Thursday, September 27, 2007

The End Is Near!

Camp Arrowhead is closing as of November 1st, 2007. It is really depressing to see my favorite childhood place be thrown by the wayside. There was a meeting about it in Portland on Monday. A lot of my old friends attended, hoping to save our camp. But the Columbia River Girl Scout Council had already made up there mind. Here is a report from one of my friend's sisters, Kathleen McDade. She was once the camp director there.



I’m really tired and sad right now, and I think I’m coming down with something, too. It’s difficult to put all of this on paper.

Some people have already posted what they heard and what their impressions are, but I thought I’d post my notes and a few other facts I have.

First of all, Cynthia Hamilton (CEO) and Christine Core (Board Chair) did attend the meeting to explain the reasons for selling Camp Arrowhead, and the reasons for not consulting with volunteers and members about it sooner.

This may not be in a coherent order, but here are my notes:

First, they explained the process of communicating this decision:
1. Announced to staff. Staff asked to keep information confidential until the letter went out to adult members.
2. Held a meeting for VISTA team members and council delegates and announced the decision to them. The letter to the membership was supposed to arrive the next day. That didn’t happen.
3. A letter was sent (through a mailing house) to adult member households. It was supposed to arrive on Tuesday the18th, but most people didn’t get it until the 24th.

Then, they discussed the reasoning and the process of coming to a decision. Christine presented most of the information.

Discussion between the Board and the property committee about what to do with Arrowhead has been going on for the past three years.

One year ago, the Board and property committee met and said “yes, we’re keeping it, let’s bring it up to snuff.” $1 million of the current capital campaign was dedicated to fixing Arrowhead.

Then, when they started talking to contractors and engineers, they were told that $1 million was not enough (Christine says they laughed at one million).

$850,000 to $1 million would be required just to fix the water system (approximately double the original estimate of $450,000). The original 1968 water system was apparently installed by volunteers who did not do it correctly, and it loses a lot of water rather than getting all of it to where it’s needed.

A road or roads need to be fixed – primarily the main road into camp. Also, in order to repair the water system, the road would be torn up to get to the pipes.

The swimming pool needs major repair or replacement – the county won’t give it a permit at this point.

And I got the impression that there was some general disrepair and lack of maintenance.

It would take about $3 million to bring Arrowhead up to the minimum needed to be in operation. That doesn’t include any program improvements (which I thought was a strange statement, but apparently the council wants to add high adventure options for girls because this is what they want).

Okay. So, we all want to know why we can’t just raise the money, get people to donate time and/or materials, etc.

According to Christine, even if the Board had the money, they don’t want to put it into Arrowhead. They think the place is too far gone, for one thing – hasn’t been maintained properly. But they’re also insisting (and Cynthia was the most vocal about this part) that landslides are a huge issue. They don’t want to put money into the site because of the potential for landslides. I and others pointed out that the Collins Point slide affects only the old camp (east of Home Lake), and that Arrowhead buildings were specifically built where they are because the land is stable. Cynthia and Christine feel that there’s no guarantee that that will continue to be the case.

I asked Christine whether there was any evidence that the Arrowhead portion of the property has moved at all in the past 60 years. She said “no.”

Cynthia also pointed out several times that all of the land on the north side of the Columbia River is sliding south.

This is somewhat true. There is a geological layer, far below the surface, called the Eagle Creek Formation. The layers on top of the Eagle Creek Formation apparently are slipping. This is true for a HUGE area of the north side of the gorge, though. The sliding is happening in geological time, not visibly before our very eyes. Again, I’ve seen no evidence that the Arrowhead property has moved.

Christine said that they had talked with a geotechnical engineer about this. She had asked him whether he could guarantee that the land wouldn’t slide. He said no (duh. No intelligent person can guarantee that).

They’re also concerned about the houses on Rock Creek in Stevenson that literally slid off a cliff. They’re afraid that that could happen at Arrowhead. We pointed out that this was miles away, and that the Arrowhead buildings are not on any kind of creek bank.

The Board and Cynthia are obviously convinced that Arrowhead is so unsafe that we shouldn’t even bother repairing it. They claimed that our “sister councils” with whom we will be merging in 2008 agree with this decision, and that they wouldn’t want to put any money into the property either. They also claimed that the Gates Foundation, which is putting money into the Girl Scouts capital campaign, actually specified that none of the money was to go to Camp Arrowhead (implying that no one wants to put money into it).

The board sees this as the best decision for risk management, for the safety of the girls, and for the council’s finances. According to Christine, even if the money were there, they wouldn’t put money into the property.

