Girl Scouts to decide fate of Lancaster County campground Thursday

WEST COCALICO TWP., Pa. - The memories of Camp Furnace Hills in this Lancaster County community are fresh in the minds of hundreds of local Girl Scouts, even though it has been closed since February because of the damage it sustained during a winter storm.

Those memories may be all that are left if the Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania council decides Thursday to close the camp and sell the land.

"I really like swimming in the pool and going in the creek they have there," Ava Bird, a current Girl Scout, said. "I make a lot of friends there too."

Camp Furnace Hills has hosted local Girl Scouts for 70 years, and it's a place some scouts and leaders say needs to be kept in place for future generations.

"My girls really love going there, just to be able to hang out, do things, learn how to cook, and when we have Day Camp there, they love being able to teach the younger girls all the things that they've learned through the years," said Candi Dirian, a troop leader.

The local Girl Scouts chapter must decide what to do about a pending insurance settlement stemming from the storm damage by the end of the month. It can decide to take a lump sum payment and sell the camp, or repair the camp's facilities using the insurance funds.

This decision was part of an ongoing review of all the local Girl Scout chapter's campsites that was due to be acted upon in November, but the insurance settlement forced the decision on Camp Furnace Hills to be made this month, according to Amy Mountain, communications director for the Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania.

The chapter issued the following statement to FOX43 (emphasis is theirs):

"At the Girl Scouts in the Heart of PA, we value the passion of our members and volunteers and share their commitment to the principles [sic] of girl scouting. Our goal has been to oversee a transparent process that recommends a sustainable investment in GSHPA’s outdoor programs and properties in the future. Camping remains one of the most distinctive Girl Scout experiences and we appreciate the deep ties that Girl Scouts and volunteers have to Camp Furnace Hills. A safe, outdoor experience will continue to play a key role in our efforts to help today’s girls become tomorrow’s leaders. Driven by the timing of the insurance provider’s claim, the GSHPA Board is scheduled to announce its final decision on the status of Camp Furnace Hills to the full membership following their August 17 meeting.  We will actively communicate the Board’s decision using the GSHPA website as well as email and regular mail to members, beginning August 18.  The best interests of the girls in our council remain at the center of our efforts."

Local Girl Scout leaders in Lancaster and Lebanon counties have organized an effort to urge the council not to sell the camground. An online petition had more than 2,000 signatures as of Wednesday night.

"Tons of people have offered their time and tools and skills to help rebuild and repair the camp," Addie Bird, a local Girl Scout leader, said. "I think that we could get it back in shape in no time."

If Camp Furnace Hills were to close, the nearest Girl Scout campground for members in Lancaster and Lebanon counties would be in York County, according to Megann Wilson, a lifetime Girl Scout who is helping to lead the charge to save the campground. In spite of the ongoing closure at Furnace Hills, current scouts still had day camp events this summer at Camp Mack, a Boy Scouts campground, but that is not viewed as a long-term solution.

"It's local, so if we if we don't have anything else, we have to go to a state park," she said. "Well, there's no close state parks that are a good option. We're all a little concerned with what's going to happen if we keep selling camps, because once they're gone, they're gone."