Boy Scout official: Sale of Camp Gustin yet to be decided; Scouts plan Sunday rally

The Boy Scouts' Camp Gustin is nothing fancy, on purpose.

It's been a tough few years for Maine Scouts.

At last week's public meeting, Pine Tree Council Boy Scouts officials said the council had a $180,000 operating loss in 2008. Tax records filed with the Internal Revenue Service show a $58,602 loss in 2007.

The Girl Scouts of Maine saw an operating loss of $53,000 in fiscal 2009, according to a spokeswoman, and a half-million-dollar deficit the year before that.

The larger loss was mostly due to one-time costs from the merger of the state's two councils into one, France Shea said.

"Consequently, (the next year's) budget was reduced by over $200,000 and expenses were deliberately lowered through staff and benefit reductions," she said. "Obviously, the economy has had an impact on our ability to raise funds and to market products."

Girl Scouts of Maine has 15,000-plus members and four camps. Today it's solvent and doing well, Shea said. "We are fortunate to have reserves in place that can help us withstand future financial challenges."

The Katahdin Area Council, the other Boy Scout council in Maine which covers six northern counties, had an operational loss of $8,918 in fiscal 2006 before coming out $20,409 ahead the next year, according to the latest IRS records.

Katahdin Scout Executive Gary Savignano said it was too early to say how they'd end this year — popcorn sale receipts aren't in yet and the second major fundraiser of the year, a distinguished citizens banquet, was Wednesday night — but he believes it will end in the black.

Headquartered in Orono, Katahdin has 4,000 member Scouts. That council owns two camp properties, neither of which are being considered for sale.

"The Katahdin Area Council is pleased to not be in a situation like (Pine Tree's)," Savignano said. "We are a nonprofit in the worst economy of my time; any nonprofit is struggling to make ends meet."

Pine Tree Council Scout Executive Tony Rogers said his council has cut back on staff, generally tightened its belt and started leasing out office space to help its budget.
The council currently has more than 12,000 Scout members.

kskelton@sunjournal.com

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

One of several campsites at Camp Gustin.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal The $2.5 millioin dollar Pine Tree Council of the Boy Scouts new headquarters building at 131 Johnson Road in Portland.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Scoutmaster Allen Ward looks over Loon Pond at Camp Gustin in Sabattus. He and a number of scouts and leaders plan on fight plans by Pine Tree Council to sell the property.

The 100-plus-acre camp on the side of Loon Pond in Sabattus doesn't have a single mess hall or bunkhouse, just one covered shelter and two outhouses, with a rumor that somewhere out there in the woods, there's a third.

For 60 years, since it was donated by Charles Gustin, boys have learned to canoe, make campfires, track animals.

"It's a true Scout camp, the way they envisioned it 100 years ago," said former Troop 007 Scoutmaster Robert Reed. "At four in the morning, you are going to get woken up by turkeys walking up the road. It's just very natural."

And its future: uncertain.

In a meeting last week, Scout officials from the Pine Tree Council told local troops that the camp might have to be sold, appearing to draw a connection between the potential value of the real estate and the council's need to pay off nearly $1 million in debt.

This week, Scout Executive Tony Rogers told the Sun Journal that the $900,000 owed on the council's Cianchette Scout Service Center — built four years ago in Portland — had nothing "whatsoever" to do with potentially selling Camp Gustin.

It just happens, he said, that the council is eyeing all four of its Boy Scout camps to measure their worth to the Scouts.

"They're really two different issues. ... If a particular asset is not required to fulfill the council's mission, that's good information to know," Rogers said.

But that's not such an obvious distinction to everyone.

"If you didn't need money, why do you sell a camp? It's that simple," said Reed, now Troop 007's treasurer and a Lewiston city councilor.

He has helped to organize a rally at Camp Gustin for Sunday afternoon, to kick off an annual Scout food drive and to serve as a show of support for the camp. People were being encouraged to bring a $1 bill and, holding it, to pose for a group photo to be sent to council leadership.

"It's kind of a symbolic, ‘This could be the last dollar you see in our district if you sell our camp,'" Reed said.

That's not a threat, he said, just a reminder at how important area Scouts are when it comes to popcorn sales and activity fees — and how important the camp is to them.

Ray Frechette, assistant scoutmaster of Troop 109 out of Lisbon Falls, said his troop camps at Gustin at least twice a year and uses it for activities, such as practicing canoe safety in shallow Loon Pond.

The council has considered selling Camp Gustin in past years, Frechette said, but this effort seems the most serious.

