Girl Scout acreage sold in $1 million deal Volunteers, parents opposed loss of land

February 01, 1996|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

The Girl Scouts of Central Maryland closed a $1 million deal this week, selling almost half the 38.4-acre Camp Ilchester in Ellicott City -- despite efforts by campers, parents and volunteers to block the sale. Orion Developmusiness Park in Northwest Baltimore, where their new Central Maryland headquarters will be housed.

Orion, which paid $850,000 for 17.8 wooded acres at Camp Ilchester and donated $150,000 to the Girl Scouts as a gift, plans to build single-family homes on the site. No time frame has been set for site development, said Russell Hurd, the company's vice president of operations.

Girl Scouts officials say the land's high value, compared with other Scouts-owned parcels in the state, convinced the organization that it should sell part of the camp, including 2.5 acres used as a day camp and training site for adult volunteers.

The nearly 21 acres that remain include a lodge, meeting facility, activity center and woods that will be developed for outdoor camping.

"Nobody ever wants to lose any part of camping land," said Lisa Lungaro Cid, executive director of the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. "But our needs have grown and we're land rich and cash poor."

But those opposed to the sale fear that losing the land will limit the number of girls who can attend the camp at one time and will cut the length of nature trails.

With fund-raising campaigns such as spaghetti dinners and silent auctions, the opponents -- using the slogan "Save Our Camp" -- tried to raise money to make the sale unnecessary. But in the end, the effort generated about $18,000, a fraction of the $650,000 goal set for the campaign.

"Certainly we're sad to see that the property could not be saved," said Nancy Wisthoff, president of the Howard County Girl Scout Day Camp and the Save Our Camp campaign. "The quality of the camping will be affected."

With the site now smaller, the Howard County Girl Scout Day Camp will operate in two sessions this summer, instead of one, to accommodate the 225 to 240 campers who usually attend, county Girl Scout officials said.

"It's a real drain on volunteer services, but we will work with what we have," said Monica Suchoski, vice president of Friends of Camp.

Ms. Suchoski said the money raised during the Save Our Camp campaign will be used to try to buy back some of the camp land from Orion or for capital improvements at the camp site.

Meanwhile, state and local government efforts to make up for the loss of land at Camp Ilchester have stalled. State Sen. Martin G. Madden, a Republican, withdrew his bill that would have converted part of the Patapsco Valley State Park in Howard County into a camp for Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, church groups and other youth organizations.

Mr. Madden had proposed that $600,000 be set aside for the project -- half from Howard County and youth groups and $300,000 in matching money from the state. But he said County Executive Charles I. Ecker was not convinced that the project would generate enough revenue to cover its expenses.

Ms. Cid said the sale of land at Camp Ilchester was crucial to financing the Girl Scouts' much needed new headquarters. The lease on the previous headquarters, on 40th Street in Baltimore, expired last September.

The new site at the Seton Business Park is expected to open in May and will include offices for the organization's 50 full-time staff members, meeting and training facilities for Girl Scout programs and a research library.

Although the Girl Scouts could have sold parcels elsewhere in the state to raise money, Ms. Cid said, the Howard property provided the best opportunity for a quick, lucrative sale without sacrificing an entire camp site. The Girl Scouts have two smaller camps in Anne Arundel County. They also have a 600-acre site in Cecil County. Orion, meanwhile, has agreed to build a fence to separate the housing development from the camp and to maintain a wooded buffer between the properties. New homes in the area near Camp Ilchester have sold in the $350,000 range.

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