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Council Will Not Sell All Four Girl Scout Camps

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BETTENDORF, Iowa - A proposal to sell all four Girl Scout camps in Eastern Iowa is "off the table," leaders with the local council announced Wednesday in the wake of a massive backlash to the recommendation.

"We value the opinions and thoughts of all our volunteers and members and appreciate their passion for this process," Diane Nelson, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois, said in a news release. "We look forward to reaching a position in which we are all on the same page."

Hundreds of opponents organized quickly after learning of the proposal to sell all four camps, and the group filed an injunction to keep the board from voting on the proposal Thursday.

In court Wednesday, the council reached an agreement with the petitioners to cancel the board meeting originally set for Thursday and instead have a "collaborative work session" to discuss, review and revise the preliminary recommendation to sell the camps.

After that discussion, a new recommendation will be shared with all the council's members along with the notification of a new board meeting, according to the news release.

The original recommendation, according to the council, incorporated feedback from community town hall meetings, phone calls and emails. It also took into account research the council has done and its budgetary obligations.

But Debra Stork, a former camper, counselor and camp director for decades, said she doesn't think the council was that in touch with the wants and needs of its members.

"I'm hearing loud and clear all over the place that members don't want what the board thinks they want," Stork said. "And, ultimately, we need a proposal that is more in line with what the members want."

Stork said the opposition group pulled its injunction because the council agreed to cancel this week's vote on the proposed camp sales. But the group, which has amassed nearly 2,000 signatures on at least one of its online petitions, is continuing its fight to vote on any camp-related proposal, Stork said.

"That is still out there, and we will still follow through with that," she said, "but the injunction we pulled because they agreed to cancel the meeting."

Stork said opponents of the proposed sale view today's developments as a victory.

"We are pleased and very happy and hope it's a sign that the board for the Girl Scouts is willing to work with us," she said. "We want to work with them."

Stork said she knows little about the new proposal the board is working on, except it's "not one that they have shared with anyone else at this point."

"I feel that this was the outcome we were looking for," she said. "They are slowing the process down and taking a look at it all."

The original recommendation to sell the four Girl Scout camp properties in Eastern Iowa was based on budget woes, council leaders told The Gazette previously. The four camps combined have lost an average of $604,000 each year since 2008, according to council research.

Last year, the council put about $1 million into the four properties Camp Conestoga, northwest of the Quad Cities, Camp Little Cloud in the Dubuque area, Camp L-Kee-Ta near Danville, and Camp Tahigwa, northeast of Decorah.

But those camps brought in a combined $490,000 in revenue, resulting in a net loss of about $513,000 the best year the camps have had since before 2008, according to council research.

Council research also has shown a lack of interest in camping among girls.

From 2008 to 2012, 57 percent of the average scout membership attended a camp facility for some reason be it a troop activity, council event or training, summer camp or something else. Considering summer camp attendance alone, the council saw a 34 percent decline during that five-year period resulting in an average attendance of 1,945, which is 50 percent of the camp capacity and just 11 percent of the total girl membership.

The original proposal came with an intention to develop a new "outdoor experience center" that would be central to the region and would provide a camp experience for girls while meeting their more modern needs.

But, despite the financial and attendance statistics, opponents said the council jumped to the easiest conclusion and overlooked other less dramatic options for raising money and interest while updating the current camps.

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