My heart is broken.
GSHPA is retiring Camp Golden Pond.
We are strong. We are courageous. We are Girl Scouts. And our hearts still ache.
I began my Girl Scout journey when my daughter entered Kindergarten. She is now a 2nd grade Brownie. I was not a Girl Scout and I did not grow up here, though many of you did. For many of you, Golden Pond is the last of Hemlock Council.
Service Unit 416 scheduled our spring camporee this year so that the 12th grade Ambassador troops won’t have to choose between prom and spring camp. Because it would be a tough choice for them and they have spent all summer planning their last camp.
The first time I went to Camp Golden Pond, one of the other mothers showed her daughter (a kindergartner) how she used to catch salamanders when she was a Girl Scout. She showed her daughter all the places she went and all the things she used to do at Camp Golden Pond when she was a girl. She took a picture of her daughter sitting on the rock. She has a picture of herself sitting on top the rock.
Many of the troops I have met have taken a troop photo either at the sign or on the rock every single year.
That first spring camp, when we went on our Daisy fairy hike, my daughter told the other girls that fairies weren’t real. Fairies did NOT live in the woods at Camp Golden Pond. She dutifully built her fairy house with the other Daisies. When we returned and found that the fairies had visited the houses, my daughter danced and exclaimed “Fairies ARE real!” She has believed in magic ever since.
This past fall, as we hiked around the lake, my daughter showed her new Brownie sisters where the fairy houses were built. My daughter told her new Daisy sisters about the fairies that live in the woods and how in the spring the new Daisies will get to go out and build houses for the fairies.
My Brownies told me how much they look forward to sleeping in Serendipity when they are old enough because they love how colorful it is. They have friends who they met that first spring as kindergarten Daisies and have seen at every camp since. My daughter’s first question when I tell her we are going to camp is if her friends will be there. They are kindred spirits who found each other building fairy houses on the other side of the mountain.
I have not yet told my daughter about Camp Golden Pond because it will break her heart and I hope that I will wake up to find that GSHPA has changed their minds.
What breaks my heart the most, however, is not a fondness for a bygone era, but rather for the opportunities that will now be lost for our girls. Camp is a magical place that teaches our girls about friendship, courage, strength, and overcoming adversity. Camp teaches us that life is cold, rainy, and full of snakes. But we don’t go home. We hike around the lake anyway. One of our sisters finds a stick and removes the snake from the cabin. We build a fire. We dance. We sing. We find the sisters we never knew we had. We catch a fish. And then hold it in our hands. And then hand it to our mother.
In 2017, Service Units 416 and 422 collaborated to host 3 camporees for 440 girls and adults. Our 2017 spring camporee had 159 girls and adults. Our summer camporee had 89 girls and adults. Fall camp had 192 participants. We actually have to tell troops “No, you can’t come. Camp is full.” For fall camp, we had the older girls sleeping in “Tent City”. When we say “register early”, we mean it.
For spring 2017, 50 of our participants were day only Daisies and parents. For summer, 22 of our participants were day only Daisies and parents. For fall, we opened day only participation up to scouts of all levels, and 64 of our participants came just for the day. Many of the day-only scouts were Brownie and Junior troops who had never been to camp. They are now looking forward to the next camp. Feedback from fall camp was overwhelming positive about the day-only option as it gave girls the opportunity to go to camp without the risk and commitment of an overnight.
A girl from western PA came to our fall camp.
In October, we sent Cadettes out to Golden Pond to do a Breathe Journey Weekend. We had 30 girls and adults.
We have scheduled a winter camp for Daisies and Brownies and we honestly expect that camp to fill. The Junior troops have asked if they can also have a winter camp. Our girls want to camp. They want someone to take them. Our parents want them to go.
Our troop leaders want to go, but they do not want to go alone.
Many of our troops (particularly those with younger girls) do not have the resources to camp on their own. They do not have the money to rent a lodge. They don’t have the skills and confidence. They don’t have the numbers. A troop with 10 girls needs every single girl to commit to the camping trip. By partnering with other troops, they reduce the risk of having to the scrap the entire trip because one family either can’t or doesn’t want to go. They reduce the risk of not having enough adults to supervise the girls. They get to partner with someone who has been to camp before and at least knows where it is. They have someone to show them the path around the lake so they don’t lead their girls off into the woods. The girl whose first camping trip is a complete disaster may never go back to camp.
Additionally, our girls benefit from meeting girls from other troops. They benefit from seeing the older girls whom they can admire. They benefit from seeing the younger girls who they can mentor. They benefit from meeting their camp sisters who can teach them about other pieces of their world. Our leaders benefit from meeting the other leaders. When we can come together, we learn from each other. Each of us has something to teach and each of us has something to learn.
And so we ask… can they? Can our girls go to camp?
Come fall 2018, can we take 192 girls and adults out to camp again? Perhaps… there are other camps. Camp Small Valley is in Halifax, PA. It is almost a 2 hour drive. Can we do a “Daisy Day” at camp two hours away? Can we offer a day only camp experience to Brownies and Juniors 2 hours away? Will our troop leaders take a troop of kindergartners they just met to camp two hours away? Will their parents send them?
Perhaps we can find a non-GSHPA operated camp closer than Small Valley. Can we find a camp where we can have 192 girls and adults? Maybe we will be camping in tents next fall. Do our girls own tents?
Today, I do not know the answers to those questions. I do, however, know that we are courageous and strong. I know that we will take our girls to camp. I know that we will build more fairy houses and we will find more sisters. I know that we can be angry and sad and we can create a new path forward, building new traditions.
It is my hope that Friends of Camp Golden Pond will be successful and that come fall we will be taking more pictures on the rock and finding more salamanders. If you have memories you would like to share with us about Camp Golden Pond, please share them with us.
A Daisy/Brownie Leader from GSHPA Service Unit 416