Potential buyer of Camp Black Mountain might allow Scouts to continue use

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 27, 2014 

A final decision could be nearing on the sale of Camp Black Mountain, a Boy Scout facility on Silver Lake north of Maple Falls.

In a letter forwarded to The Bellingham Herald, the Boy Scouts of America's Mount Baker Council describes a recent serious offer to buy the camp and the council's intention following a June 19 vote to offer the site for sale. The offer was from a "corporate buyer who is a long-time Scouter" and would allow Scouts to continue to use the camp.

Previous discussions of the camp's fate had focused only on the possibility of advertising the site for sale. Fruitless efforts were made over the past several years to find a financially viable way for the Scouts to keep the camp, and it was time to face reality, said Duane Rhodes, the Mount Baker Council's Scout executive director, in an interview.

"There were lots of ideas, but none that were viable." Rhodes said. "That brought us to where we are."

Camp Black Mountain, built in 1929 on a rugged and partially forested 145-acre site, has several buildings and campsites with tent platforms and Adirondack-style open shelters with bunks along the north and east shore of Silver Lake.

Rhodes would not discuss the results of a recent real estate appraisal, but the Whatcom County Assessor's Office lists the camp's value at $1.4 million.

It features mountain biking trails, an indoor climbing wall, obstacle courses and shooting ranges for firearms and archery. There is a boat house, a dining hall for 135 people, and a dormitory for 40 staff members. A caretaker lives at the site.

While they are at the camp, Scouts work toward advancing in rank and earning merit badges in a variety of subjects, from photography to first aid to citizenship. Many Scouts in Western Washington have fond memories of the camp, Rhodes said.

After a surge in Scouting during the baby boom years, Scouting programs are attracting fewer members, Rhodes said, and officials are opting to sell under-used properties such as Camp Black Mountain.

"Many other councils face the same thing," he said. "We can do other things with this money to serve today's kids."

Headquartered in Everett, the Mount Baker Council serves some 7,600 Scouts in Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, Island and San Juan counties. It also operates Fire Mountain Boy Scout Reservation east of Mount Vernon.

Mount Baker Council board members first publicly considered selling the site after the 2012 summer session, saying it was losing some $50,000 or more a year. A group called the Friends of Camp Black Mountain raised about $65,000 in an attempt to save their camp, but their effort fell short in part because not enough Scouts had registered for summer 2013.

Camp was canceled in 2013, after fewer than 300 Scouts had registered to attend summer sessions. No campers are scheduled this year, Rhodes said.

One of the problems with maintaining the camp was a lack of campers, Rhodes said, noting that Boy Scout troops don't always attend the same camp every year, and often they go somewhere out of their area for a unique experience. Scouts in Whatcom County used the camp mostly on weekends, rather than for full summer sessions, he said.

"There are lots of places in the Pacific Northwest for kids to camp," he said.

Still, Rhodes said local Scouting officials are heartened that the potential buyer is open to letting Scouts use the camp if it is sold.

"That had been something we had hoped we could arrange," he said.

Reach Robert Mittendorf at 360-756-2805 or robert.mittendorf@bellinghamherald.com.

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