Developers Loom As Boy Scouts Sell Thousands of Acres to Compensate Sexual Assault Victims

By Jordan Gass-Poore’

Maine’s Androscoggin Land Belief simply achieved a purpose some thought it wouldn’t be capable of obtain: It bought the 95-acre Camp Gustin, positioned about 30 miles southwest of the state capital, for $415,000. The Belief, which solicited public donations to preserve the land, was capable of full the acquisition after it secured a mortgage from nonprofit The Conservation Fund and a grant from the state.

Camp Gustin was named after Charles Gustin, who donated the land to the Boy Scouts of America’s Pine Tree Council within the Forties after his sons attended a scouting camp on the coast. Gustin’s descendants made a public plea final yr to protect the property, which the Pine Tree Council deliberate to promote to the very best bidder to contribute to its share of the Boy Scouts of America’s $2.46 billion sufferer compensation fund tied to its now-infamous baby sexual abuse circumstances.

“It’s a really proud second for them as a result of they had been very scared that the Pine Tree Council was going to promote to builders,” says Aimee Dorval, the Androscoggin Land Belief’s govt director.

The acquisition is an element of a bigger effort by the Belief to preserve tons of of acres of land in Maine vulnerable to growth. Dorval says it plans to open the camp to the general public for tenting and different leisure actions — and also will proceed to permit Boy Scouts to make use of the land.

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The power to protect land like Camp Gustin stays a supply of fear for a lot of conservationists — not simply in Maine however across the nation.

The Boy Scouts of America and their native councils intend to promote hundreds of acres of land — together with properties the place a few of the abuse passed off — to compensate sexual abuse victims.

This September a decide in Delaware allowed the nationwide group to exit Chapter 11 chapter and proceed working whereas settling many years of claims by greater than 80,000 males who allege they had been abused by troop leaders as kids. The Scouts filed for chapter in February 2020 amid declining membership and mounting authorized prices from the lawsuits.

To assist pay for the compensation fund, the Boy Scouts’ native councils are legally required to contribute at the least $515 million.

Scouting Land

For greater than a century, the Boy Scouts have acquired most of their land by means of items and charitable donations made by individuals who wished these properties preserved.

It’s unclear how a lot land belongs to the nationwide Boy Scouts, as a result of some properties are owned and managed by the group’s greater than 250 native councils, that are separate nonprofits, “distinct and financially unbiased from the nationwide group,” the Boy Scouts of America says in a press release. By some estimates, the native Scout councils personal 2,000 camp properties, value billions of {dollars}.

The 377-acre Holcomb Valley Ranch went in the marketplace in 2021 for $12 million. Wikimedia Commons

Every native council receives a constitution, very similar to a franchise settlement, from the nationwide Boy Scouts group. A neighborhood council’s constitution may be revoked at any time by the nationwide group, in line with the Boy Scouts bylaws.

And not using a constitution, an area council’s land would change into the property of the nationwide group.

Environmental teams and authorities officers are looking for methods to preserve this land earlier than the Boy Scouts and councils promote it off to builders. They discover themselves juggling the group’s needs for fast turnover and most revenue whereas additionally respecting the truth that a few of these websites are locations the place horrific occasions passed off.

In the event that they succeed, it could additional the higher points of the Boy Scouts’ legacy: The Scouts have a protracted historical past of conserving land, a few of that are highlighted within the group’s Conservation Handbook.

Immediately the Boy Scouts’ conservation efforts are threatened by their very own debt to the hundreds of individuals they harmed. Critics say they’re promoting off land to the very best bidder with out consideration for the surroundings — or the tenants of the group.

After months of emails and calls, Boy Scouts of America couldn’t be reached for remark.

However different teams went on the document.

Shut Calls

Conservation teams throughout the nation symbolize one of many major efforts to purchase land from the Scouts’ native councils.

They don’t all the time succeed.

In 2019 the Michigan Crossroads Council of Boy Scouts offered Silver Trails Scout Reservation, a 270-acre campground close to Port Huron. A nonprofit known as Thumb Land Conservancy tried to purchase it however misplaced out when the Scouts offered it to a gravel-mining firm for $1.8 million.

