The Boy Scouts of America has the authority to sell or swap Camp Easton on Lake Coeur d’Alene, the Idaho Supreme Court has ruled. The Inland Northwest Council of the Boy Scouts has no plans to do so, and in fact it plans to invest in upgrades at the longtime camp. But when the council was considering moving the camp across the lake in 2011 and 2012, a group called Camp Easton Forever along with two local Scouts, Daniel and Matthew Edwards, sued the council. The plaintiffs argued that the 85-year-old donation of land that established the popular camp on Gotham Bay prohibited the council from selling or trading the land. The council’s attorneys argued that the land deed was unambiguous and contains no restrictions on selling the property, and a District Court in 2012 agreed. The Supreme Court affirmed that decision on Friday.
Council Executive Tim McCandless said earlier this year that Camp Easton will be further developed and upgraded where it’s at, with no plans to relocate it.
The dispute was prompted by an Arizona-based developer who offered to build a modern replacement camp at Sunup Bay and set up an endowment to operate the new camp in exchange for the Gotham Bay property.
That deal fell through, but opponents of moving Camp Easton pressed ahead with the lawsuit arguing that the Scouts cannot sell or trade the land because it was donated for the purpose of always being a Boy Scouts camp. In 1929, Frederick W. Fitze gave the original 132 acres to the Idaho Panhandle Council of Boy Scouts.
While the deed for the land contains no restrictions on selling the property, Kathleen Kolts, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, argued that Fitze intended it to be used in perpetuity for the camp, as summarized in the minutes of a meeting between him and local Boy Scouts officials in May 1929. Disregarding evidence of the intent of the donation would have a chilling effect on charitable giving, Kolts had argued.
In their opinion, the justices said they “cannot apply broad interpretation standards when the deed unambiguously shows this was a fee simple conveyance.” The deed’s phrase “for use of the Boy Scouts” did not specify how the Scouts use the property, the court noted.
In his May 2012 decision for the Boy Scouts council, 1st District Judge John Luster found that the minutes of the 1929 meeting cannot be applied in the case. The language of the deed is unambiguous, Luster said.
The judge also had ruled that Camp Easton Forever and the Edwards boys lacked standing to pursue their claims, in part because they did not establish they would suffer actual damages from sale of the camp.
But the Supreme Court found that the Edwardses did have standing, and that it therefore was not necessary to find Camp Easton Forever also had standing to pursue the complaint.
Camp Easton, which has grown to three times the size of the 1929 donation, is one of the busiest Scout camps in the Northwest. This summer,1,533 Scouts registered to attend programs there.
Safety is the council’s top priority for Camp Easton, the council says, and it has been studying how to provide for a safe pedestrian crossing for state Highway 97, which cuts through the property. The council over the past 10 years also has expanded the waterfront area at Camp Easton, installed new boat docks, purchased new boats, renovated shooting ranges, expanded the dining hall, and upgraded staff accommodations.
Stacey Cowles, publisher of The Spokesman-Review, is vice president for endowment of the Inland Northwest Council executive committee.