Nature Camps sites on market

Owners of Kalor and Alkor in Baltimore County looking to sell land

December 25, 2007|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,Sun reporter

For sale: 226 acres in rural northern Baltimore County, site of countless campfire songs, hikes in the woods and silly games.

Amenities include a swimming pool, tree swings and cabins without plumbing. Land cannot be developed, but property comes with established and caring staff, and an obstacle course.

The Monkton property isn't actually listed with a broker, but the four civic organizations that have owned it for more than 50 years are looking to sell it. And while the children's camp that has operated for years at the site will carry on for at least one more summer, it is unclear what might happen after that.

"It would be a real shame to lose it," says Cyrus Fishburn, whose two daughters have attended the Nature Camps summer program for about five years. "It's a very rare organization in that kids get as much freedom as it's possible to give and still have a safe situation."

Other parents who associate the Nature Camps program with catching fireflies, singing "Kumbaya" and washing deliriously happy, muddy children at the end of a summer day are also upset about the prospect of losing the program.

The development rights on the rustic property have already been donated to a conservancy. But a new owner might want to run a camp for its own organization and might not allow Nature Camps to continue to hold its summer program there.

Don Webb, the longtime head of Nature Camps, finds himself recruiting nature enthusiasts with money to spare who might buy the property and allow his programs to continue.

A real estate appraisal done last year put the value of the land at $1.1 million. "I'm really optimistic," says Webb, who started Nature Camps in 1974 at another campground and moved the program to Camp Kalor and Alkor in 1988. "I have this belief that we have wonderful supporters who will say, `We won't let this pass.'"

The camp, which abuts Gunpowder Falls, is often used by church groups and Scout troops on weekends.

The sale has nothing to do with the popularity or success of Nature Camps or the other programs, says Bill Engel, president of the board of Gunpowder Youth Camps Inc., made up of the four civic groups that own the property. Rather, he says, the members no longer feel they can maintain the property.

"Of all our board members, the average age is probably 70 years old," said Engel. "That's the situation with a number of organizations, not just ours. These days the young people have such busy lives - no time for organizations like this."

The use of the property for recreation dates to the late 1930s, when a group of Towson businessmen purchased the land as a public service, according to articles in The Sun at the time. Much of the property was donated to four civic groups in Towson in 1950, according to land records and the news reports.

The names Camp Alkor and Camp Kalor come from a combination of the organization's names: the Towson American Legion, Towson Kiwanis, Cockeysville Optimist and Towson-Timonium Rotary Clubs. The groups formed Gunpowder Youth Camps Inc. to maintain the property.

The adjacent 67-acre Camp Puh'tok is owned by the Salvation Army, though that property, too, is being sold, said Alexi Kousouris, director of the camp. The land will be privately owned, but will continue to operate as it has done, as an eight-week summer camp, said Kousouris, who declined to elaborate on the details, because the sale is pending.

She said the timing of the two properties being sold is a coincidence.

Webb started his summer nature program at the old Happy Hollow Camp facility off Padonia Road, but nearby development pushed his program out. In 1986, he moved to Camp Puh'tok, and, two years later, to the Camp Kalor and Camp Alkor property.

In 2002, the Salvation Army donated the development rights to the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy. The development rights to Camp Kalor and Camp Alkor were sold for preservation with funding from several nonprofit foundations and government programs.

Described as a "family-based" environmental education program, the Nature Camps program features swimming lessons, horseback riding, canoeing and kayaking, and a rope course, which combines problem-solving and confidence-building. Campers are not grouped by age and choose which activities they want to do each day.

Nature Camps offers "adventure" camp programs for teens and day camp sessions, each two weeks long, for children ages 4 to 12.

During each session there is a "family" overnight, when parents, siblings and sometimes grandparents join campers for dinner by the campfire, night walks and games, and then sleep in tents or under the stars.

Stuart Leinwand remembers the nights spent at camp with his three children, including once when a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra cellist and his wife put on a fireside concert for the campers and their families.

He also fondly recalls emptying his son's pockets each night after camp. There were salamanders, frogs, rocks, and - always - mud, says Leinwand.

"It was probably a life-altering experience for all of my children," said Leinwand, a real estate developer from Freeland, whose children also worked as counselors at the camp. "This is the last camp in Maryland that the middle-class family can afford to go to."

The property was originally put up for sale in August 2006, but during that first year, an interested party couldn't come up with the financing to close the deal, Engel said.

The land became available again this past summer and several groups have expressed interest in buying it to use as a camp, Engel said.

A new owner would be expected to fulfill the Nature Camps lease for next summer, said Engel.

But, after that, he said, "It's a question whether Nature Camps will continue."

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