Extra just lately, in June, Seneca Waterways Council in New York voted to promote Camp Babcock-Hovey, a 293-acre campground on the shore of Seneca Lake that opened in 1937. The client of this $8 million property has not been disclosed, and calls to the nationwide Boy Scouts press workplace stay unanswered.

The council will proceed to function the camp till October.

“The lack of Camp Babcock-Hovey is painful, particularly for many who have spent treasured weeks of their Scouting careers there, or greater than that, have devoted important parts of their lifetimes caring for that lovely camp and offering management for its employees and campers,” wrote the council’s govt committee in June, explaining its determination to shut the camp.

Different councils in New York face comparable decisions.

Camp Barton, which operated as a Boy Scout camp for greater than a century, is amongst these on the chopping block.

Fred Bonn, regional director of New York state parks within the Finger Lakes the place Camp Barton is positioned, says the state is working with three municipalities to purchase 96 of the 130 acres of the previous camp.

Whereas the state parks division will purchase the land, Bonn says the property — which is able to change into a public park — will in the end be managed by the cities of Covert, Ulysses and Trumansburg.

The remaining 34 acres of Camp Barton have been offered, says Bonn, including that he doesn’t know if the customer plans to develop the land or not.

Builders got here shut to purchasing the Deer Lake Scout Reservation in Killingworth, Connecticut.

After a yearlong battle, the Connecticut Yankee Boy Scouts Council agreed in September to promote Deer Lake, which was named in a 2012 lawsuit as a web site the place abuse passed off, to Pathfinders, Inc., an area nonprofit that claims it is going to preserve the property as a camp.

Deer Lake Scout Reservation. Wikimedia Commons

Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal praised the transfer, writing on Twitter: “This valuable pure treasure will likely be an everlasting legacy for generations of nature lovers because of an important activist partnership. It’s a proud second for the conservation motion.”

The council beforehand rejected Pathfinders’ provide to purchase the land for $2.4 million.

Fearing the land could be misplaced to builders, Sen. Blumenthal advised the press in June that he was trying into the potential of utilizing federal funds from the Nationwide Park Service’s Land and Water Conservation Fund to assist purchase Deer Lake and different Boy Scout properties which are up on the market across the nation.

The Federal Function — and Problem

However getting the Nationwide Park Service concerned within the buy of Boy Scout properties may be “fairly difficult,” says Joel Lynch, who runs the company’s state and native help packages, which incorporates the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The federal program, funded primarily by income generated from offshore oil and fuel leases, helps tasks to guard pure assets throughout the nation.

Lynch says the Fund is pushed by state governments, which submit outside recreation plans to the Nationwide Park Service each 5 years to assist fund tasks that might embrace the acquisition of former Boy Scouts properties.

“I do see all of the tasks, so I haven’t essentially seen an uptick, however I’m nearly anticipating to see one thing,” he says.

The one means for the Nationwide Park Service to step in, Lynch says, is that if the Boy Scout property is throughout the boundaries of land owned by the company.

However nobody is aware of what number of properties the Boy Scouts and their native councils personal normally, not to mention the quantity inside Nationwide Park Service boundaries.

Even when there have been a listing, Lynch says, all state-submitted tasks nonetheless should undergo an approval course of to obtain cash from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. That may typically take so lengthy that the property they wish to buy goes off the market.

A means round that, he says, is for a state to collaborate with a land conservancy. In some circumstances, these native organizations will buy properties utilizing their very own funds as a result of it’s merely quicker.

Sarcastically, the Boy Scouts themselves traditionally labored with land conservancies, like The Belief for Public Land, to buy properties throughout the nation. This was the case for the William H. Pouch Scout Camp on Staten Island, which was practically offered in 2010 when the Higher New York Councils of the Boy Scouts of America, the camp’s proprietor, might now not afford to take care of it.

The Boy Scouts have additionally labored with the U.S. Forest Service to protect land after they couldn’t.

Since as early as 1937, the Forest Service has acquired nearly 9,000 acres of land from the Boy Scouts.

The final time the company acquired land from the Boy Scouts was in 2016. It has no plans of buying extra, a Forest Service spokesperson wrote in an electronic mail.

Historic Atrocities

Some Boy Scouts property might be preserved from growth because of a rising motion calling for the return of Native lands to Native nations to allow them to protect it in line with Tribal values. Most, if not all, of the property owned by the Boy Scouts and their native councils is on land stolen from Indigenous peoples.

