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Echo of the past

It's the end of an era for Camp Low Echo on the southeast shore of Lake of the Woods, but also the beginning of its best possible future, according to stakeholders.

Thousands of Girl Scouts since 1946 have spent their summers at the camp, which was sold by the organization for an undisclosed sum early this year to the Sid and Karen DeBoer Foundation, which plans to revitalize and reopen it as an all-welcoming organizational camp.

Bette Eppinger, 86, of Medford, was a camp counselor and troop leader during the Girl Scouts' first summer at Low Echo.

She remembers the squirrel-chasing Dachshund Doxie, and a baby porcupine the girls turned into a pet and fed carrot shavings. She remembers sleeping under the stars with nothing but tents for shelter.

"We had some really fun times," she said during an open house held Saturday at the camp to celebrate its history and glimpse into its future.

Eppinger's daughter and her granddaughter went to the camp, which drew Girl Scout members from all over the state and Northern California, she said.

"It was such a wonderful place for us," she said.

Sid and Karen DeBoer, of Ashland, plan to make $3 million in improvements to the camp and donate it to the Ashland Family YMCA, said Sid DeBoer, chairman of Lithia Motors. If that doesn't work out, the DeBoers are prepared to operate the camp as a nonprofit, available for rent for other organizations, reunions, weddings and youth activities, using the Oregon Community Foundation as a supporting organization, he said.

Medford-based Ogden Roemer Wilkerson Architecture has donated hours of consulting and design work to produce drawings of what the camp might look like, Sid DeBoer said.

On Saturday, architectural drawings showed a large lodge, tepee areas, cabins and a parking lot filling out the 32 acres of land at Camp Low Echo, but those plans are very preliminary and subject to change, Sid DeBoer said.

Karen DeBoer said it isn't certain which buildings will be retained and which will be torn down, but that she and her husband want to retain the camp's history and further it as an important recreational getaway for the people of Southern Oregon.

"Karen has the passion for this," Sid DeBoer said, standing in front of about 30 people who gathered at the camp Saturday.

He said it could be until 2016 before the camp is revamped to a state of readiness.

The property is owned by the U.S. Forest Service under the direction of the Fremont-Winema National Forest, which renewed a 20-year, special-use permit for the DeBoers following their purchase of the Girl Scouts' improvements on the property, said Margaret Bailey, district ranger of the Klamath Ranger District on the Fremont-Winema.

If the DeBoers hand the camp off, the permit will again be subject to renewal, Bailey said.

"I am just very pleased that the Girl Scouts were able to work with Sid and Karen DeBoer ... their hearts are in this," Bailey said. "It's exciting that they are going to take it on to its next legacy."

Selling the camp wasn't a decision the Girl Scouts of Oregon and Southwest Washington took lightly, said Maureen Vega, a board member and chairwoman of the organization's property committee.

"It was very difficult. ... It wasn't an easy decision, but it was a sound decision for the future of the Girl Scouts and the camp," she said.

Vega, who stayed at the camp several years ago with her daughter during a Mom and Me weekend getaway, said she has fond memories of the tiny brown cabins and shore-facing lodge, which was hauled up in two pieces from Camp White during 1947 and put back together as Beaver Lodge for the Girl Scouts.

"I realize it's hard to say goodbye to the old ... I just want to say to the Girl Scouts 'thank you," Sid DeBoer said.

A small museum will be placed on the site to pay tribute to the legacy of the Girl Scouts camp, he said.

"We'll probably remember this forever as the Girl Scouts camp," Bailey said.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.

Karen DeBoer walks down the stairs of the Beaver Lodge at Camp Low Echo on Saturday. The DeBoer family recently purchased the property from the Girl Scouts. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
Bette Eppinger stands at the shoreline of Lake of the Woods at Camp Low Echo on Saturday. Eppinger was a junior scout leader for the camp in 1946. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch