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Update: GSSI Camps

The GSSI Board of Directors has approved the use of the funds from the sale of Camp Whispering Oaks for maintenance and needed improvements of camp properties, new software for property reservations and program registrations, and needed camping and outdoor equipment. The board believes this maintenance must occur before we can look at adding features to our camps. In addition to these funds, we will be seeking community donations such as rock and sand and will need the help of our awesome volunteers with things like painting and staining. Below is a list of items by camp to be addressed in the first phase of our plan. Some of these tasks will be completed right away while others will take us into 2018.

Camp Butterfly: Refurbish cabooses, purchase commercial fridge/freezer in commissary, new roof and stain exterior at Eagles Nest and Frontier Village, stain exterior of maintenance office/barn, solar showers and waterfront deck, paint interior and replace doors in shower house, new rock or sand for roads and waterfront, erosion repair around Rainbow Dam and refurbish sailboats.

Camp Torqua: Build new shower house, paint interior and convert entryway to concrete at Lisetta, replace Pedestrian Bridge, new roof, HVAC unit and floor, repair bathroom and expand parking lot at Pumpkin Patch, new HVAC unit at Ranger’s House, replace/repair fireplace and chimney and rock entranceway to fire pit at Tuckaway, and expand parking lot at Lisetta/Tuckaway.

Camp Wassatoga: Replace archery backdrop, stain deck, replace kitchen floors in lodge, replace door in maintenance shed, expand parking area, build waterfront platform and stain and replace canvases in the platform tents.

Program and Camp Supplies: Purchase archery backdrops, bows, arrows, targets and covers, camping equipment (tents, sleeping mats, Dutch ovens, pie irons, fire grills, propane stoves, ash buckets, shovels, rakes, etc.), life vests and paddles.

Equipment: Purchase mower (2), tractor, truck and utility task vehicle.

GSSI’s current property registration system, Council Manager, is outdated and cumbersome; requiring volunteers to call council, speak with registrar to identify availability and reserve sites.

To align this process with our new “customer-centered” process, GSSI has invested in Doubleknot, an online property reservation system with an always up-to-date availability calendar, custom forms for submitting required information to reserve camp, register for programs and integrated payment collection. 

Doubleknot’s property reservations platform makes life easier for Girl Scout councils. Visitors can view accurate availability and book online at any time. Doubleknot automatically handles routine tasks like checking availability; making reservations for properties and it is expected that other options like adding on equipment, meals, and recreation options will make the process much easier. Also the system will ensure that mandatory forms are completed; and accept payments.

With Doubleknot’s event registration software, GS councils can offer everything online from a one-time event to a complex program or summer camp with different tracks and options. You can assign different prices and different forms to different registrant types, so people are only asked for the information that’s relevant to their registration.

Doubleknot will be available in July 2017.

Back in 2015, the Board of Directors made a decision on how to best address GSSI’s camp properties. The final piece of that decision will be enacted in May. While I plan to explain this particular situation, I want to first share the process that occurred to get us to this point for those that may not have this information. Below is the historical timeline and actions taken.

For several years, as is the case with many councils across the country, the GSSI Board of Directors embarked on a process to determine how to best utilize our camp properties. While the hope was to hold on to all the existing camp properties, the board understood that the decisions must be based on the best interest of the council. To this end, the Board made a commitment to do the research necessary for due diligence as good stewards of Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois.

After seeking input from varied sources, the board engaged Kaleidoscope Inc. to provide an objective, expert opinion as to the best approach to GSSI’s camp. At that time, the board learned GSSI was currently at 8-9% income versus expense with other GS councils at 30-45% and non-profit camps at 80-85%. Kaleidoscope Inc. shared that a good reference point for healthy camps is to have a 4,000-8,000 girl participants per property. GSSI had around 2,000 girls per property.

Based on he input received, the research of the board and property task force, along with the consultation of Kaleidescope Inc., the board approved the following action on July 21, 2015.

