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MailTribune.com
  • Girl Scout camps face budget axe, might be closed

  • Two longtime camps — Tomlin, east of Medford, and Low Echo, at Lake of the Woods — have been targeted for shutdown by the Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington.
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  • Two longtime camps — Tomlin, east of Medford, and Low Echo, at Lake of the Woods — have been targeted for shutdown by the Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington.
    The Scouts have compiled a "hit list" of many camps it wants to close or abandon to save on maintenance or to increase revenue for other programs.
    The 240-acre Camp Tomlin Woods, a day camp in the Cascade foothills at the end of Hillcrest Road, has few structures and costs only $400 a year to maintain.
    A council property committee, however, has recommended it be sold because it gets used only a dozen times a year — and because homes are being built nearby, said Mark Allen, chairman of the properties committee.
    The proposed Tomlin closure drew protests from local scout leaders, especially 83-year-old Bette Eppinger of Medford, a Girl Scout or scout leader since 1938 — and the first troop leader to use Tomlin when it was bought for around $20,000 in 1959. The money was a gift in the will of John Tomlin, owner of Timber Products.
    "I can't imagine not being a Girl Scout. We all have enjoyed this camp so much. It's a way of life," says Eppinger, looking over the fire pit, barbeque and sheltered dining area, most of it built by girls as Gold Award Projects — the highest achievement and ranking in the organization.
    "The neighbors aren't a problem. They keep watch over the camp and have called me over the last 40 years if anything goes wrong," says Eppinger. "I can't imagine anyone wanting to sell this place. Both camps are so important to us."
    The recently formed, two-state council is "property heavy" — ranked sixth in the nation by property ownership or use, but 50th of 112 councils by membership, said council communications director Sarah Miller in Portland, adding that selling or closing some camps will mean funds can be redirected to "keep programs at the highest standard, in accord with our goals."
    The council, said Allen, "really can't support all those properties and make them great places for the girls. Closure will depend on the cost of operating, the kind of developments on-site, the type of programs possible there and their present condition."
    Scout leader and service team manager Kristine Bradley of Medford is working against the closure.
    "There's nothing else for our girls in this area and it's Forest Reserve, so it can only be sold for logging or recreation, not development," she said. "I feel they're ripping our girls off so they can serve their girls in the Portland area."
    The 32 acres of land at Camp Low Echo are 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, including the lodge and kitchen, need work amounting to $85,000, Allen said. Because of snow, the camp can be accessed only in summer, he said.
    A detailed analysis of the camps and their strong and weak points, with dollar amounts, is at www.girlscoutsosw.org/files/LRPPFinalDraft103011.pdf.
    "A big part of the plan is to develop outdoor opportunities for the girls, and there are lots of ways to do that without land," said Allen, adding that troops can use existing camps operated by churches, youth groups and the Forest Service without having to deal with land, buildings and upkeep.
    Local scout officials have questioned how the land, zoned Forest Reserve under Oregon land-use laws, can be sold for development. Allen said the council has "not yet done due dilligence" on defining what the land's potential use is, except that the council has full title to the land, with no restrictions on the title report.
    Local leaders also questioned the likelihood that 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.
    "We want to do what we can to honor the donors' wishes and also do the best job we can for the girls. Development (if possible) would certainly be an option," he said. "The property is not being used. It's a beautiful property but we have to determine if it's right for what we're doing.
    "Urban encroachment is always a concern, what with security and vandalism. It's never a good thing. It dilutes the true outdoor experience."
    The council is holding a comment period until mid-May at lrpp@girlscoutsosw.org. Commenters should be scout members, Allen noted, adding that input "may change this plan." The council has had board members from Southern Oregon in the past, but doesn't have any at this time, he said, although Carole Smith of Ashland is on the property committee.
    Bette's husband, Dean Eppinger, 84, retired from Pacific Power, has worked at her side on many Camp Tomlin projects over the decades — clearing boulders, digging latrines, bringing power to the camp.
    "Camp Tomlin is completely away from civilization. Medford is going to grow a lot, so it's short-sighted to get rid of it," he said, "because what it means is increased demand for an outdoor camp. A lot of programs could be built around this property by the colleges, churches and other groups. Using state parks, I don't like it. There's too many people there and they're noisy at night. Here, there's no worries like that."
    In the report, Allen wrote that "we are better served by a few really outstanding places than many mediocre ones ... Our guiding principle is that it is all about the girls. Wherever it is, whether on our property or someone else's, girls will have the opportunity to learn outdoor and leadership skills and build memories though Girl Scouts."
    John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.
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