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