Motion: Approve the Property Task Force recommendation made to the Board that includes:

  • Develop and enhance Camp Torqua
  • Retain and Operate: Camps Butterfly, Torqua and Wassatoga
  • Retire: Camp Cedar Point, Chan Ya Ta and Whispering Oaks

The motion was made, seconded and the motion was approved. The board knew they had made the correct decision but also realized how difficult this would be for some of our girls and volunteers. Below are the actions that have occurred.

Camp Cedar Point: GSSI had a lease agreement with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service to use this property so the lease was not renewed when the agreement ended in November 2016. Fortunately, the camp was obtained and renamed Camp Manitowa-Cedar Point. We have collaborated with the new owners to ensure that Girl Scouts can continue to use the property. As with other GSSI day camps, council will collaborate with any volunteer group that is interested in conducting day camp at Camp Manitowa-Cedar Point.

Camp Whispering Oaks: Property was put on the market in October 2015; sold in December 2016.

Camp Chan Ya Ta: When the Board made the decisions to retire this property, there was some concerns about water options for girls in this area. As a result, the sale of Chan Ya Ta was postponed until the council could identify other water resources for our girls. For those that are interested, GSSI has a relationship with Girl Scouts of Central Illinois to utilize Camp Widjiwagan on Lake Springfield, their pool as well as access to Lake Springfield for canoeing and water activities. It is one hour from Camp Chan Ya Ta to Springfield. The other option is Camp Warren Levis in Godfrey. They have a pool and a private lake, where they have both canoeing and swimming. They too have agreed for us to use their property. It is just over a 30 minute drive from Camp Chan Ya Ta to Camp Warren Levis. Additionally, the engineering department at SIUE is working with us to identify the feasibility of creating a water feature at Camp Torqua. Given the above, the last piece of the approved motion (July 2015) is to retire Camp Chan Ya Ta which will go on the market for sale this month (May). The council plans to honor this camp and allow the volunteers an opportunity to spend time in this beautiful space before we part.

Opportunities: GSSI has worked to collaborate with area camps to ensure that Girl Scouts in these areas have access to an outdoor experience. In addition to the above, our current collaborations include: Camp Ondessonk, Camp Wartburg, Touch of Nature, Camp Vandeventer, Camp Joy, Pine Ridge Boy Scout Camp, Camp Oil Belt, and the Douglas Hart Nature Center. Given the wealth of state parks in the Southern part of our council, we are looking to purchase camping equipment for troops and service units to check out. We have talked with Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana to use Bear Creek Camp on Kentucky Lake. They have welcomed us to use their camp. We also are exploring joint programming to provide opportunities to the Southern part of our council and Northern part of their council.

As your CEO, I have stated that I will be honest and transparent. That is why that I have provided the above information. I don’t want to open old wounds or create new ones but to inform you of the council’s decisions, even if they are difficult or unpopular, before the event occurs. I also wanted new volunteers to have a snapshot of our past.

Just as the world we live in, GSSI is a vibrant tapestry made up of people that see the world differently. That’s what gives us strength. However, it is also what complicates things at times like these. Being new to this situation, I’ve looked at all the data; discussed the situation with GSUSA and other CEOs across the country; and talked with volunteers. After my extensive review, I believe the decision to sell Camp Chan Ya Ta is sound and something that is needed to ensure GSSI remains a healthy, financially solid council. I can also assure you that the Board did indeed do their due diligence. Knowing the importance of this issue, they looked at all aspects of retiring this camp to ensure they were making the best decision for the council.

And yet, we all know how much we cherish our Girl Scout Camps and how difficult it is to let them go. Please know that the Board of Directors painfully recognizes this piece and wishes that a different decision could have been made. I also want to validate how some of you may be feeling about the decision to sell Chan Ya Ta. If you have questions or stories to share, let me know. I would love to hear from you. Please remember though that we are first and foremost Girl Scouts. Remember our mission, promise and law. I understand that conversations aren’t always easy but we have to approach them with respect and check our anger at the door. Together, let’s honor our past and look to the future.