How area scout camps survived coronavirus closures

DIAMOND LAKE, Wash. — The return of hundreds of summer campers this year signaled that restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic were behind us.

It also signaled an effort to bounce back from the national scandal and tragedy surrounding the Boy Scouts.

The Inland Northwest Council of Boy Scouts of America said two of their three summer camps had reached capacity. The high numbers are encouraging investment in camp properties, with plans to expand public access in 2023.

“Membership is growing,” said Steve Anderson, new board chair. “We will return with a vengeance.”

Camp attendance has declined due to group gathering restrictions and pandemic fears, he said.

But the list of issues affecting the camps also included the bad publicity of the nationwide sexual abuse lawsuit against Boy Scouts, the loss of partnership with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and difficulty finding staff. The coronavirus restrictions have particularly affected membership in Cub Scouts, the Feeding Program for Scouts, Anderson said.

The problems left many Scout leaders worried that camps would have to close and staff would be reduced.

Both camps in Idaho — Camp Grizzly near Potlatch and Camp Easton near Harrison — were at 100 percent capacity this summer. Idaho’s rules allowed summer camps, while Washington’s were more restrictive. Both camps in Idaho have been running traditional summer camps for the past three years, working closely with the Panhandle Health District to ensure adherence to coronavirus recommendations.

Marcia Hunt, the council’s events coordinator, said the two Idaho camps hosted 1,364 youth and 462 adults over the summer.

Even though Washington’s group restrictions were lifted, Camp Cowles on Diamond Lake did not hold traditional Boy Scout camps.

He organized a day camp and Cub training sessions with hundreds of participants.

A milestone this year for Camp Cowles was hosting an annual Camporee in the fall, said Anderson, a longtime council chief. It had been held in camps in Idaho for the past two years.

He will become chairman of the board in January. Terry Fossum is the outgoing chair of the board.

Anderson, 44, is a Spokane attorney who has served on the board for 16 years. He went regularly to Camp Cowles, and his son is an Eagle Scout.

“We will continue to make changes,” Anderson said of the council’s future properties and business.

Improvements in the camps

All three camps have benefited from substantial investments in deferred maintenance and upgrades, Anderson said. This will continue over the next few years.

At Camp Cowles, this includes updating the kitchen and other components of their main facility, Carbon Lodge.

They also remodeled their full-time ranger’s house, developed public campsites, purchased new docks, and improved bathhouses.

The plan is to use Camp Cowles during the winter, he said.

But there will be no more summer camp next year, mainly due to staffing issues.

Camp Cowles is their largest camp and the operating costs are the highest.

The goal is to return to using all sides, he said.

At Camp Cowles, they would have 170 scouts a week for eight weeks. One of the plans is to expand Camp Cowles as an elevated adventure base, using facilities such as the Climbing Tower.

Sessions will be designed for older Scouts.

The two Idaho camps were also upgraded. They include new showers and bathrooms, new docks, and several new and improved structures for programs and staff housing.

Open to the public

Eventually, the idea is that the properties will also be rented out by businesses and non-profit organizations.

“The Cowles Scout reservation is a property that has the capacity to be used by multiple groups at the same time, and the goal is to ensure that the reservation is used to its maximum capacity to continue to develop the mission of the Council “, said Anderson. .

Camp Cowles has 960 acres with 2 miles of frontage on Diamond Lake. There are 30 large group campsites, four cabins and the Carbon lodge, which can accommodate 250 people with a commercial kitchen.

Anderson said the camps are almost self-sufficient. Outside revenue will be used to maintain testing fees at the same or lower level.

Hunt said he earned $117,000 in rental fees last summer, not including Camp Cowles.

“Word is spreading,” Hunt said.

Camp Cowles has had a few family reunions, weddings and a construction company has been hired overnight this summer.

The Camp Cowles shooting range can also be rented, but must be operated by an NRA-certified shooting master, Hunt said.

Camp Grizzly is on the Palouse River, with 440 acres with access to mountain trails on adjacent property. There are 11 large group campsites.

Camp Easton is on Gotham Bay, on the east side of Lake Coeur d’Alene. It is 383 acres with approximately one mile of lake frontage. They offer 14 large group campsites for rent.

Hunt said a waterfront or treehouse wedding starts at $3,500; cabins are $95 a night with a shared shower; and Carbon Lodge with kitchen is $600 per day. Campsites that can accommodate more than 20 people rent for $70 a night.

Camp Cowles also has a small meeting space for 20 people and a space that can accommodate 24 people.

It also has designated RV parking spots. Guests can use the treehouse, trails, dock, and beach.

Lawsuit settled

In September, the Boy Scouts of America received the green light from a judge to proceed with their $850 million reorganization plan to emerge from bankruptcy and settle more than 80,000 claims filed by victims of sexual abuse.

“We’ve already submitted our share,” Anderson said. “It is important for us to recognize that nothing comes from the property or funds used for Scouting programs.”

The council had sold a property that was not being used.

“Many councils have had to sell camps,” Anderson said.

The Inland Northwest Council’s $164,963 contribution is one of the lowest of the nation’s 250 local councils, with many at $2 million and some as high as $10 million.

“Even though we are not subject to the lawsuit, we have agreed to pay,” he said.

The settlement is between the national Boy Scouts organization and about 250 local councils, as well as law firms representing about 70,000 former Scouts who say they were assaulted.

A fund for survivors would receive about $250 million from national scouts and $600 million from local councils, plus insurance fees.

The Boy Scouts of America, based in Irving, Texas, filed for bankruptcy protection in February 2020, seeking to end hundreds of lawsuits and create a compensation fund for men who were assaulted in their youth decades ago by Scout leaders or other leaders.

“We want to emphasize that local councils are legally separate, distinct and financially independent from the national organization,” the BSA said in a statement.

The LDS leave the scouts

On February 1, 2019, the Boy Scouts of America renamed its flagship program, Boy Scouts, to BSA Scouts to reflect its policy change allowing girls to join gender-specific troops.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced in 2018 that it was cutting ties with the Boy Scouts of America and launched its own youth initiative in 2020 after declining membership prompted Boy Scouts to open its doors to openly gay youth and adult volunteers, as well as girls and transgender youth.

The move caused 400,000 LDS youth to leave Scouts, leaving the group’s numbers at an all-time low. The loss of the church caused an 18% drop in membership and marked the first time since the World War II era that the figure fell below 2 million.

At its peak in the 1970s, over 4 million boys were Scouts. The BSA remains the largest Scouting organization and one of the largest youth organizations in the United States, with approximately 1.2 million youth participants and approximately one million adult volunteers in 2021.

About Edward Fries

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