Girl Scouts camp in Aiken up for sale
The Girl Scouts of South Carolina Mountains to Midlands Council has approved a long-range property plan which includes the sale of nearby Camp Cofitachiqui.The property came into the Mountains to Midlands Council with a 2007 realignment of Girl Scout Councils that transferred Aiken Girl Scout troops from the Central Savannah River Council, which became the Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia Council, to the South Carolina Council. In 2008, Mountains to Midlands formed a long-range program and a property planning committee and initiated a survey of approximately 17,000 Girl Scouts, volunteers, troop leaders and delegates in the Council's coverage area, which includes 22 counties. From that survey came a strategic plan which includes the sale of all campgrounds except Camp Mary Elizabeth in Spartanburg, Camp Wabak in Greenville and Camp Congaree in Lexington, and the construction of a new Mountains to Midlands Urban Leadership Center in Columbia. The plan was unveiled in April and is detailed at sheseesthefuture.org."What they were telling us in the survey is that the girls are interested in activities. Arts was the No. 1 category for all age groups, and in no particular order after that came outdoors adventure, healthy living, leadership, science and technology, engineering and math and business enterprise," said Susan Schneider, director of public relations and advocacy for the Mountains to Midlands Council."In listening to them, the conception came about for the Urban Leadership Center," Schneider continued. "It all comes back to the programs, and most of what the girls were requesting can be done at an indoor facility. What they're telling us is that part of the allure of camping is being thrown into a new environment away from home with their friends and spending the night. So the thinking is to have 'indoor cabins.' We're looking at the idea of an indoor climbing wall, an indoor pool with a slide and a lazy river that goes through it all."Not all members of the Mountains to Midlands Council agree with the indoor camping concept, however. "There's nothing wrong with having all that, but you also need to have the girls outside. If you don't take them outside, they'll never know they want to be outside," said Wanda Payne, leader of Girl Scout Troop 5075 in Aiken. "The emphasis for us in our troop is Camp C, which has been in Aiken more than 50 years. When we go to the Girl Scout camp, it's pretty much free; if we go to the state park to camp, the cost goes to the Council and to the girls."The 116-acre campsite straddling the border of Aiken and Edgefield counties was given to the Girl Scouts of Aiken in 1956 by Claudia Phelps, who founded Aiken's first Girl Scout troop in 1920. The property was officially designated a Lou Henry Hoover Memorial Sanctuary in 1968 in honor of President Herbert Hoover's first lady, who campaigned for nature conservation from the White House.Schneider said one of the factors that was looked at in evaluating properties was usage rates, and Camp Cofitachiqui scored low in this area. The low annual usage rate since the camp came into Mountains to Midlands' possession is due to a logging project on the campground initiated by the Central Savannah River Council, according to Payne."We couldn't use the camp while the logging was going on. They didn't clean up after they finished, and it looks terrible out there," Payne said."Our daughters did their Gold Award project out at Camp C; they redid the map and marked the trails," added volunteer Jean Fishel. "They wouldn't let them put up trail markers, so they had to mark the trees, and now those trees have been logged. So now you can't see the trails."Brenda Guerry of Aiken now volunteers with Troop 5335 but grew up camping at Camp C with Girl Scout Troop 41. Her troop had a cleanup work day at the campsite in September. "The timbering really took away a lot of the atmosphere. Some of the girls have replanted some trees out there, but it's going to take a lot of years to grow those trees back," Guerry said.Because the Central Savannah River Council was dissolved in the 2007 reorganization, no representative of its successor - the Historic Georgia Council - could comment knowledgeably on the logging project. Schneider estimated that 90 percent of the camp's 116 acres has been logged."One of the reasons we decided to sell Camp C is that it would be too expensive to do what needs to be done to make it a destination choice for the girls," Schneider said. "We want to put more money into programming, and the decision was made to have programming determine our properties, not the other way around."Fishel feels that because the Aiken troops were brought into the Council during the long-range planning, they were not given as much of a voice in the decision-making process as other groups, a charge Schneider denied in a phone interview. For Payne, the main concern is the loss of a site with ties to Aiken history that include a display of wildflower photography from Camp C housed at Gregg Lodge. For many former Scouts in the area, the sale means the loss of a site that figures prominently in their personal histories. "I went to day camp there every summer and overnight outings all year," Guerry said. "We practiced skills like different outdoor cooking techniques, collecting water from hand pumps, pitching tents over the tent platforms. When I got out of college, I worked for the Girl Scouts, and one of my ideas was a competition between the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts at Camp C around 1990; all the girls and boys interested competed in outdoor cooking, tying knots and orienting with a compass."The Mountains to Midlands Council has not yet engaged a broker or listed the camp property for sale, but the decision to sell is final, according to Schneider. Plans for the Urban Leadership Center have not yet been finalized, but Schneider said her personal hope is to see the center up and running in time for the Girl Scouts' 100th anniversary in 2012."It would really be wonderful if we could celebrate that anniversary with the center opening; it would be the icing on the cake," she said.Guerry focused more on what Aiken and Edgefield girls will lack as the Girl Scout centennial approaches."Camp C is so close, and it's so different from anything else our girls do, and the pure wilderness is enchanting to them," she said. "It's a sad thing; I wish we could keep it, so they can have the opportunity to experience the pureness of it. We have so much technology in our lives that sometimes it's nice to have to rely on yourself for a little while."Contact Suzanne Stone at s email@example.com.