Scouts consider Camp Easton sale

Discovery Land Company made offer on land earlier this summer

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COEUR d'ALENE - Some North Idaho residents are weighing options to fight the potential sale of a nearly 90-year-old Boy Scouts camp to a land developer.

While Discovery Land Company's offer on Camp Easton is being reviewed, some fret over losing the legacy of the camp enjoyed on Lake Coeur d'Alene since the '20s.

Others worry the purchase of its 383 acres would lead to overdeveloping the area.

How to protest the sale is being debated.

"It might be funny if we had the resources to do this," said camp volunteer Alva Baker. "If I had the resources, I'd fight them tooth and nail. And I will anyway."

The Bonners Ferry resident is in contact with local scout leaders also opposed to selling, he said, who are discussing how to make their opinions heard.

"You look at some of the emails that come in, basically saying 'No,'" Baker said of their reaction to the news.

Baker has ferried groups of young men to the summer camp for the past 40 years, he said.

He has seen boys bond as they boat and swim along the sandy quarter mile of shoreline.

"A lot of the young men (in scouts) grow up and come back 10 years later, and that's the first thing that comes up," he said.

He worries for the future of some camp programs if the property is sold and the camp relocates, he said.

He was also discouraged by a recent tour of a potential new site, he added, declining to say where.

It was too rocky, he said, and bare of vegetation.

"I don't think they can build a beach or camp that compares to Camp Easton," he said. "Money can't buy the experience young men get at that camp."

Phil Ruff, scout master of troop 21 in Kellogg and assistant district commissioner, said he and other scout leaders will meet about the issue next Tuesday with Tim McCandless, scout executive for the Inland Northwest Council.

Most leaders object to the sale, Ruff said, including himself and his son, Dan, who attended Easton as a boy.

"We've got a lot of history there," Ruff said. "I know a number of people are going to strongly oppose getting rid of Camp Easton."

Still, the purchase could provide a windfall in the midst of a poor economy, Ruff acknowledged.

It couldn't hurt to seek out better sites, he said.

"I'm skeptical about them being able to do that," he said. "You can go around the lake and see how many sandy beaches you find. Not many."

Bev Twillmann, Harrison resident and vocal opponent of rural development, said she plans to contact congressmen about intervening.

"We're not done," she said.

She believes the sale would see the camp's forest lost to construction, she said.

She pointed to Discovery's Gozzer Ranch golf and lake club development. The Arizona company has also gained county approval for Gozzer Bay Resort, a condominium-motel project on Neachan Bay.

"That's the fear. That we're going to be swallowed up," Twillmann said. "We don't have a chance against this unless everyone who is an alumni of Camp Easton can raise some noise."

Andy Holloran, project manager for Gozzer Ranch, did not return calls.

McCandless pointed out that the sale, which Discovery proposed earlier this summer, could greatly improve scouting programs.

"It could offer new programs currently not offered, provide facilities that we can use year-round, and provide an endowment to fund improvements and maintenance for our council's camps in perpetuity," McCandless wrote in an email.

There are risks at the current site, he reminded, due to its division by heavy traffic on Highway 97.

"Scouts must cross this multiple times per day," McCandless stated.

There is a proposed new camp site on Lake Coeur d'Alene, he added, though he can't discuss details yet.

The legacy of the camp, he assured, will thrive in any location.

"Any change will build on that legacy," he wrote.

About 1,600 scouts attend Camp Easton each summer.

The camp was first operated on land donated by Stanley Easton on Bennett Bay, Ruff said.

When demand outgrew the location, the camp moved in 1929 to its current spot at Gotham Bay, on property donated by Fred Fritze.

"Scouts are concerned," Ruff acknowledged of the possible sale. "But when you can get an offer like that, you do have to exercise due diligence and make a decision."

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