Killingworth, Conn. — As the Boy Scouts, struggling financially under the pressure of multiple sexual abuse lawsuits, is forced to sell several camping grounds, conservationists, government officials and others are looking for ways to preserve them as open spaces.
A proposed $2.6 billion bankruptcy settlement, designed to pay compensation to thousands of victims of child sexual abuse, adds to the pressure already under an organization beset by years of declining membership.
For more than a century, the organization and its local councils have owned properties across the United States where generations have learned to appreciate the outdoors through camping, swimming, and boating. Now they are taking advantage of those sprawling properties, including some where there was abuse.RELATED
The Boy Scouts of America explained in a statement that the sale of camp sites may be necessary in some cases to compensate victims.
“Any decision must take into account finances, viability of potential buyers, sustainability and meeting obligations to best serve young people within their respective council,” the organization said.
Developers have bought some properties, but conservation groups hope that others can be protected by purchasing them with public funds.
It’s unclear exactly how much property in the United States belongs to the Boy Scouts, in part because it belongs to the organization’s local councils, but evidence at the bankruptcy trial indicated that local councils own about 2,000 properties that could be worth between $8,000 million and $10 billion, said Timothy Kosnoff, an attorney who represents more than 12,000 bankruptcy plaintiffs.
The proposed bankruptcy settlement with the Boys Scouts of America would see its more than 250 councils contribute at least $515 million in cash and property and a $100 million interest-bearing promissory note. Kosnoff said the Scouts will have to sell much of their land to contribute to the national settlement or else pay for continuing legal battles.
Some victims of abuse have mixed feelings about the sale of the camps.
Joe, a victim who did not want his last name used because his family was unaware of his ordeal, was abused by his scout master from the age of eight in the 1970s at a Connecticut camp on Candlewood Lake. , which was sold years ago for housing construction. He’s not sure he wants people camping out on land where he once abused Boy Scouts.
“I don’t have nice feelings about those places,” he said. “It’s almost like ‘Poltergeist.’ Do you want your house on the land where those things happened? So, I don’t know what to do with those places.”
Local councils in states including Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have recently sold campgrounds or have announced plans to sell them.
In Maine, the Androscoggin Trust has an agreement to buy the 95-acre Gustin Campground near Lewiston, which includes a pond and wetland teeming with wildlife.
Aimee Dorval, executive director of the trust, said the state government’s Land for Maine’s Future program has agreed to contribute half of the property’s appraised value of $415,000. The rest will be raised through private donations.
The sale would be part of a larger effort by the trust to preserve about 1,000 acres of open space along the Androscoggin River near Lewiston, land that has also been targeted by real estate firms. The trust plans to continue allowing the Boy Scouts to use that property while opening it up to the wider community for camping and other activities.
Dorval felt it was important for groups like his to take the lead as these camps go up for sale.
“There are accredited land trusts all over the country that can take care of this,” he said. “I think it would be silly if people stayed away from this because of the controversy (over Boy Scout abuse). For us, it is not about that. It’s about conservation and trying to preserve an area for youth and nature-based activities and historic access for scouts.”