Lake of the Woods retreat will be restored

Former Girl Scout retreat Camp Low Echo bought by local philanthropists

Camp Low Echo, a Lake of the Woods retreat for generations of Girl Scouts that was put on the market last year, has been purchased by the Sid and Karen DeBoer Foundation. It will be restored and made available for a range of groups and events, including camping, youth organizations and Scouts.

"We want to preserve it for use by Southern Oregonians, for the YMCA, schools, Kids Unlimited, Scouts," Sid DeBoer said, "and we're looking at trying to keep it open year-round, including winter."

Using the Oregon Community Foundation as a supporting organization, the couple will operate the camp as a nonprofit, available for rent for organizations, reunions, weddings and youth activities, said George Gregory, co-owner with John Doherty of Lake of the Woods Resort, which will manage the camp.

The 32-acre camp on the southeast corner of Lake of the Woods has served as a much-loved summer retreat for 80 years and has a place in the hearts of "an awful lot of women and girls in Southern Oregon," said DeBoer.

The announcement two years ago that the camp would by sold by the Girl Scouts brought a local outcry, with suggestions that the regional Girl Scouts of America council, located in Portland, favored facilities that served Oregon's upstate population centers.

The purchase for an undisclosed sum reverses that fate, said DeBoer, suggesting the possibility that if the funding is there, nonprofit groups such as the Scouts might be able to use it gratis.

The camp's main building, the Beaver Lodge, salvaged from the World War II Army training site at Camp White, is in "horrific shape" and will have to undergo major refurbishing, along with upgrades of other structures, so the camp might open in about two years, said Gregory.

Some buildings will be replaced and some remodeled, he added.

Architect David Wilkerson of Medford will donate his work for a master plan, said DeBoer. Gregory and Doherty will do maintenance, upkeep, rental management, food and serve as on-site property managers, said Gregory.

The camp will be remodeled so as to keep its "woodsey and lodge-y rustic charm, family friendly, not with a modern look," said Gregory, adding that such work must be done in accordance with U.S. Forest Service historical and environmental standards.

The foundation will seek federal grants to help lower costs and increase access for nonprofits, DeBoer said.

Gregory and Doherty had placed a bid on the property themselves, but when the DeBoers expressed interest, the four decided that working together in the new arrangement would be best for all, said Gregory. So Gregory and Doherty withdrew their offer.

"We all had the same ideas and vision for it," he said. "It's kind of a treasure. We all want to get it fixed up and utilized. It's been under-utilized for years by the Girl Scouts."

The deterioration of the camp was much of the reason the Girl Scouts wanted to sell it, he added. In 2013, the camp was said to have needed $85,000 in repairs and had operating expenses of $195,000, with a deficit of $20,000.

The national Girl Scouts organization at that time said the Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington were "property heavy" — ranking sixth in the nation for property ownership but 50th of 112 councils in usage.

Sarah Miller, spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington, confirmed the disrepair of the camp and called the sale "a wonderful outcome that gives the property new life and gives girls new opportunities to engage in outdoor programs in their area. ... We've had some tough choices and we are moving past that now."

In addition to continuing the recreational value of the site, DeBoer said, "My wife, Karen, has fallen in love with the concept of the camp. It's the most beautiful lake in Southern Oregon, and it's something she really wanted to preserve. If we do it right, it will be there forever."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.


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