2009-11-15 / Front Page

Local Girl Scout camp backers keep the heat on

BY PHIL FOLEY STAFF REPORTER

LAPEER — A day after executives from the Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan (GSSEM) met with members of The Friends of Camp O’ Fair Winds to assure them there are no plans to sell the Girl Scout camp and ask them to dial down the rhetoric, a Friends member sent out a mass e-mail claiming “ they do not want to have the camp(s), and their only motivation is to receive money from a sale of the camp so that they can use it elsewhere.”

Paul Levine is a Columbiaville parent who has been working with the Friends since GSSEM closed the 79-year-old Camp O’Fair Winds in May. Levine and other Friends members are convinced GSSEM is planning to sell the campground and use the money for projects outside Lapeer County. He wants GSSEM to turn control of, and financial responsibility for, the camp over to a local non-profit group.

Levine’s actions have angered GSSEM’s CEO Denise Dalrymple. She was especially unhappy with Levine’s claim that people taken on a tour of GSSEM properties “were taken to another building at another camp that had a building that was full of black mold and they were marched into that building where some of them became sick.”

“That’s not true,” said Dalrymple.

While Dalrymple told Friends members Tuesday that The Timbers, an old Fair Winds Council camp in Traverse City, and her own childhood camp, Playfair Program Center on the shores of Lake Huron, were much more marketable properties than Camp O’Fair Winds, Levine insisted in his e-mail that GSSEM believes “that this is an ‘unwanted’ asset that just needs to be sold.

Dalrymple said the council’s property, operations and finance committees are slated to meet jointly Nov. 22 at the Clinton Township Service Center, 42804 Garfield, Clinton Township to discuss what they’ve learned since the Fair Winds, Waterways, Otsikita and Detroit Area councils merged in January. The new council, one of three — down from 13 in Michigan, she said, now serves 47,000 girls in Genesee, Lapeer, Macomb, Oakland, Sanilac, and St. Clair Counties as well as parts of Livingston, Monroe and Wayne counties.

The basic problem facing Girl Scouts and other youth groups, said Dalrymple, is declining membership over the past two decades. She said that while Girl Scouts “market share” has remained stable at about 15 percent for the past 10 years, the total number of Girl Scout-age girls has declined.

That, she said, has left the council, which now covers 5,500 square miles, with more properties than girls to serve. Dalrymple, who became GSSEM’s CEO in January, noted that the old Detroit Area Council, which included Wayne and Monroe counties, closed its camp in Metamora two years ago because it couldn’t afford to operate it.

Elaine Marcotte, a volunteer member of GSSEM’s finance and property committees, said she was involved in the closing of the old Otsikita Council’s Whispering Woods Camp in 1999.

Abby Wattenberg, GSSEM’s director of camp operations, told Friends members Tuesday that the $90,000 the council saved by idling Camp O’Fair Winds this year allowed the council to offer financial assistance to more girls who wanted to go to camp.

Noting that Camp O’Fair Winds is one of the few GSSEM properties that has a pool and a lake, Dalrymple and the GSSEM executives told Friends members the camp has many points in its favor, including being centrally located in the new council.

Marcotte said following the merger that council officials wanted to move its headquarters from Detroit to Troy to be more centrally located, but couldn’t afford it.

Following two newspaper articles about the closing of Camp O’Fair Winds, including one that suggested the possibility of boycotting Girl Scout cookie sales, Dalrymple said her office has been flooded with e-mails from around the country “too hurtful to read.”

In the meantime, she said, no decision will be made on the council’s properties until sometime in the spring, following a round of “townhall meetings” with Girl Scout leaders in all eight counties.

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