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‘It was not an easy decision’: Girl Scouts of Central Maryland to sell Camp Ilchester in Ellicott City

The Girl Scouts of Central Maryland board of directors announced Wednesday that it has decided to sell Camp Ilchester in Ellicott City, one of its four camps in Maryland.

The sale is dependent on the board’s final approval of price, terms and conditions, according to a statement Girl Scouts of Central Maryland released Wednesday.

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Girl Scouts of Central Maryland CEO Violet Apple said the organization is in the early stages of the sale. It has not listed the property, and there is not a buyer, a broker or an offer.

“It was prudent financial responsibility to think about our future and the future of our programming,” Apple said in an interview Wednesday. “This was really careful consideration. It was not an easy decision.”

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In the announcement, the board said members of the newly appointed Camp Ilchester Committee would speak with groups who want to preserve the property as a green space before they solicit bids from developers. After Girl Scouts of Central Maryland initially announced they were considering selling the property, some local officials and the Love Camp Ilchester Coalition began advocating for a preservation sale.

State Sen. Katie Fry Hester and Del. Courtney Watson, two of the representatives for Howard County in the General Assembly, released a statement Wednesday saying they plan to support County Executive Calvin Ball in developing an offer for the county to purchase the land.

“While we are concerned about the prospect of the sale of Camp Ilchester and its 19 acres of green space, we are encouraged that the Girl Scouts have committed to exploring preservation options as part of its considerations for the future of the property,” Ball wrote in a post on his Facebook page.

On March 30, the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland board of directors presented delegates — Girl Scout members and adult volunteers who participate in the governing process — with a recommendation to sell Camp Ilchester. Girl Scouts of Central Maryland said one of its consistently deficit-funded areas is property so it started looking to sell Camp Ilchester.

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Apple said selling one of the properties would allow Girl Scouts of Central Maryland to upgrade other properties, in particular, the 35-acre Camp Woodlands in Annapolis.

“We looked at the commercial value [of Camp Ilchester], and the value of some of our other properties would not yield what we will need to help fund some of the upgrades that we would want to make,” Apple said.

There are also Girl Scout camps in Conowingo in Cecil County and Pasadena in Anne Arundel County.

Since that announcement was made, many Girl Scouts and their parents have been organizing and collecting ideas on how to stop the sale or find a preservation buyer for the property. On April 11, Frances Keenan, one of the founders of the Love Camp Ilchester Coalition, helped organize a rally in Ellicott City attended by hundreds to build support.

“This is not an unexpected decision, but it is still a monumentally heartbreaking decision,” Keenan said Wednesday.

While Keenan is pleased Girl Scouts of Central Maryland is considering a preservation buyer, she’s concerned the organization is unlikely to accept the slower process and lower price that could come from a preservation buyer, given its plans to redevelop Camp Woodlands.

It was a concern Hester and Watson also mentioned in their statement. They said the county purchasing the land is contingent on an “agreement on value, identification of funding from different sources, and whether [Girl Scouts of Central Maryland] would accept a higher offer from a developer willing to pay above appraised value, something the county is prevented from doing.”

From April 30 to May 2, the Love for Camp Ilchester Coalition surveyed 402 Howard-based members and volunteers on the plans to sell Camp Ilchester. The results showed 36% of those surveyed said they would definitely change their involvement with Girl Scouts of Central Maryland if they sold Camp Ilchester.

“I have not yet told my daughter and I have to really think through how I’m going to approach that conversation,” Keenan said. “These are kids who are still not back in school five days a week yet [due to the coronavirus pandemic]; to layer this on top of everything these kids have been through this year, it’s heartbreaking. Any year this would be difficult, in spring of 2021 it’s hard to find the words for just how hard this is for these kids.”

Camp Ilchester is a 19-acre site used for camping, program activities and meetings. It includes the Clementine Peterson Activity Center and the Caitlin Dunbar Nature Center. Besides Girl Scout activities, other organizations use the spaces as well, like the YMCA that hosts a summer camp there every year.

The Girl Scouts of Central Maryland board of directors held an advisory, nonbinding vote April 22 on the potential sale. When asked if they supported a recommendation to sell the camp, 37 eligible voters of the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland Council — which includes the board, the delegates and the Council Nominating Committee — voted in favor while 50 voted against. Ellin & Tucker, a Baltimore-based accounting firm, organized the distribution, collection and tabulation of the nonbinding ballots.

In its statement, the board of directors said it took that vote and other factors, including “the views of the members, volunteers and others as reflected in communications received,” into consideration when making the decision to sell.

“Informed by all of these considerations, the board in the sound exercise of its business judgment believes that pursuing a potential sale of Camp Ilchester is in the best interest of the girls served by our council,” the board said in its statement.

Kate Kyle, 17, of Elkridge, has been a Girl Scout since first grade. Kyle lives so close to Camp Ilchester she used to walk home from camp. As a delegate member, she was able to participate in the April 22 nonbinding vote; she voted against the sale.

“For me, I honestly don’t think I would be able to go to camp without Camp Ilchester because I have younger siblings and all the other camps are so far away,” Kyle said. “To have to lose so much in order to get some [money from] it, to lose so much to me, I don’t think it’s worth it.”

For Anupama Nair, 16, the decision to sell was a reasonable one, given the current financial state of Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. Nair, a seven-year Girl Scout who lives in Ellicott City, said she has seen membership decline in recent years.

“The [coronavirus] pandemic really emphasized these preexisting problems,” Nair said.

Nair and Kyle said they are hopeful that when the sale goes through, Girl Scouts of Central Maryland will sell to a preservation buyer.

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“We should make sure that this land is not going to be built upon. That’s something I do strongly advocate for,” Nair said.

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