Four Girl Scout camps that were originally set to close will now remain open – but with some big changes. The board of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois voted Thursday to redevelop a site near the Quad Cities as the region’s only resident Girls Scouts camp.
Board spokeswoman Shelly Wells-Cain says the changes are needed as the rustic camps are losing more than $500,000 a year. “We certainly have a group of girls who still love that. But I think many of our leaders today aren’t so impressed by using outdoor facilities and they prefer maybe real beds as opposed to tents,” Wells-Cain says.
Camp attendance in recent years has dropped off. Wells-Cain says, today, only one in 10 Girl Scouts in the region are attending camp. Originally, the Girl Scout’s regional leadership proposed selling all four camps, but a campaign by current and former scouts to save the camps derailed that idea.
The plan approved Thursday calls for selling some of the land at each of the four sites and renovating the camp near the Quad Cities as a more comfortable, tech-friendly facility for girls across the region. The other three camps will be converted into “outdoor program centers.”
Across the country, scouting groups facing similar pressures have also proposed camp closures. Ken Jacobsen is a former Boy Scout from the Detroit area. He runs the website www.savecamps.org. Jacobsen believes scouting organizations are in too much of a rush to close traditional camps.
“I think if you do a study and ask, do you want flush toilets? Would you like a nicer cabin? The girls are going to say yes,” Jacobsen says. “But, I think if you asked would you like to sell the camps to have a nicer toilet or something like that, they’d say no, we don’t want you to sell the camps.”
The move away from rustic camping may be a sign of the times. A 2007 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences documented what it described as “a fundamental shift away from nature-based recreation,” evidenced in particular by a decline in visits to national parks.
Co-author Patricia Zaradic says spending time in nature helps children develop both physically and emotionally – but adults often aren’t doing enough to push kids outside.
“It’s more necessary than ever to create structures that allow out kids to spend that time in the woods, out camping, experiencing nature, because they’re just not getting it naturally in their week to week life,” Zaradic says. Many Iowa kids are signing up now for the summer camp season that’s just around the corner. But, Girl Scout officials say despite a stepped-up marketing campaign, this year’s numbers are down, again.