Girl Scout leaders irate at possible closing of Sacajawea West Program Center

June 13, 2013

Questions about the possible closing of Sacajawea West Program Center have risen this week, with some Girl Scout leaders angry there wasn’t more of an effort to keep the longtime campground open.

During its meeting Friday, the Girl Scouts of the Missouri Heartland Board of Directors, based in Springfield, will vote to sell the property and designate its proceeds to be used for future capital improvements. It is one of five Girl Scout Council-owned properties on the chopping block this week.

“There were rumors four years ago when we merged some of the councils, but it didn’t really come to light until last year,” said Senior Ambassador Troop Leader Charlotte Scholl. “Last summer the council came out and gave us a presentation that included all the camps, how much it cost to run them, the size, what the camps offered, things like that. At the time, I thought their costs to maintain Sacajawea were abnormally high. They said it was hundreds of thousands of dollars and I just couldn’t imagine it being that high.”

Girl Scouts of Missouri Heartland Public Relations Director Lori Enyart said a special property committee was formed to make recommendations on all council-owned land and has spent the last two years on the project.

“(The committee) took polls and had volunteer input sessions to evaluate each property,” Eynart said. “Property usage, expenses, maintenance and participation levels were some of the factors that were looked at for each.”

Eynart said she couldn’t speak specifically about the Sacajawea property, noting there were “a variety of factors that may have put it on the list of recommendations.”

To complicate matters, the council did not disclose the possible closure of the campground during Sedalia-Pettis County United Way hearings, when the Board of Directors votes on how much money is allocated to charitable agencies.

“When we went through the hearings, which the Springfield council was present at, there was no mention of the campground being on the chopping block,” said executive director Linda Kirk. “There was a question from the board about their application that showed they would have a deficit (of funds) at the end of the year. We emailed them to ask how they were going to cover that deficit, but they said nothing about selling property.”

Kirk said she and the board of directors did not know about the campground closing until this week, though Enyart disputes that, saying there were meetings, website notifications and press releases about the list of recommendations from the Property Committee. According to Kirk, money allocation has already been decided by the board and it will not be changed despite the new information.

“We’re not going to change the number at this point. If we had known the campground would be closing, the Financial Committee may have acted differently; however, we didn’t have a chance to even have that conversation,” she said. “I feel badly for the local Scouting program. They rely on Sacajawea as a place to meet and hold their day camp. Those Scouts are going to miss out on opportunities.”

Scholl agreed, noting there are not many local areas that offer adequate space for camping while also keeping fees to a minimum.

“It’s not just Sedalia (Scouts), but also troops in Benton, Saline and Morgan counties,” she said. “It’s the only camp that’s close enough for people to travel to easily and it doesn’t cost very much. There are city parks, but that’s not camping. There’s no place to put a tent unless you want to pitch it in someone’s back yard. Where are you going to have an open fire? Fire pits aren’t Girl Scouting.”

Scholl said while other campgrounds are available, many local troops cater to lower-income families and likely can’t afford camping fees or the cost of transportation.

“As of right now, I have not a clue about where we would hold camp,” she said. “I’ve been involved in Scouting for 25 years and Sacajawea camp has always been there. My troops have cleaned the units, made the walking trails, cut and mowed the grass. We’ve had many girls do their Gold Award (the highest award a Girl Scout can achieve) out there. And our events, depending on the weather and the event, will sometimes see more than 100 girls out there. The campground is getting used, that’s for certain.”

Scholl said she and other area troop leaders are waiting to see what happens at Friday’s meeting and in the meantime are encouraging current and former Girl Scouts to contact the Missouri Heartland Board of Directors and voice their opposition to the closing.

“I’m hoping this doesn’t happen,” Scholl said. “Sacajawea is very important to the girls around here. If we lose it, it will just be heartbreaking.”