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Girl Scout Camp Sky-Wa-Mo's future uncertain

Jennifer Sprouse • Sep 4, 2012 at 9:02 AM

After merging the Girl Scout councils in Johnson City, Chattanooga and Knoxville into one large council, board members have been evaluating costs, figuring out how to manage five facilities within their region and are in the process of making some big decisions.

One of those big decisions revolves around the summer camp, Camp Sky-Wa-Mo, in Bluff City.

Kim Lauth, Girl Scout Council chief operating officer, said the evaluations of their facilities began a year ago, pulling volunteers together for the long-range property task group to look closely at just how the camps and other Girl Scout-branded buildings were doing.

“About a year ago the council undertook a long-range property planning process and considered all of the properties within our jurisdiction,” Lauth said. “Our service area is 46 counties and it’s all of East Tennessee and then there are additional counties in Georgia and Virginia as well. So, the planning process recognized there are certain realities. Their program needs to balance the cost of the sites and facilities and make sure that we can sustain them financially.”

Lauth said the council has informed Girl Scout members and families of these processes, and encouraged anyone to provide their own comments or concerns over the facilities, including Camp Sky-Wa-Mo. The deadline to submit a comment was Friday and she estimated less than 20 people had sent in statements concerning the site.

She said the volunteer committee had strict criteria when examining all site locations.

“The criteria for evaluating the properties were how they supported the national program portfolio, which is our curriculum, how they support the Girl Scout brand, how they provide service support to our membership, how they support sustainable property management practices and whether or not the operations and maintenance costs were within the council and communities ability to fund,” Lauth said.

She said Sky-Wa-Mo is not meeting the criteria.

“The volunteer committee, as it relates specifically to Sky-Wa-Mo, has said that due to the performance criteria not being met … (that) does not justify the expense. They’ve recommended they idle the site beginning in November through 2014, remove substandard facilities, provide maintenance to protect remaining facility access, determine the viability of implementing an outdoor partnership program in the direct vicinity administered by the council and explore transportation opportunities providing membership access to other council property. At this time, the recommendation of the committee is not to sell the property.”

She said if the recommendation from the group stands, the council would then look at other potential partnerships to bring in more people to the camp, such as college groups, church groups and other organizations that could bring in the numbers to fill the camp.

“All of the feedback, along with the recommendation, will be going to our board of directors for the council on Sept. 10 and they will consider the options and make the decision at that time as to what is the best for all of our property,” Lauth said.

“People feel really really passionate about the camp (Sky-Wa-Mo) and I’m really glad that they do. It’s very connected to people’s Girl Scout experience. As a Girl Scout myself, I went to Girl Scout camp and think it’s a wonderful experience,” she said. “So, I’m glad that people feel passionate about it. I’m so glad that they’re letting their voices be heard. The only thing that we can ask is ... that we respect the process that we agreed to go through and have volunteers evaluate these properties and continue to look for ways to serve the girls.”

Theresa Shaw, troop leader and service unit manager in the Johnson City region, said Sky-Wa-Mo has been a fixture in her life as a troop leader and as a mom of Girl Scouts. She said while a decision hasn’t been made and they’ve said there are no immediate plans to close the camp, she’s still encouraging everyone to speak up by sending emails and interacting with members.

“The decision hasn’t been made, I’m just really encouraging everybody (to) please say something. We want to keep our camp and if we lose it, it’s gone. If they sell it, it’s gone forever,” Shaw said. “If we take away Camp Sky-Wa-Mo here in Bluff City ... I just really feel that the girls here in our end of the council are going to lose such a great resource. It’s what you think of when you think of Girl Scout camping.”

Lauth agreed, saying that the camps are part of Girl Scouting and training girls to be future leaders.

“Girl Scouts is, at its core, a leadership development organization and throughout its 100-year history camping has been a huge part of where that leadership development takes place.

“It’s part of what people come to expect from a Girl Scout experience and it’s part of what people think very fondly of regarding their own Girl Scout experience,” she said. “So, we understand why people love their camp. We love our camp and again, we are absolutely committed to do what we need to do to provide the best Girl Scout leadership experience for the girls who live in our jurisdiction.”

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