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Girl Scouts hope to keep the campfires burning

Girls offer emotional testimony in favor of nostalgic getaways

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Posted: Friday, March 8, 2013 12:00 am

Girl Scouts of all ages came from hours away to Dubuque Thursday night to plead their case for keeping their beloved Girl Scout camps open.

For more than two hours they lobbied the board of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois Council not to close the council's four camps, many giving emotional testimony to the importance of outdoor camping in their lives.

"We talk about camping all year long in my troop. They love it. The prissiest little girls get dirty and have a ball," said Sarah Engle, the service unit director for East Dubuque and Galena, Ill. troops. "This is so important to me, I skipped my son's birthday to be here," she said to loud applause.

Last month, the council's property committee proposed selling all four council camps: Camp Conestoga in Scott County, Camp Little Cloud in Dubuque County, Camp L-Kee-Ta in Des Moines County and Camp Tahigwa in Allamakee County, and possibly create a single, more modern outdoor center. Since then, the council has held town hall meetings to gather member input. The fourth of six was at the Cathedral of St. Raphael, where nearly 90 people came from as far away as Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Milwaukee to voice their opinions. Some have traveled to every meeting.

Many in the audience took time to speak -- asking rhetorical questions of and directing points to the council board members. The board of directors will vote on the proposal at its Thursday, March 28, meeting.

"The current camp environment is a unique outdoor world where girls learn how to survive and thrive without technology, climate control or a microwave," said Jennifer Brinkmeier, of Mount Carroll, Ill., who spent 15 years at Camp Little Cloud near Peosta, Iowa, first as a scout, then as a counselor. The idea that "primitive camping" is less popular now because girls want technology met with general derision.

"Everything in the world is changing, but camp stays the same. It's a week away from your phone and makeup and you're not dependent on material things," said Cassidy Shubatt, 16-year-old daughter of TH Managing Editor Amy Gilligan and longtime summer camper. Other teens and youngsters echoed that message to cheers and applause.

Several points were repeated by speaker after speaker -- the council has not marketed its camps well; camp costs are too high and too small a percentage of proceeds from cookie sales go toward camping costs; one single outdoor center could not replace the four local camps as many troops could not travel long distances to it; money from selling all four properties would not go far in building a new center; and many girls would not stay in scouting without camping opportunities.

"We know camping keeps girls in Girl Scouts," said Beth Haskovec, who drove from Milwaukee with a friend who also enjoyed many summers at Camp Tahigwa.

Haskovec does not want the camps sold for another reason.

"We are supposed to be stewards of this land, most of which has been given to us. If we sell these camps, they could end up as condos for people from Minneapolis or as a frac sand mine," she said. Tahigwa is in Allamakee County, where frac sand mining interests are active.

Camp supporters came armed with full-color brochures and other handouts, asking for members to sign a petition to change the council's by-laws to allow its membership a vote on any proposed real estate sales.

Mona Woodward, a Dubuque troop leader, even hinted at taking the council to court to keep the camps open.

"We are part of a really big push to keep this effort going. We want to help you, We want to work with you. We don't want to, but if we have to take this legal, we will," she said.

Peg Hudson is a council board member from Dubuque. She was impressed with such a large, impassioned turnout.

"This was very productive. As a board, we said that one of the foundations of Girl Scouts is the democratic process, and tonight Girls Scouts showed up en masse," Hudson said. "They care, they're engaged with the process and it makes me determined to keep going."

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