According to the Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama, the camps closings are due to declining interest in camping by its 15,000 member scouts, who seem to prefer other activities, such as trips to Huntsville’s NASA Space & Rocket Center.
A feasibility study led to the decision to close Camp Anderei near Rogersville, Camp Tombigbee in Greene County later this year, and Camp Trico in Guntersville and Camp Coleman near Trussville, which are slated for closure in 2013.
For now, Camp Cottaquilla and the Kanawahala Program Center in Chelsea will remain open. However, the scouts’ regional council plans another feasibility study in 2014 that may decide the camps’ future.
Hilary Perry, spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama, says the decision to close camps is a response to girls’ changing interests.
“What they are wanting are some different types of experiences,” Perry said. “They are showing us that by how they register and what they are choosing to do.”
Of the council’s 15,000 member scouts, just 34 were “resident campers” at Cottaquilla in 2011, Perry said, referring to scouts who stay overnight. The camp can accommodate up to 115 resident campers.
“Only eleven troops used Camp Cottaquilla for their purposes last year,” said Perry, “and we have 888 troops in the GSNCA. That paints a picture of why a property assessment is necessary.”
Today’s scouts are gravitating instead to more specialized activities, Perry said, such as traveling with their troops on field trips and taking part in council-sponsored events. One popular activity takes place at Huntsville’s Space Camp. About 800 Girl Scouts attended GSNCA’s outdoor-theme programs last year, compared to 4,111 who attended other types of programs.
Retiree Mary Edna Wuertenberger of Anniston carries in her heart fond memories of scout campgrounds, memories similar to the ones held by local Girl Scouts, many now grown, who have attended camp sessions at Camp Cottaquilla. Since Wuertenberger’s youth she has been involved in scouting, including her role as a mother, a professional employee for scouts and a volunteer. She now is a member of the board of the GSNCA and is aware of the issues that surround the council’s camps and other properties.
Wuertenberger said she is glad that Camp Cottaquilla and Kanawahala will remain open. She said she knows from her past experiences in closing campgrounds how emotionally attached women can be to the Girl Scout camps they attended as youths. It takes “courage, confidence and character,” she said, when making hard decisions, and she said the council had demonstrated all three.
Unless Girl Scouts change their patterns, though, council members will likely require more of the same grit.
Campgrounds are expensive to maintain, as each requires at least one full-time maintenance person. At Cottaquilla, that person is Roger Paradis, who lives on the premises. He has a year-round list of items to care for — lawns, vehicles, tractors, kitchen equipment, weed trimmers, cabins, the lodge, the lake, a swimming pool and plumbing.
“As you can imagine,” said Paradis from the porch of the camp’s house, “there are a number of toilets little girls can stop up in a heartbeat.”
Paradis said the job is year-round. It takes a couple of weeks to open the camp in the spring and a couple to close it in winter. Throughout the year, he hikes the land with a chain saw in hand to keep the trails open. Camp Cottaquilla includes 285 acres, and the council owns an additional 1,700 surrounding acres of timber-management land.
In addition to regular maintenance, the Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama have paid for improvements to Camp Cottaquilla. A new roof on one building added a couple of years ago cost $7,000, and the lower level in the lodge was air conditioned recently at a cost of about $10,000. A camp director and a community-development manager have offices in the lodge.
Perry, who was present at the interview with Paradis, repeated that cost was not the main factor in the realignment of the way the GSNCA properties are handled. A few days prior, she had shared a May 10 report showing expenses for Camp Cottaquilla.
Camp Cottaquilla collects camp tuition from Girl Scouts and rental fees from the general public, such as church groups, other nonprofit groups and corporate entities. However, the income does not match the costs.
The GSNCA spent $137,822 during 2011, and program fees from camp tuition and rental from nonprofit and corporate groups brought in $28,109. The leftover cost of $109,720, was covered by the GSNCA’s general fund, which mainly comes from cookie sales, contributions, United Way funds, fundraisers, and program fees and shop sales.
Area residents who might be interested in improving the chances of keeping Camp Cottaquilla viable by either volunteering and/or making donations to the GSNCA. Web users may go online, girlscoutsnca.org/donate, to learn how to help the council. Others may send checks made to the GSNCA, mailed to 105 Heatherbrooke Park Dr., Birmingham, AL 35242.