Dry pond and fewer campers prompt Girl Scouts to sell camp - WECT TV6-WECT.com:News, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

Alligators, dry pond, and fewer campers prompt Girl Scouts to sell Camp Pretty Pond

BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) – A Girl Scout tradition of 64 years will soon be a thing of the past. The owners of Orton Plantation are under contract to buy Camp Pretty Pond in Winnabow.

After the surprise announcement about the sale on Friday, many people were under the impression that Orton Plantation made an unsolicited offer to buy Camp Pretty Pond – which is directly adjacent to its property. We found Monday that's not the case - the Girl Scouts actually approached them, hoping to sell it.

The 135 acre camp is home to countless memories for generations of girl scouts. So scouts, scout leaders, and former scouts were shocked to learn that this camp will soon close for good.

When asked if they would try to put up a fight to keep the property, local troop leader Phil Wahoff said no. "We can't. It's a done deal. The papers have been signed. As of may 19th, there will be no more Camp Pretty Pond"

So why sell? Girl Scout executives tell us Camp Pretty Pond just wasn't what it used to be.

"At the heart of it, the pond itself varies dramatically in size and depth, going from near non-existence to being a full pond depending on the year," said newly hired Girl Scout – NC Coastal Pines CEO Lisa Jones. "So that makes it very difficult to plan many of the water activities, and can also detract from the overall camp experience."

Jones said alligators on the property had also scared off some potential campers, and attendance at the camp has dropped off dramatically in the last seven years.

Even so, the scouting community here felt like they had been left in the dark about the decision to sell.

Girl Scout executives say they're getting a good price for Camp Pretty Pond. They plan to use that money to enhance other camps, and possibly purchase land here for a new camp site. One other option: partnering with an existing campground here that could serve as a destination for local scouts.

The Girl Scouts are forming a local task force that will share input on how to spend the proceeds from the sale, and to weigh in on future camp sites. For now, the closest Girl Scout camp to our area is near Washington, NC.

Here's the extended transcript of our interview with Girl Scout Coastal Pines CEO, Lisa Jones: 

Can you tell me about how this opportunity presented itself?

"Our prior CEO Mitchell Sinclair had a conversation with Orton Plantation, and discussed the possibility of restoring the Long Leaf Pine Forest, and this is something that Orton Plantation has obviously demonstrated wonderful efforts of conservation and preservation of the Long Leaf Pine Forest, and this allowed us to continue that alignment with our stewardship of the camp."

Camp Pretty Pond's use has been in decline for last several years and the facilities themselves are not what they once were. Why?

At the heart of it, the pond itself varies dramatically in size and depth, going from near non-existence to being a full pond depending on the year. So that makes it very difficult to plan many of the water activities, and can also detract from the overall camp experience. So we do think that contributed dramatically to the attendance.

There wasn't a full-time ranger. What were the efforts to try to fill that spot?

It's the same circumstance. When you saw the declining attendance, could we facilitate the needs of the camp based on the usage with a part-time ranger? A full-time ranger that we have would do part-time efforts there. That was what our CEO had..... executed there prior to my arrival.

Do you think the usage had declined because the camp had declined, or because of a declining interest in scouting?

We are seeing nationally some decreases in resident camps, but I do think this is a very specific circumstance for this camp based on the pond factor...It's also my understanding that there were alligators on the site. They had been there for some time, but I do think that might have contributed to people's willingness to use the resident camp as much.

Is a replacement camp in New Hanover/Brunswick being explored that people could go to in lieu of Camp Pretty Pond?

Our council has 4 additional camps that our membership can utilize, but based on the specific issue of transportation, and the distance to get to the nearest camp for Brunswick/New Hanover, we are looking into a variety of efforts, and we do want to work with our membership to decide how do we want to use these proceeds and how best to serve all of our membership in all 41 counties. Is that capital improvements to existing camps, is that programming space in the New Hanover/Brunswick area, is it additional camping support, or is it transportation?... We really want to hear from the membership about what are the priorities that are going to best serve our girls.

So it's possible that there won't be a replacement camp, but not certain?

Based on the kind of usage we were doing, Camp Pretty Pond did not have that type of interest on an annual basis to justify a full-time ranger at that location. So can we do camps - there are a lot of wonderful, already existing locations already in the area that we can partner with and put the proceeds to programming there that would facilitate all of the different programs we already had in place, and then we could potentially expand on those programs based on interest.

Another reason people were upset is that the decision was made before they even knew about it. At least here in New Hanover and Brunswick Counties....for the majority of the folks who are stake holders in Camp Pretty Pond. Tell me about the decision not to make this public before it was a done deal and also efforts moving forward to make decisions more transparent.

That's fair. I did hear from the membership on Friday evening, they were concerned that there wasn't more communication. And that is something that I am committed to with my leadership of this council, to really make sure that there are ways that the members do feel like they have been heard. We are putting in place a task force...to make sure that individuals from this area...can have a say in how these funds are used.

Some people are concerned that this was just a big financial opportunity for the Girl Scout organization that will not necessarily benefit the folks in New Hanover and Brunswick Counties.

That's why we established the task force. We really want them to feel confident that those proceeds are going to be utilized to benefit the folks in those communities....There is a commitment from the board and from myself to really hear where they think those resources should be used.

Do you think you would have put Camp Pretty Pond on the market had Orton Plantation not offered to buy it?

The [land use] task force had recommended to see if the Nature Conservancy would be interested in the purchase of it. The perception of the task force was that we wouldn't be able to have anyone consider it for commercial purposes because of the easements. So when the Nature Conservancy indicated that they were not interested in purchasing, it was not recommended for sale because the perception was it would not be viable for sale.

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