GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

July 22, 2013

Selling Paradise: Girl Scouts put property on block

By Paul Leighton
Staff Writer

---- — BEVERLY — The Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts plan to sell Camp Paradise, a 12-acre camp in Beverly that has been used by Girl Scouts and other groups from across the region for decades.

The organization’s board of directors voted last month to sell the camp as well as The Center in Rowley, saying they are among the least used of its 27 properties in eastern Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

Camp Paradise is located on 12 acres of wooded land off Cole Street, not far from Routes 22 and 128.

In a letter to supporters announcing the decision, Girl Scout officials said they will make “reasonable efforts” to find buyers who will keep the sites as conservation land and allow them still to be used by Girl Scouts, “but this goal may not be achievable for both properties.”

The Girl Scouts acquired the property in 1963. It is now assessed at $1.57 million, according to city records.

Camp Paradise was once a thriving center of activity for local Girl Scouts, including overnight camping. Now the camp hosts only three or four programs a year, said Jan Goldstein, chief marketing officer for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts.

Goldstein said Camp Paradise has just one building and is smaller than many of the organization’s other properties, some of which have multiple campground areas and ropes challenge courses.

“It doesn’t have the flexibility to run the kinds of programs we can run at some of our other properties,” Goldstein said.

Girl Scout troops can rent the camp for $50 per day or $100 per night. The rate for other nonprofit groups is $100 per day or $200 per night.

The sale of Camp Paradise is part of a nationwide trend of local Girl Scout councils selling off long-time summer camps. The Girl Scouts of the USA are facing declining membership, a drop in volunteers, and a $347 million deficit in its pension plan.

In May, Congressman Bruce Braley, a Democrat from Iowa, requested an inquiry by the House Ways and Means Committee into the pension liabilities and the sale of camps.

“I am worried that America’s Girl Scouts are now selling cookies to fund pension plans instead of camping,” Braley wrote in a letter to the committee chairman.

The news that Camp Paradise will be sold disappointed Virginia Currier, a former Scout leader who spent several years at Camp Paradise with her three daughters. The lodge at Camp Paradise is named after the late Edith Estes, a longtime Girl Scout leader from Beverly.

Currier said the sale of the camp reflects the fact that fewer girls are involved in Girl Scouts as well as a different emphasis on the type of activities within Scouting.

“It’s kind of sad for us old Scouts to see, but Scouting has changed,” Currier said. “They don’t do camping and stuff like they used to. That was the big thing back when my kids were in Scouting, the outdoor stuff. They seem to have more things that pertain to computers now, more modern stuff.”

Currier said she is concerned that the wooded land may be developed for housing.

In their letter, Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts officials said the decision to close Camp Paradise and The Center in Rowley came after a comprehensive review of their 27 properties. The Beverly and Rowley sites scored the lowest across all of the study’s measurements, which included usage, desirable property features, and investment needed to meet quality and safety standards.

The letter said proceeds from the sale of the properties, which could take up to two years, will be reinvested in other Girl Scout camps and facilities.

“Ultimately, the board’s decision reflects our deep commitment to serving girls, and we believe this effort will help keep Girl Scouting relevant to girls and our camps competitive in the marketplace,” the letter said.

According to the organization’s web site, Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts serves more than 40,000 girls ages 5 to 17 and has 17,000 adult volunteers in 178 communities, including those across Cape Ann.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this story by staff writer Paul Leighton, who can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@gloucestertimes.com.