Scouts board waits for developer’s offer

THURSDAY, AUG. 25, 2011

Endowment, more capacity, safety deemed crucial

The Spokane office of the Boy Scouts of America is awaiting a formal offer from a North Idaho developer before considering whether to sell Camp Easton, a 380-acre camp it has operated on Lake Coeur d’Alene since 1929.

Tim McCandless, the CEO of the Inland Northwest Council of Boy Scouts, said Wednesday that Discovery Land Co. is proposing to trade about 270 acres on the west shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene for about 380 acres at Camp Easton, on the lake’s east shore.

Only after Discovery makes a formal offer will the council look over the deal, he said.

Because of Camp Easton’s long history, some volunteers and Scout families see the change as a major break with tradition.

Scout officials have said they’d complete the sale only if it provides a modern, safer and more financially secure camp.

The key feature in the proposal is a plan by Arizona-based Discovery Land Co. to buy 270 acres of property along Sunup Bay on the west shore of the lake. Formerly planned as a Marshall Chesrown development called the Ridge at Sunup Bay, the land has not been purchased by Discovery.

The Ridge at Sunup Bay project fell apart as potential buyers of those high-priced, undeveloped lots disappeared when the economy slid into recession.

The Sunup Bay property was taken over by Mountain West Bank, which has had it on the market for nearly a year. McCandless said he’s been told the bank is not the only owner Discovery is dealing with to try to acquire the site.

Discovery Land is the developer of the Gozzer Ranch residential homes and golf club on Lake Coeur d’Alene near Camp Easton.

Under the Boy Scouts proposal, Discovery would buy the 270 acres at Sunup Bay, then take over construction of facilities for the new Camp Easton.

While the site is smaller than Camp Easton’s 380 acres, McCandless said it has several advantages worth considering: It has roughly 800 more feet of waterfront than Camp Easton, and it appears to have room to offer a “premier aquatics program,” which he said is one of the chief attractions of Camp Easton.

A larger, more modern facility would also allow the camp to take more Scouts each summer than it does now. This summer the camp had room for 1,700 Scouts during the nine-week season, McCandless said.

“We’re now turning away Boy Scouts because we don’t have enough room,” he added.

He listed other advantages of a new location:

• Without a highway dividing it, the Sunup Bay site would be safer.

• The deal would create an endowment to pay for camp maintenance and improvements.

• It would allow for upgraded facilities and buildings instead of Camp Easton’s aging septic and water systems.

• It would offer more camping opportunities, including rope courses and climbing towers.

Added McCandless, “The board felt that since this is the best offer (for Camp Easton) we’ve ever seen, it’s our obligation to give it consideration.”

The Scouts group’s board of directors has not set a date to review a formal offer from Discovery. The board has 53 members, with a majority needed to approve a sale.

Stacey Cowles, publisher of The Spokesman-Review, is a council board member.

If there are concerns that the proposal would not provide the facilities, future options and the needed financial security, the board will walk away, McCandless said.

“If that happens, we’ll be happy, because if we stay where we’re at, people will be more aware of the challenges we have (at Camp Easton) and help us move forward,” he said.

If the offer is accepted by the board, there would be no interruption in summer activities. Once the new site is complete, the keys to Camp Easton would be handed over, McCandless said.

The soonest that might happen would be 2014, he said.

McCandless said the value of the deal with Discovery comes to about $21 million, covering the cost of the land, construction of the new camp and establishing the endowment. McCandless declined to disclose the size of the endowment.

To gather input and explain details of the proposal, McCandless is hosting meetings with donors, supporters and Boy Scout staff and volunteers. Tuesday evening he met with about 20 people in Sandpoint, followed by a Wednesday evening meeting in Coeur d’Alene.

Another meeting will be held next week in Spokane Valley.

Those meetings, he added, are attended by some who oppose the sale of Camp Easton, by some who favor it, and another group that says, “I understand but won’t formulate an opinion until I see it myself.”

At the meeting in Sandpoint, McCandless said he heard distinct opposition to the sale from Bonners Ferry residents Alva and Peach Baker, both of whom have been active in Boy Scout and Camp Easton activities for four decades.

Peach Baker said she disagreed with McCandless that the new site had a better waterfront than Camp Easton’s. She also said safety concerns about Scouts crossing the state highway at Camp Easton could be resolved by building a tunnel below the road.

“But they haven’t set aside any money in the budget to build that tunnel,” she said.

She and her husband also don’t relish the thought of an out-of-state developer transforming the Camp Easton property into a gated development. “The people who will live there will not appreciate the land the way we do,” she said.

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