Advocates hope to stop sale of Boy Scout camp to developer

Conservationists in Connecticut are hoping a last-minute deal can be reached to protect a sprawling 252-acre camp owned by a regional council of Boy Scouts. They want to prevent the picturesque property that’s been a summer destination for generations of families from being sold to a private developer.

The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit land conservation organization, has offered the Connecticut Yankee Council of Boy Scouts $2.4 million, the assessed value of the Deer Lake Scout Reservation in Killingworth. But the group’s bid is currently well below that of the developer, who has offered nearly twice that amount, according to advocacy groups.

The looming sale of the camp comes as the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware begins a trial this week to determine whether to confirm the reorganization plan for the Boy Scouts of America, which sought bankruptcy protection more than two years ago amid an onslaught of child sex allegations.

While the Connecticut Yankee Council of Boy Scouts set a March 31 deadline to accept “superior offers to the one currently being pursued,” they’re being urged by residents and environmentalists, as well as Democratic U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, to keep working with the conservation group. A separate local organization is also raising money to protect the property.

“Their whole mission is rooted in the outdoors and rooted in the protection of natural resources. And so for them to make decisions that basically are in complete opposition to that organizational value, I think is really hard to understand,” said David Anderson, land campaigns manger for Save the Sound, of the Boy Scouts. He said keeping the property undeveloped is crucial to combatting climate change.

Blumenthal said he remains hopeful an agreement can be reached to protect the property from development. The Connecticut senator said he’s working to find federal funds, possibly through the U.S. Department of Interior, but the private groups and advocates are taking the lead role in negotiating with the Boy Scouts.

“Anybody who’s visited knows that it is a really precious and in some ways irreplaceable resource for the entire state, not just that area,” Blumenthal said. “There are a lot of people whose first outdoor experiences - camping, hiking, fishing - were there at this really magic place and we will lose memories for future if future generations lack that opportunity.”

A representative from The Trust for Public Land declined to comment on any negotiations.

The Boy Scouts of America reorganization plan before the federal bankruptcy court calls for the Boys Scouts and its roughly 250 local councils to contribute up to $786 million in cash and property to help pay for a fund to compensate abuse claimants.

The Connecticut Yankee Council has already turned over another camp property in Union, Connecticut, to the national organization, as well as cash from an endowment, to cover its share of the settlement fund. Proceeds from the sale of the Deer Lake Scout Reservation will be used to “improve and expand the facilities, programs and infrastructure” at two other camps owned by the Connecticut Yankee Council, according to a recent statement concerning the “difficult decision” to sell Deer Lake.

“This can be painful but is necessary, especially when looking at the situation we are in. Our Council is not exempt from the nationwide declines in membership organizations like the (Boys Scouts of America) have experienced. This, coupled with challenges over the past several years, means our Council needs to make major changes to survive,” read the statement from the council president and CEO. “Simply put, we own too many properties for the membership we have today.”

The council’s CEO Mark Kraus declined to comment for this story.

Other Boy Scout Councils around the U.S. have put camps up for sale in order to contribute to the national compensation fund. Last July, the Boy Scouts’ Greater Hudson Valley Council in Dutchess, Putnam and Rockland counties listed three camps totaling 2,000 acres for sale. In Rhode Island, the Narragansett Council announced last summer that it had no choice but to put two camps up for sale.

“The only way Narragansett Council can meet its obligation is to sell real estate,” the group said in an August 2021 letter. The council did enter into a long-term lease with the new owner of one camp, allowing the Boy Scouts to still offer camping to youths.

In Florida, the Gulf Stream Council sent a similar letter to families last year informing them that a 60-acre camp owned for decades by the Boy Scouts had to be sold to cover a $1.1 million contribution to the victim settlement fund.

Anderson said he’s concerned about the ramifications of the Boy Scouts deciding to sell off large parcels of undeveloped land, such as the Deer Lake Scout Reservation in Connecticut, rather than take other steps to raise money.

“I think this is unfortunately just one example of probably many nationwide that kind of illustrate a pretty big problem,” he said.