Girl Scouts everywhere learn about the land, its flora and its fauna. In Howard County, they're learning something else about their land, Camp Ilchester: It has a price.
Campers, parents and volunteer Scout leaders who use the 38.4-acre camp in Ellicott City are trying to prevent the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland from selling 18.8 acres of the land to a developer.
The Scouting group is losing the lease to its Baltimore headquarters in September and needs the money from the land sale to replace the facility.
Howard County volunteers, parents and Scouts began a Save Our Camp Campaign this month with the goal of raising $650,000 by August to buy the 18.8 acres from the Girl Scouts group. The campaign would donate the land to the Scouts on condition that it not be sold.
Losing the land would put constraints on outdoor programs such as nature hikes and would eliminate tent camping sites at Camp Ilchester, said Nancy Wisthoff, director of the Howard County Girl Scout Day Camp, which operates at Camp Ilchester, and president of the fund-raising campaign.
If the land is sold to a developer, "you really don't have enough of a buffer to maintain that sense of peace and solitude that you don't have in the daily world," said Abby Plugge of Columbia's Oakland Mills village. Her daughter, Rieka, camps there as a member of Brownie Troop 1410.
Lisa Lungaro Cid, executive director of the nonprofit Girl Scouts of Central Maryland, said the planned sale's consequences would not cripple the camp.
"Camp Ilchester will still remain a functional camp," she said, noting that the camp's remaining 20 acres would contain all of the camp's buildings, including its large, modern activity center, a lodge for camping and other facilities. "That's not going to be at all affected by this sale.
"This is not like Camp Ilchester is going; there's still going to be a lot of activity there. There's still a lot of space for children."
For example, she said, the Girl Scouts group is building a new nature trail for disabled campers on the 20 acres that would remain.
She also said the land up for sale is undeveloped, "and quite frankly, we do not have the resources to develop it."
Girl Scouts of Central Maryland owns three other camps, one comparable to Camp Ilchester in Cecil County and two smaller camps in Anne Arundel County, she said, and her group has to pay for the camps' upkeep with a shrinking pool of money.
With its membership hovering about 23,250, the Scouting group has suffered a drop of about 25 percent in its contributions from the United Way during the last five years, Ms. Cid said. The United Way is the group's main source of funds.
In September, the group will lose its lease on its headquarters across from the Rotunda on 40th Street in Baltimore.
It needs an estimated $1.5 million to buy a new headquarters, Ms. Cid said.
The Scouting group had been looking for state help in making the purchase, but its funding request was turned down by the state Senate this year.
The House of Delegates agreed to $500,000 in bonding for the facility, and Gov. Parris N. Glendening then recommended approval of half that amount, but a House-Senate conference committee killed the legislation.
State Sen. William H. Amoss, a District 35 Democrat co-sponsored the bill, wrote letters to Girl Scout supporters explaining that there was "a reluctance of among many legislators to open the door to more Girl and Boy Scout projects in the future."
In need of funds, the Girl Scouts group's board of directors then decided to put the Camp Ilchester land up for sale, Ms. Cid said. The group is now looking for a real estate agent to handle the sale.
She would not say what the board believes the camp property is worth. except that it would be part of a larger effort to raise the $1.5 million the group needs to buy property for its planned new headquarters. Other undeveloped land in the camp's area has sold for more than $50,00 an acre.
As for the Save Our Camp Campaign, Ms. Cid said that Girl Scouts of Central Maryland is "very pleased that they're trying to do this. However, it doesn't seem that they'll be able to raise the amount needed. If they can, more power to them."
A potential problem, she said, is that restrictive conditions might be attached to the land if the group raises the money and buys it. The volunteer campaign wants a guarantee from the Girl Scouts group that the land won't be sold again, Ms. Cid said, a stipulation that the board is unlikely to accept.
Meanwhile, Ms. Wisthoff and the volunteer fund-raisers face the daunting task of coming up with $650,000 by August, a month before the Girl Scout headquarters lease runs out.
They have raised about $4,500 by selling metaphorical "square feet" and "square yards" of the camp, for $5 and $45, respectively. The latter entitles a donor to a button that says, "I bought a yard I never have to mow."