our camps remain open so that girls can continue to have these opportunities for generations to come.”
“Camp Coleman has always been of historical significance,” added 25-year volunteer Debbie Ellis. “I think the council lost sight of that in what I believe to be a panic over money. I think that [Coleman is] a treasure that we do not need to lose.”
Both Smith and Ellis believe the vote comes after increased awareness of the historical merit of Camp Coleman, claiming Coleman’s legendary status was “brought to light” by the grassroots efforts.
A board member, who asked not to be identified because of board rules against speaking with press, said, “Since the new grassroots board members have been elected, we have spent a great deal of time educating the returning members. Much of the information which came out of the property work session held in May seemed to surprise returning board members. Professional reports were not included [such as GSUSA property consultant Glen Chin’s report on local Scout assets], yet reports from lay volunteers were used as the basis for determining the three-phase property plan.
“However, it is important to note that all this ‘new’ information just now coming to light was previously reported to the executive council staff months prior to the presentation of the three-phase property plan.”
As for why Trico was included in the plan to rest, Jackson said, “[T]he board felt it important to also include Camp Trico in the amendment because of concerns that it too has historical merit.”
Although Carroll and local Scouting grassroots supporters see today’s events as a victory, Jane Duax of Davenport, Iowa, whose local council is experiencing similar camp-related issues, sees resting the camps as a delaying tactic.
“There needs to be a clear limit placed on how long the camps will ‘rest,’” Duax said. “Otherwise, it will be a situation where the longer the camp remains unused, the stronger becomes the council’s justification for selling it. Resting camps is often the mode of operation by the Girl Scouts when there is opposition to selling the camps.”
Duax hesitates to give credit to the GSNCA board for the decision to rest the camps. She speculates about the reason for the action. “It is a waiting game — the council is waiting for the people who are objecting to the sales to go away…then they can proceed down the road with divesting the land.”
Local Scouts and members of the GSNCA council are relieved to see the board working cohesively — preserving the history of local camps and reconsidering the future of Scouting.
“The good news,” Jackson maintained, “is that the board received this concern and responded in a positive manner.”
“I think this fact [of Coleman’s history] is finally hitting some people,” said Lindsey Waggoner, “and they’re realizing that you can build a super-camp, but you can’t build 88 years of history. This camp has remained open through some of the hardest parts of the 20th century, and it would be a huge loss for Coleman to be closed.”
“I’m sure my friends and I will have a party if the board votes to rescind the property plan,” said her sister, 17-year-old Scout Lita Waggoner, “but I’m not ready to celebrate quite yet. I will either be very excited or very disappointed after the board’s next meeting on June 12.”
The featured image for this post was shot by Scott Buttram and originally used by The Trussville Tribune.