For an organization that depends upon public support, the Pine Tree Council, Boy Scouts of America, seems completely inept at public relations.

Local users of Camp Gustin in Sabattus were shocked this week to learn that the Council has begun an aggressive tree-cutting program at the camp.

The fate of the land has been in limbo for about a year, since it was learned the organization’s property committee recommended selling the camp for development.

Supporters argue that the land was deeded to the Scouts by Charles W. Gustin in 1933 for use as a wilderness camp. Indeed, over the decades thousands of Scouts have had fun and learned outdoor skills there.

The Council’s Executive Committee says Gustin is the most lightly used of the Council’s camps and is a burden to the financially strapped district.

It is, however, hard to see how. The district pays no taxes on the land, maintenance is done by volunteers and the road is plowed free of charge.

All of which has led local supporters to conclude the district is only after the money a sale would generate.

A visit to the site Friday showed that the district is certainly not clearing the land. In fact, the area nearest to Loon Pond is untouched.

Yet, the work certainly doesn’t resemble a selective thinning of trees. Muddy skidder trails run through campsites and all over the once heavily wooded back side of the camp, away from the lake.

Gustin clearly won’t look like its former self, at least not for a long time.

Several facts make us suspicious of the Council’s stated  intentions.

First, this work could have been done when the ground was frozen. Instead, the large, chained wheels of a skidder have chewed up the ground beyond recognition.

Campers next year will be pitching tents in the mud.

Second, the Council says this is part of an ordinary harvesting program. Yet, scouting sources say none of the district’s other camps have been chewed up like this.

Finally, if it is part of a regular program, why start here? Why now? Why without even notifying local supporters that this was coming?

With the controversy over Gustin raging, why not start the cutting program at a camp that is not in dispute?

The Council says the tree-cutting is unrelated to the question of selling the property.

But they certainly should have seen how all of this, especially the secrecy, would be interpreted by the camp supporters.

In November, the sale question comes again before the Council for what may be a final vote.

We will repeat what we’ve said before:

As long as local Scouts choose to use Gustin for scouting purposes, the Council has a moral duty to abide by the wishes of Charles W. Gustin and his heirs.

If the district finds the camp burdensome, it should either deed it to a local group that will maintain it for scouting or return it to the Gustin family.

The first two requirements of the Scout Law say Scouts must be trustworthy and loyal.

Selling Camp Gustin would show that Council leaders are neither.

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