It may be "So long," for Camp Singing Hills.
The board of directors of Girl Scouts of Northern Indiana-Michiana announced recently that the 240-acre Girl Scout camp, founded in Middlebury on Oct. 28, 1966, will be closed as part of a realignment of the district.
That announcement did not sit well with a number of Girl Scouts volunteer staff and Scouts, according to Learning Opportunities Coordinator/Trainer Will Menges, who is part of Service Unit 601. He was one of five people who came together to create what is now known as the Friends of Camp Singing Hills, making a push to save the camp.
"We just all decided we don’t want to see this camp close because we looked at the numbers and the benefits that Camp Singing Hills has," Menges said. "One of those being that as far as year-round programming goes, we feel that Camp Singing Hills has better facilities for winter camping than Camp Logan."
Menges said an official Girl Scouts task force was created late in the spring of this year to study all the camps in the newly restructured district. He was only aware of two weekend work sessions held by the group, one to visit the different camps and one to analyze other related information. The FCSH group said in a recent release that it does not believe the general membership had a voice in the decision-making process.
According to the release, many Scouts and families were only able to answer one online survey from the task force due to computer-related issues, after which paper copies were offered. The FCSH group argued the survey for Scouts was still difficult and not age-appropriate for younger members.
"Additionally, those who were elected or selected to serve on the task force did not make efforts to talk to the local membership, either at a town hall-style meeting, at troop meetings or a service unit meeting," the FCSH release reads. "There was no clear solicitation of registered member opinion or suggestion for this process."
Now, the FCSH is gathering signatures on a petition to demand the board of directors allow the group to share its reasons why the board should reconsider the closure.
"We’d like to present some alternate ideas of how we could utilize the camp to generate some more funds for that camp to sustain itself," Menges said.
He said the Girl Scouts of Northern Indiana-Michiana board president has already turned the Friends group down twice, explaining to one member of the group that the issue is dead.
For FCSH member and Girl Scouts volunteer Jason DeFererache, even if the camp is closed it is important to give the Scouts and volunteers a better explanation as to why the closure is happening, how the decision was made and where the money from the sale of the camp will go. He said the camp’s assessed value is approximately $5.5 million.
"They’ve been very, very secretive with how and why they came up with these numbers. They haven’t been very open with members about how the decision was made," DeFererache said. "Originally they said it was just a study, that they weren’t going to close anything."
DeFererache said no one from the Friends group has even seen the report which led to the decision to close the camp.
"My biggest concern is that Girl Scouts is a member-owned organization," DeFererache said. "The membership owns Girl Scouts, and if the council is going to step over what the membership would want, then there’s a problem. I don’t think the current council is acting in favor of what’s best for the girls."
The FCSH needs at least 300 signatures to force the board to hold a special meeting about the camp. Petitions are still out and the group has also set up a phone line — (574) 584-6264 — for members to call in and get on the petition.
Calls to Girl Scouts of Northern Indiana-Michiana interim CEO Mary Charles were not immediately returned.
Both the closure of Camp Singing Hills as well as the associated closure of Camp Shawadasee in Lawton, Mich., are part of the realignment of Girl Scouts of Northern Indiana-Michiana, which was recently created through the merging of the Indiana Lakeland Girl Scout Council, Girl Scouts of Limberlost and parts of the Girl Scouts of Singing Sands Council and the Girl Scouts of Tribal Trails Council. The new district encompasses 22 counties stretching from northern Indiana into southern Michigan, including Elkhart, Kosciusko, LaGrange and Noble Counties, and serves more than 15,500 Girl Scouts ages 5 to 17.
Four other properties owned by Girl Scouts of Northern Indiana-Michiana — Camp Logan in Syracuse, Camp Soni Springs in Three Oaks, Mich., McMillen Program Center in Huntertown, Ind., and Wildwood Program Center in Logansport, Ind. — will remain open.