He supports local Scouts buying it themselves and will ask for a straw poll at the rally to gauge interest. Ten local troop leaders met this week to begin the conversation about forming a nonprofit organization to that end. If the council needs to sell, for whatever reason, "we would certainly hope they would give us the opportunity to bid on it," Frechette said.

Reed said they had asked and had received no response. t's been estimated Camp Gustin's sale could bring in more than $350,000.

The council has a property committee looking at Gustin, Camp Hinds in Raymond, Camp Bomazeen in Belgrade and Camp Nutter in Acton. Rogers said no decision had been made on whether or what to sell.

"It's comprehensive. They're all being analyzed for their use and how it meets the council's mission," Rogers said.

Those reports aren't due until late fall. Camp Gustin's analysis was furthest along, he said, prompting last week's meeting. So far it appears to be the least-used of the four, Rogers said. Local troops were surveyed this week to determine if they've under-reported visits.

The Pine Tree Council, which represents the southern portion of the state, has more than 12,000 Scout members and 3,800 volunteers. Its new Johson Road headquarters in Portland, reportedly built for $2.5 million in 2005, benefited from an early capital campaign. Rogers said the council is working with a bank to refinance that remaining $900,000 and will launch a second capital campaign to pay off the debt and raise money for improvements at camp properties.

In addition to the debt, at last week's public meeting, council leaders said the council had a $180,000 operating loss in 2008. (See related story.)

Ed Desgrosseilliers, new chairman of the council's Abnaki District, which includes Gustin, believes the two issues — the $900,000 in debt and potentially selling camps — are separate. He said he understands the council got advice from Boy Scout higher-ups that southern Maine was "property rich and program poor," and that selling a property could reverse that.

However, not answering direct questions at the meeting last week raised suspicions about the council's motives, Desgrosseilliers said.

It also left some with a sinking feeling that Gustin's sale was almost inevitable.

"They weren't giving good answers, they were placating us," Desgrosseilliers said. "It's an unfounded fear, but our fear is that the property is so far in negotiations to be sold that it would probably be embarrassing or expensive to back out."

He favors local Scouts buying it only as a last resort. There are too many issues, such as liability and insurance, that need to be thought out, Desgrosseilliers said.

Local Scout leaders have said it costs the council about $100 a year to keep up the camp, but Rogers — declining to give an actual figure — said the cost of plowing, maintenance and insurance costs for the camp are "more than you would think."

If such an effort to buy the camp is needed, Reed said he's ready to lead it "in a heartbeat." He started a Facebook site for Camp Gustin called Save Maine Scout Camps. More than 700 people joined in support in one week. Several wrote to say they'd chip in.

The rally and food drive are scheduled Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m., with the dollar bill photo taken at 3.

Desgrosseilliers said the camp issue will come up at an executive board meeting called for Nov. 19. He'll be there. It's clear in reading the original deed from Charles Gustin that Gustin wanted it kept Scouting land for keeps, he said.

"If somebody gave us $1 million, we could not replace that facility," Desgrosseilliers said.

kskelton@sunjournal.com

 

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Comments

 's picture

so much for BE PREPARED.

so much for BE PREPARED.

 's picture

Why did the pine tree

Why did the pine tree council build a lavish new building near the jetport? If they can't afford the mortgage sell the building and keep gustin camp. Sounds like it is time to clean house in the management of the scouts.

Bob Stone's picture

I grew up in Sabattus. We

I grew up in Sabattus. We once hiked from the Town Hall to Camp Gustin, We set up camp and stayed there for the weekend. It was great. We even dug a latrine, which is likely not PC today. I can recall Loon Pond was full of blood suckers but nice to look at.

All the best,

Bob

Dee Beaudoin's picture

My boys were scouts and we

My boys were scouts and we were scout leaders. every year Pine Tree Council did, and I expect still doe, a presentation at every troop for all the families asking them to will property to them. If this situation isn't a killer to there presentation I'll be damned. I was pretty disgusted with the waste of the boys money on the fancy rarely open office building. I sure know after this I will not be leaving anything to the Pine Tree Council.
If we could only return to common sense...

RAYMOND FRECHETTE's picture

My comment shoul have

My comment shoul have started ALL interested in Gustin Sorry about typo.

RAYMOND FRECHETTE's picture

LL interested in Gustin

LL interested in Gustin should join the facebook group dedicated to its preservation. Hopefully Gustin will stay and the current group managing BSA locally will change.

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