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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

How area Boy Scout camps survived coronavirus closures

By Fred Willenbrock For The Spokesman-Review

DIAMOND LAKE, Wash. – The return of hundreds of summer-campers this year signaled coronavirus pandemic restrictions were behind us.

It also signaled an effort to rebound from the national scandal and tragedy surrounding the Boy Scouts.

The Inland Northwest Council of Boy Scouts of America said two of their three summer camps reached maximum capacity. The strong numbers are encouraging investment in the camp properties, with plans to expand public access in 2023.

“Membership is increasing,” said Steve Anderson, incoming council president. “We will come back with a vengeance.”

Camp attendance declined amid group gathering restrictions and pandemic fears, he said.

But the list of issues affecting camps also included bad publicity from the national sexual abuse lawsuit brought against the scouts, the loss of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints partnership and difficulty finding staff. The coronavirus restrictions especially affected membership to the cub scouts, the feeder program for boy scouts, Anderson said.

The problems left many scout leaders concerned that camps would have to close and staff would be cut.

The two Idaho camps – Camp Grizzly near Potlatch and Camp Easton near Harrison – were at 100% capacity this summer. Idaho’s rules allowed summer camps, while Washington’s were more restrictive. Both Idaho camps ran traditional summer camps the past three years, working closely with the Panhandle Health District to ensure compliance with coronavirus recommendations.

Marcia Hunt, council events coordinator, said the two Idaho camps had 1,364 youth and 462 adults attend during the summer.

Even though Washington group restrictions were lifted, Camp Cowles on Diamond Lake didn’t hold any traditional scout camps.

It did hold cub scout day camp and training sessions with hundreds of participants.

A milestone this year for Camp Cowles was hosting an annual Camporee in the fall, said Anderson, a long-time council leader. It had been held at the Idaho camps the past two years.

He will become council president in January. Terry Fossum is the outgoing council president.

Anderson, 44, is a Spokane attorney who has been a board member for 16 years. He went regularly to Camp Cowles, and his son is an Eagle Scout.

“We will continue to make changes,” Anderson said about the future of the council properties and activities.

Upgrades at camps

All three camps have had substantial investment in deferred maintenance and upgrades, Anderson said. This will continue over the next few years.

At Camp Cowles, that includes updating the kitchen and other components of their main facility, Carbon Lodge.

They also remodeled the home for their full-time ranger, developed public camping sites, purchased new docks and improved bathhouses.

The plan is to use Camp Cowles through the winter, he said.

But no summer camp will be there again next year – mostly because of staffing issues.

Camp Cowles is their largest camp, and operating costs are the highest.

The goal is to get back to using all camps, he said.

At Camp Cowles, they would have 170 scouts a week for eight weeks. One plan is to expand Camp Cowles as a high adventure base, using facilities like the climbing tower.

The sessions will be designed for older scouts.

The two Idaho camps also have had upgrades. They include new shower houses and bathrooms, and new docks, as well as several new and upgraded structures for programs and staff housing.

Open to public

Eventually, the idea is for the properties to also be rented by corporations and nonprofits.

“Cowles Scout Reservation is a property that has the ability to be used by multiple groups at the same time, and the goal is to ensure that the reservation is used to its maximum capabilities to continue to grow the mission of the Council,” Anderson said.

Camp Cowles has 960 acres with 2 miles of Diamond lake frontage. There are 30 large group campsites, four cabins and Carbon lodge, which holds 250 people with a commercial kitchen.

Anderson said the camps are close to self-sufficient. Outside revenue will be used to keep scouting fees the same or lower.

Hunt said they earned $117,000 in rental fees last summer, not including Camp Cowles.

“Word is getting out,” Hunt said.

Camp Cowles has had a few family reunions, weddings and a construction company rented overnight this summer.

The shooting range at Camp Cowles also can be rented, but it must be run by a certified NRA range master, Hunt said.

Camp Grizzly is on the Palouse river, with 440 acres with mountain trail access on adjacent property. There are 11 large group camp sites.

Camp Easton is on Gotham Bay on the east side of Lake Coeur d’Alene. There are 383 acres with about a mile of lake frontage. They offer 14 large group campsites for rent.

Hunt said a waterfront or treehouse wedding starts at $3,500; cabins are $95 a night with communal shower facility; and Carbon Lodge with a kitchen is $600 a day. Camp sites that sleep over 20 rent for $70 a night.

Camp Cowles also has a small meeting space for 20 people and an area that can sleep 24.

It has also designated some RV parking places. Guests can use the tree house, trails, dock and beach.

Lawsuit settled

In September, the Boy Scouts of America received a green light from a judge to proceed with its $850 million reorganization plan to exit bankruptcy and settle more than 80,000 claims brought by victims of sexual abuse.

“We already submitted our share,” Anderson said. “It’s important for us to acknowledge that nothing came from property or funds used for scouting programs.”

The council had sold property that wasn’t being used.

“Several councils had to sell camps,” Anderson said.

The Inland Northwest Council’s $164,963 contribution is one of the lowest of the 250 local councils in the nation, with many at $2 million and some up to $10 million.

“Even though we aren’t subject to the lawsuit, we agreed to pay,” he said.

The agreement is between the Boy Scouts national organization and about 250 local councils, along with law firms representing about 70,000 former scouts who allege they were molested.

A fund for survivors would receive about $250 million from the national Boy Scouts and $600 million from local councils, along with insurance rights.

The Boy Scouts of America, based in Irving, Texas, sought bankruptcy protection in February 2020, seeking to halt hundreds of lawsuits and create a compensation fund for men who were molested as youngsters decades ago by scoutmasters or other leaders.

“We want to underscore that local councils are legally separate, distinct, and financially independent from the national organization,” the BSA said in a statement.

LDS leave scouts

On February 1, 2019, the Boy Scouts of America renamed its flagship program, Boy Scouts, to Scouts BSA to reflect its policy change allowing girls to join gender-specific troops.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced in 2018 it was cutting ties with the Boy Scouts of America and started its own youth initiative in 2020 after declining membership prompted the Boy Scouts to open its doors to openly gay youths and adult volunteers, as well as girls and transgender youth.

This move caused 400,000 LDS youth to exit the scouts, leaving the group’s numbers at a historic low. Losing the church caused an 18% drop in membership and marked the first time since the World War II era that the figure fell below 2 million.

At its peak in the 1970s, more than 4 million boys were scouts. BSA remains the largest scouting organization and one of the largest youth organizations in the United States, with about 1.2 million youth participants and about one million adult volunteers as of 2021.