After 53 years as a Girl Scouts outdoor retreat, the 240-acre Camp Tomlin hosted its final gathering atop Hillcrest Road Friday, with a round of craft swaps, archery and songs.
The Girl Scouts of Oregon & SW Washington has decided to sell the land and use the money for other Girl Scouts programs throughout the region, said spokeswoman Sarah Miller, at the organization's headquarters in Portland.
The camp on the rolling forestland in the Cascade foothills east of Medford was started in 1960 with a $20,000 bequest from John Tomlin of Timber Products, said Bette Eppinger, 85, of Medford. She has been involved with local Scouts since 1938 and was a prime mover in creating and overseeing the camp for decades.
"It's the worst thing in the world," said Eppinger.
"He (Tomlin) said he wanted to give his money to Scouts, so they'd have a place to go. The men from Copco (the old Pacific Power) worked hard, loaned equipment and we had it going that August of 1960."
The local Girl Scouts of Winema Council merged with three other area Girl Scout councils (Girl Scouts-Columbia River Council, Girl Scouts of Santiam Council and Girl Scouts of Western Rivers Council) to form a new council, the Girl Scouts of Oregon & SW Washington two years ago. The board decided the camp was under-used and voted to sell it to save on maintenance and divert funds to other programs, said Miller. (Correction: See below.)
"It was a difficult decision, but budget restraints made it necessary," said Miller. The Girl Scouts of Oregon & SW Washington met with local Scout leaders, she added, and pledged to pay for the first year's operation of a camp at another location.
The camp operates one week a year, and Scouts use the site a few other times a year for other activities. It has a shelter for picnics and crafts but no other buildings. It has a well and phone but uses portable toilets. Its annual operating costs are $800, said Eppinger.
"I'm very sad, depressed and disappointed," said Alecia Elverude, a volunteer for eight years. "I thought combining with the upstate council was a mistake to begin with, but I didn't know it was going to cost us Tomlin."
Practicing archery, 12-year old Reneč Stockton of Central Point said, "I wish it would stay. It's a lot of fun for us girls, and you get to make friends. It's not fair to take the money and pay off other debts."
"I'm angry and confused," said volunteer Michelle Payne, adding that funds from the sale likely would be used in Portland, where there are more Scouts. Other staff members and parents echoed that suspicion.
Miller said that's not the case. Some of the sale proceeds will go to two operations in southwest Oregon — the Winema Program Center on Keene Way in Medford, which has game fields, a kitchen, activity center and auditorium, and the 90-acre Ruth Hyde Outdoor Program Center west of Grants Pass, which has volleyball courts, a covered table area and barbecues.
Miller also disputed charges from several Tomlin staff members and parents that the decision to sell the camp was made without comments from local leaders.
"That's absolutely not true. “At every juncture, the staff and board looked to members for input and understanding," said Miller. "The process was open from the beginning. The draft, long-range property management plan went out for comments, and those comments were seriously considered." (Correction: See below.)
Eppinger and other leaders took issue with a suggestion by the larger organization that the camp be held in regional parks.
"It's very sad, horrible what they're doing to these girls," said Camp Director April Browder, overseeing its final hours Friday. "It's the only opportunity in the area for the camp experience, to be outside, in nature, building leadership skills and making new friends. We can't put it in a park, as they suggested. They can't get map skills, hiking, archery in a park."
"It's not safe in parks," Eppinger added. "These are 6- and 7-year-old girls. We can't leave our equipment there for the next day, either."
Miller said school already are being used for overflow at Camp Tomlin, and "there are lots of opportunities to find other locations. In my understanding, there's no difference between parks and a Scout camp. The same risks and safety rules apply," she said.
"There are many barriers we could come up with, but the decision has been made, so the question is to find good locations with the people, the volunteers and tools we have. Our goal is to make sure the girls of Southern Oregon can participate."
Browder said "a lot of people, including private investors" have inquired about buying the property, but local Scout leaders need to know its listing price. Miller said the asking price won't be set until after the local Scouts officially vacate the location. (Correction: See below.)
The land is zoned for recreation and timber, and is assessed at $160,000, said program aide leader Cynthia Sanderson of Sams Valley.
"I just wish," said Eppinger, "that some angel would buy it for us."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct information about the merger of regional Girl Scout organizations, the date a sale price for the Camp Tomlin property would be set, and where camp overflow is held. Sarah Miller's quote also has been corrected.