What happens without Camp Golden Pond? Where do our girls go to camp? Do they go to camp?
Every year for as long as I have been involved with Service Unit 416, they have hosted a Fall Camporee in conjunction with Service Unit 422. This year is no different. Service Unit 416 started their search for a new fall camp location almost as soon as Camp Golden Pond’s closure was announced. They settled on Camp Anderson and decided that this year Fall Camp would have a Pioneer Theme to symbolize the journey they have started. They put the date on the calendar and opened registration and waited to see who would come. Camp Anderson will be tent camping. No cabins, no lodges, no kitchen facilities at the camp sites. Of course there will be outhouses!
Camp Anderson is by no means primitive. It has chlorinated water. It has a bath house with flush toilets in a central location. The outhouses near the sites are well maintained.
When we toured the site with several of our older girls, they immediately fell in love with the creek, the bridges, and whimsical rhododendrons. They loved the secluded, natural feel of the camp sites. They can’t wait to try their hands at the rifle range.
But these were Cadettes and Seniors who had spent their entire Girl Scout life camping. Marg started her Girl Scout career as a Daisy at Camp Golden Pond. The other girls have practically lived at camp with their mother. These girls spend every possible weekend that they can camping.
Registration for fall camp opened slowly. When it closed we were left looking at numbers that show an almost 30% drop in attendance for an event that has sold out every year I have been involved with Service Unit 416.
Even more significant than the overall drop in attendance, the drop is concentrated entirely among the elementary aged girls. These are the girls who would start out in a lodge or a cabin, often with their mothers staying overnight with them. These are the girls we would teach that snakes are not to be feared and bugs are part of life.
We can try to blame the date. It conflicts with a Cub Scout Camp. But we have conflicted with Cub Scout and Boy Scout events before with no significant drop in numbers. We have even sold out a Spring Camp scheduled on Blue and White Weekend. The fact is, Service Unit 416 has over 400 girls to draw from.
Camp Anderson will be a fantastic camp for our older girls who already love camping. But what about the younger girls and the new troop leaders? The girls who do not have tents and are scared of bears? The girls whose parents lack the camping traditions?
Camp Golden Pond provided a safe, inviting experience to these girls. It let them go to camp and sleep in a structure with walls. It let them explore the woods without giving up flush toilets, running water, and refrigeration.
I was a Venturing Scout who loved camping and we did a lot of camping in state parks. The first thing we did when we got to a campground was send two scouts to spray the outhouse down with a can of Lysol and wasp spray. We will definitely be packing the Lysol and the wasp spray for the Camp Anderson outhouses and we will have a great time. We might even convince some of the doubters that tents are better than cabins.
But what happens to the rest of our elementary-aged girls? The ones who said tents and outhouses were too much and the distance too far? If these girls never take that first camping trip, how can they grow up to be the older girls running camp?
Camp Anderson is an amazing place that has a lot to offer our girls. But that only matters if we can convince them to show up. Camp Golden Pond was special because it provided a stepping stone for younger girls who had never spent a night away from home. All Camp Golden Pond asked of them was one little step. At Camp Anderson, that step has gotten a little bigger. A little farther. A little more rustic. The more that first step asks of our girls, the more they will say no.
“In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.”
Baba Dioum, 1968.