LEWISTON — In hard economic times, there are circumstances for which even a Boy Scout cannot be prepared.
More than four dozen Scouts, former Scouts and Scout leaders gathered Wednesday night to discuss what has become a matter of great emotion — the potential sale of Camp Gustin, which has been the property of the Boy Scouts of America since 1933.
“Six of my boys went through there,” said Sandra Wood, who was at the Abnaki District meeting with two of her Scouts. “We’re all looking to keep kids out of trouble and now they want to get rid of something that keeps them off the streets. It makes no sense.”
The group at Holy Family Church on Thursday night consisted of dozens of children in full Scouts uniform and grown men wearing similar garb. They came to express dissatisfaction with the notion of selling a camp that has been a temporary home to hundreds — if not thousands — of boys over the generations.
“It’s sad,” said Andy Beaudoin, who attended the meeting with his 11-year-old son. “You’ve got kids who have been going to Camp Gustin for years and now they want to get rid of it. The question is, ‘Why?'”
Officials from Pine Tree Council, the Maine chapter of the Boy Scouts, were there to try to answer that question.
The reasons they listed were not so different from those difficulties experienced by other businesses and organizations around the nation. Times are tough. Bills are due and the funds to pay them are short.
“We’ve come to the conclusion that we have to have an open mind,” said Walt Stinson, Pine Tree Council’s vice-president for properties. “We’ve got to recognize that these are difficult times.”
Last year, the council operated at a deficit of $180,000. Overall, it has a debt of nearly $1 million. And there sits Camp Gustin with its pavilion, two outhouses and a pump house, an arrangement of property that could fetch up to $375,000.
“Could we use those assets, those dollars, to do something else?” asked Pete Ventre, volunteer president of the council and a scoutmaster in Cumberland.
It was a rhetorical question, mostly. Much of the debate Wednesday night focused on whether the money a sale could generate would be worth the loss of Gustin.
The camp is on roughly 100 acres around Loon Pond in Sabattus. It was deeded to the Scouts by Charles W. Gustin in 1933. Since then, countless boys have learned to swim, tie knots, pitch tents, build fires and save lives at Camp Gustin.
Those who are in the process of learning those things had plenty to say Wednesday night.
“Gustin, it’s been part of my life since Cub Scouts,” said Ian Clavette, now 16 and a senior patrol leader with Troop 109. “Without it, I couldn’t have gotten this far. It’s a beautiful camp. It would be a shame if they sold it.”
“All the people there are so nice,” said 11-year-old Scout Ajay Beaudoin. “Every time I’m there, I say, ‘Hallelujah for Camp Gustin.'”
“I’ve been going there since I was a Tiger,” said 13-year-old Robert Wood, a second-class Scout with Troop 109. “We’ve done a lot of work there and learned a lot. I hope they don’t get rid of it.”
But sentiment was not enough to convince those on the council that the camp should not be sold. Of the four properties they could potentially put on the market, they said, Camp Gustin is used the least.
“It’s being used,” said Sandra Wood. “It’s not just sitting there.”
According to council records, however, Camp Gustin remains empty almost as much as it is occupied, in spite of its use as a day camp for 100-plus kids. Of the four properties they have to possibly sell, Ventre said, Gustin makes the most sense.
Although not everything could be explained with dollars and cents.
One man, who owns property around Loon Pond, near Camp Gustin, said he feared what would happen if the land falls out of the hands of the Boy Scouts. Development could begin, the ecosystem could begin to decline and the pond could suffer.
A representative from the Androscoggin Land Trust also expressed concerns on behalf of that group. Earlier in the year, it was approached by Pine Tree Council executives about possibly buying the property. The land trust requested a meeting to discuss how conservation efforts might be addressed.
In a statement handed out at the meeting, officials of the ALT said: “We were declined an option to sit down and discuss a conservation outcome and to be honest, remain concerned that a facility that has been so important to generations of Scouts and their introduction to the outdoors and the Androscoggin River watershed has been reduced to a real estate transaction seeking to attain maximum financial returns.”
Maximum financial gain, the statement suggested, should be taken off the table as a priority and other alternatives explored.
The Abnaki District and the Pine Tree Council will meet again next week. Should they decide to sell Camp Gustin, Ventre estimated it would take a few months to become final.
“Once it’s sold,” he said, “it’s gone for good.”
Which was a point not lost on many.
Dennis Bowden, a lifelong Scout and now chairman of the Abnaki District Training Committee, suggested that dollar figures may prove insufficient when compared to the loss of a camp so immersed in the history of Maine scouting.
“What happens after that money runs out?” he said. “You’ll never, ever get a piece of land like that again in Maine.”
Boy Scouts from Troop 109 in Lisbon Falls attend the Abnaki District Annual Meeting at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Lewiston on Wednesday. In attendance to show their support for Camp Gustin are Josh Sheehan, foreground at left, Dustin Wood, Brandon Hess and Nicholas Corey.
Scoutmaster Allen Ward looks over the grounds of Camp Gustin in Sabattus from behind the totem pole. He and a number of Boy Scouts and leaders say they will fight plans of the Pine Tree Council to sell the property.
Scoutmaster Allen Ward looks over Loon Pond at Camp Gustin in Sabattus. He and a number of Boy Scouts and leaders say they will fight plans by Pine Tree Council to sell the property.
The sun may be setting for good on Camp Gustin in Sabattus. All is quiet by the council ring on the edge of Loon Pond at the camp Wednesday afternoon.