The camp’s lack of ACA accreditation was also discussed. According to Christine, this is a big reason why the number of campers each summer has been down – because it hasn’t been accredited since 2001. Cynthia and Christine did not know why the camp failed its accreditation, but Cynthia said that she would get the information and send it to us.

The condition of Home Lake is also an issue (if you’ve got the letter, you’ve seen that). Supposedly, because the water level is down, it is unsafe and program activities centered on Home Lake can no longer take place.

Several people pointed out that there are other places for canoeing, and that Home Lake is still valuable for nature study.

Cynthia also mentioned that the trails were in disrepair and unusable, which several recent staff members strongly disputed (mentioning that they do need annual clearing and maintenance to be usable).

The number of girls using the camp is also a factor. According to the Board, less than five percent of the membership uses the camp, and that’s not enough. According to Cynthia, other councils do have better numbers. This number does not, however, seem to include weekend usage by troops, groups, and neighborhoods.Cynthia was asked what, if anything, had been done to increase the number of campers. ACA accreditation was again referred to as a reason why enrollment is down. Also, Cynthia and Christine stated that girls want more high adventure activities, which Arrowhead hasn’t been able to provide (or the Council hasn’t been willing to facilitate at Arrowhead).

Finances and practicalities:

The camp is scheduled to be auctioned in November. The reserve price is $2.4 million, which means that if no one is willing to bid at least that much, the property won’t be sold (actually, looking at the auction terms on, if the reserve price isn’t met, the seller can still sell to the highest bidder if they want to).

Usage of the property is fairly limited, because it is part of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. It can’t be clear-cut, or turned into condos. It could be run as a camp…but if it’s so unsafe, who would want to?

The camp is being sold as-is. The water system problems are being fully disclosed. The geotechnical issues haven’t been formally surveyed, so they basically aren’t mentioning them – it’s up to the buyer to use due diligence in investigating the property. If a full survey were done, and problems were uncovered, then the council would have to disclose the problems.

The council has no plans as yet to purchase another property. Proceeds from the sale will be put into the Council’s reserves, with the intention of using the money for another resident camp (but with no guarantee that this will happen). Proceeds from the sale will not go toward Council operating costs.

When the council merger/realignment is complete in 2008, then the new Board of Directors will be able to look at creating a new resident camp. The merging councils are aware that this needs to happen, since Portland is a huge population center with many girls wanting to go to camp (except not enough of them are using Arrowhead).

The Board and Council have considered the possibility of turning Camp Mountaindale into a resident camp, but there are no definite plans at this time – it’s just an idea.

Everyone in the meeting stressed that we would have liked to know about this issue ahead of time, and that we felt the membership should have been consulted, even if the Board does have to make the final decision. We pointed out that what they did doesn’t really fit with the democratic process which GSUSA expects councils to use. Cynthia said that they felt people would have been more angry if their input had been solicited and then they decided to sell the camp anyway. The Board apparently saw this as the only choice, so they didn’t want to bother asking for input they weren’t going to use. People in the meeting stressed that they hoped this wouldn’t happen again; that people would prefer to know and have the opportunity to comment, regardless of what the final decision might be.

What’s next?

Cynthia and Christine asked for volunteers to help plan an Arrowhead retirement party, and also suggested that interested parties might want to apply for a position on the new property committee when the time comes.

Part of the group in attendance stayed behind after Cynthia and Christine left to discuss options. The consensus was that since the sale is happening so soon (and the board would have to vote on 10/18 to reverse the decision), we should just wait to see whether the property sells (we have some doubt as to whether anyone would buy it for $2.4 million). If it doesn’t sell, then we can possibly work on options for keeping and rebuilding the camp.

The last five people at the meeting (we couldn’t stop talking) agreed to begin the process of planning a retirement party. The team so far includes Kari Rothi (Squeak), Erin Moomey (Rahsa), Kathleen McDade (Calliope), Ellie Wieland (Dewdrop), and Amy Irvine (Patch). We’re waiting on confirmation of the date(s) we’d like to hold the party (hopefully over a weekend at Arrowhead).

I (Kathleen) am also still investigating a bit – I’m not convinced about these geotechnical issues that seem to be the major reason why the Board doesn’t want to put money into camp. I’m in contact with a former PSU student who did a survey at Arrowhead this past summer, and hope to get more information. I’m also awaiting the information about ACA accreditation, as that’s something I’m intimately familiar with.

The Board next meets on October 18. If you want to send a letter or email, I encourage you to do so before then. You can reach Christine Core at the council’s general e-mail box,

I can’t think of anything else. I’m definitely grieving, and I’m sure many of you are as well.

Thank you to everyone who attended the meeting, and to those who offered their support, although they couldn’t come. It’s good not to be alone.

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