After a yearlong process of assessing and evaluating all camps and facilities within the Girl Scout Council of the Southern Appalachians district, Girl Scouts, troop leaders and staff will soon say goodbye to Camp Sky-Wa-Mo.
The board of directors decided Monday to sell the camp, located in Bluff City, based on a report from a long-range property planning committee that the camp had not been meeting necessary criteria. The criteria include how the camp supports the national Girl Scouts program portfolio, how it supports the Girl Scout brand, how it provides service support to the council’s membership, how it supports sustainable property management practices and whether the operations and maintenance costs are within the council’s and the community’s ability to fund.
The committee originally recommended idling the camp and seeking other ways to fill the property facilities, but the board chose to sell the camp that has for many years provided regional Girl Scouts a rustic leadership training environment to supplement their other scouting activities.
“Although this was a very difficult decision and all of the council properties were ... reviewed as part of the process, the reality is that Camp Sky-Wa-Mo has not been self-sustaining for a long time and the status just doesn’t justify keeping the camp open,” Kim Lauth, Girl Scout Council chief operating officer said.
“The council does plan to continue to make camping experiences available to Girl Scouts in the area, we just don’t necessarily have to own real estate to do that,” Lauth said. “Additionally we will be looking at partnership opportunities with other places to camp, like state parks, and looking at how we can resource our volunteers and girls to take advantage of these opportunities in a safe and a productive way.”
Theresa Shaw, troop leader and service unit manager in the Johnson City region, said she was shocked to learn of Sky-Wa-Mo’s selling, thinking that the recommendation to idle the property would give those invested in the camp at least 1½-2 years to get the camp going again. Shaw said after first hearing the recommendation, she and a few others had been brainstorming some ideas involving Sky-Wa-Mo.
“There were several of us in this area who were trying to put together plans on ways we could make the camp viable again,” Shaw said. “When I found out that the worst case scenario had happened, I was floored. They’ve kind of pulled the carpet out from underneath us. I wish maybe they would have looked at it a little more.”
Disappointment and disbelief are two ways she described how she felt when she finally absorbed the news of the camp’s fate.
“I think they’ve done a disservice to the girls of our area because now we don’t have a viable camp in the area that’s a true rustic, Girl Scout camp. We do have Camp Wildwood, but that’s a city camp,” Shaw said. “You’re not going to get the same experience when you’re in Johnson City, as opposed to when you’re out in a forest. It’s not the same and I think they’ve done a disservice to the girls of this area, Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.”
Lauth said selling Sky-Wa-Mo was not an easy decision and it’s sad to see it up for sale.
“Sky-Wa-Mo has been around for a long time. People feel very passionately about their camp and so there is an emotional attachment. Girl Scouting is, of course, at its core a leadership development organization and camping is a part of that,” she said. “It’s sad when you have to move on and ultimately the board of directors made a very difficult decision based on the best information available. Their job is to make the hard call and in this case they did.”