August 06, 2014 - By Meg Peters
Review Staff Writer
Camp Agawam has a new owner: Orion Township, and a potential future owner: the Michigan DNR.
For $1,025,000 the township approved the resolution to purchase the Boy Scout camp on Clarkston Rd. from the Michigan Crossroads Council Monday night at the board meeting.
The appraised value for the scout ranch was $1.5 million.
Ultimately the plan would be to swap the near 137 acre camp for 76 acres of the state owned chunk of Bald Mountain Recreation Area adjacent to Civic Center Park at Joslyn and Greenshield roads.
Camp Agawam would become an extension of Bald Mountain Recreation Area, which would only be divided by Greenshield Rd.
According to Bald Mountain Director Andrew Cole, the DNR would end up with a slightly higher value when the swap is finished, and if that were the case, the township would trade less of the acreage.
This process would take upwards of six months to one year, however, by this time next year more than just boy scouts could enjoy the camp.
The resolution included an exclusive use agreement with the Boy Scouts to allow them to use the camp for three different weekends during the school year for special events, and two specific weekends during the summer for Cub Scout day programs.
All other times the camp would be used as a State Park, with rental facilities, camping opportunities for organizations such as church youth groups and girl scouts, and community residents.
"Since we have camps that are so close to it, it probably would have remained closed until sometime where we could have sold it or found some other opportunity like this," Chuck Truza, Michigan Regional chairman, said. "This was a perfect opportunity because now we can literally turn the property back to the community, we can keep it in its natural state, and the scouts have an opportunity to still take advantage of the fine facility."
The scare of many community members was that Camp Agawam, which opened in 1918, would be sold off to a hungry, residential developer when times were looking dim for the camp.
Officials from the Great Lakes Council closed the camp gates back in November, 2012, after a consolidation analysis was conducted on the 16 Boy Scout camps in operation in the Lower Peninsula. Apart from Agawam, Camp Holaka of Lapeer, Lost Lake Scout Reservation of Clare County and Paul Bunyan Scout Reservation near Rose City were also closed.
After pleas from local Agawam volunteers and camp directors it reopened for two summer day-camp sessions in June and July.
The participation was much lower than what the camp originally hoped for.
"This camp being right in the heart of the Great Lakes Field Service Council has historically provided opportunities for people to have somewhere close to come," Denver Laabs, Program Leader for the MI Crossroads Council, who has helped run the day programs at Camp Agawam, said. "We've always had boy scout troops out camping on a weekend basis, that's one of the mainstays and baseline parts of our program that I don't think will ever change."
The deal struck up about two years ago between Orion Township and the Great Lakes Field Service Council, one of the four regional service councils in Michigan that operates the camp.
Township Treasurer Mark Thurber, who is a passionate scout along with his sons, introduced the purchase/lease back prospect to the scout administration, who were very receptive.
"The DNR cannot purchase land, nor does it have funds to erect new structures, but it DOES have the funds to maintain existing buildings," Thurber said. "On the other hand, the camp has many historic buildings, and no funds to maintain them. I figured there must be some way to bring this match together."
Not long later, early meetings led to budget planning for 2014/15, and the board saw the same win-win in the idea.
"We're seeing a lot of growth and development, but we think our board saw this as a legacy, that we took this space and were able to preserve it forever as recreation," Township Supervisor Chris Barnett said. "It makes sense because it is connected to our existing space. I understand the taxpayer's concern but we have saved this space from being developed. It allows us to have permanent green space, which is one of the things that people love about our community."
When residents heard a rumor in 2012 that the property had sold to a developer, emotions flared high.
"Many families' grandparents learned how to tie knots here 100 years ago," Barnett said, adding that a number of developers have recently inquired about its purchase.
Long time volunteers and camp directors are ecstatic that campers will return to the full outdoor experience.
"It's a much safer location for the kids being that it is close to the public. We have more controlled interaction between kids and outsiders," camp director Allison Roberts said.
Last summer scouts were sent to Independence Oaks. The exclusive use agreement would only allow scout troops during the designated weekends throughout the year.
"Here, they are getting a complete camp experience. They are getting to hike through the woods going to their different stations and activities, still doing their cadences and singing in between. It is just a complete throw-back in time of what camp used to be," Roberts said.