“Landback is the literal reclamation of land of Indigenous peoples who’ve been forcibly faraway from their lands on behalf of colonialism,” says Krystal Two Bulls, director of NDN Collective’s landback marketing campaign. “However it’s additionally the reclamation of all the pieces stolen from us.”

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Two Bulls says Native nations are forming land conservancies to accumulate ancestral lands. Many of those Native-led organizations don’t have the required funds to do that on their very own, so that they companion with authorities businesses or environmental teams to share prices — though even that’s, in its personal means, one other factor of colonization.

“I don’t suppose that we should always must buy land that was stolen from the primary place,” she says.

NDN Collective has a fund that lends cash to tribes to allow them to purchase their land again, together with property presently owned by the Boy Scouts.

As a result of nobody is aware of precisely how a lot property the Boy Scouts and their native councils personal, it’s tough to find out the land that’s been stolen and the Native nation it belongs to.

Reviewing data of treaties between the U.S. and Native nations is one method to attempt to discover out, Two Bulls says.

“I believe that’s how primarily we’ve been capable of know that these are conventional territories, however I don’t underestimate Nations’ skills to know by means of pre-colonial storytelling the place they’re from as a result of so many tribes have been displaced.”

No less than one Native nation is making an attempt to reclaim stolen land now on the market by the Boy Scouts.

The Esselen Tribe of Monterey County, in California, has put in a bid to purchase Camp Pico Blanco in Massive Sur from the Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Council.

When the land went up on the market, the nonprofit Western Rivers Conservancy agreed to pay for the property and switch it to the Esselen Tribe.

However regardless of the Tribe’s deep ties to the land, the Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Council, as of September, has not but chosen a purchaser.

Eric Tarbox, the council’s deputy scout govt, advised the Monterey Herald in April that Camp Pico Blanco was being offered not due to the sexual-assault judgments however resulting from injury brought on by wildfires.

“Scouts should not in a position to make use of the camp and will not be capable of for the foreseeable future,” Tarbox advised the paper. “Most particularly, we’re not promoting it for monetary want, however as a result of Scouts can’t use it.”

A lot of the listings for property owned by the Boy Scouts and their native councils, together with Camp Pico Blanco, don’t point out something concerning the land’s Indigenous historical past. They do, nonetheless, tout the group’s conservation efforts at protecting the land pristine — though others dispute that characterization.

“These lands that nationwide parks and public lands and conservation teams handle, they weren’t these untouched, pristine lands that have to be conserved,” says Two Bulls. “The rationale they give the impression of being the way in which that they do is as a result of Native nations had been managing them and stewarding them since time immemorial. They don’t seem to be untouched lands; they regarded the way in which that they did due to us.”

The lack of Indigenous land led to the separation of households, lack of cultural id, and genocide.

It’s solely been because the finish of the twentieth century that Individuals have began to confront the nation’s violent historical past, says Amy Sodaro, writer of the e book Exhibiting Atrocity: Memorial Museums and the Politics of Previous Violence.

“These websites of atrocity have which means and have to be handled extra fastidiously,” says Sodaro. “I believe there’s beginning to be a shift right here, however I believe in some ways we’re form of behind a lot of the remainder of the world, as a result of we’ve been highly effective sufficient to not must face our previous and to have the ability to form of ignore these websites.”

The Boy Scouts of America and their native councils can now not ignore the truth that kids had been abused on a few of their properties. Conservation teams, scouting advocates and victims have combined emotions about what to do with this land. Whether or not properties proceed to function as campsites or in the event that they’re offered — which occurs frequently across the nation — these areas will now stay shrouded within the darkness of historic ache.

Jordan Gass-Poore’ is a podcast producer, investigative journalist, and cofounder of the women-led audio collective Native Switchboard NYC. Beforehand she labored as producer with CNN, Bloomberg and the Southern Poverty Regulation Middle. Quickly she will likely be govt producer and host of the investigative local weather podcast she created with NJ Highlight Information and WNET known as Hazard, which appears on the influence local weather change has on hazardous Superfund websites in New Jersey.

Reposted with permission from The Revelator.

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