By Kie Relyea The Bellingham Herald
MAPLE FALLS — The Boy Scouts could end summer camps at Camp Black Mountain and sell the property to make up for an annual operating loss of about $50,000 for each of the past five years.
The executive board of the Mount Baker Council will take up the matter Thursday, Sept. 20, when members vote on two proposals — both of which would make summer 2012 the last camp for Boys Scouts at the property near Maple Falls, in Whatcom County.
“This is one of the most difficult kinds of things for a Boy Scout council to do. It doesn’t matter what camp you’re talking about, where it is or what the current problems with its operations might be,” said Duane Rhodes, spokesman for the Mount Baker Council of Boy Scouts of America.
“Every camp is loved by some group of people,” he added.
Camp Black Mountain has served Western Washington since 1929, according to the council’s website, and is one of two operated by the Mount Baker Council.
The other is Camp Fire Mountain in Skagit County.
About 7 percent of revenue comes from other groups renting the property for other programs.
The Mount Baker Council serves about 7,600 Scouts in Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, Island and San Juan counties.
For their part, Camp Black Mountain supporters were frustrated they didn’t know about the financial difficulties sooner, saying they might have been able to raise money or make it a priority to camp there instead of elsewhere.
They want the executive board to take more time before making a decision.
Summer camps at Camp Black Mountain are profitable despite the decline in the number of youths in the past 10 years, ending with a low of 293 this summer. But that doesn’t cover the year-round costs, according to council officials.
The camp has been in the red each year for the past decade, Rhodes said, before losing $50,000 per year for the past five.
Donations have subsidized the $50,000 loss each year, Rhodes said.
“The board is no longer comfortable doing that,” he added. “They want to figure out some way to solve that problem. We run pretty lean, so $50,000 is huge to us.”
A study group looked at possibilities that included attracting more summer campers to increase the number of Scouts to 600 to break even, doubling the summer camp fee charged or increasing the off-season fees by a factor of 10.
None of those are viable, Rhodes said, in part because there are other Boy Scouts camps in the region and pricing must be kept competitive.
“It’s not that there is a big surplus,” he said. “If we do a real strong internal marketing approach and move some of our campers from the camp in Skagit County to the camp in Whatcom County, that doesn’t really solve our problem.”
The council’s executive board will consider two options on Thursday:
•End operations, mothball Camp Black Mountain and prepare to sell all or part of the property.
Suspend summer camp and develop a plan for the property, due by May 31.
At a meeting in Bellingham on Monday, a group calling itself Friends of Black Mountain also proposed buying operating rights to the facility and reusing it as a scouting program and activity center.
Rhodes said it was unclear whether the executive board would have time to consider that proposal by Thursday morning, but there was some discussion about whether that idea could be part of the proposal to develop a plan for the property.
Find information about the Mount Baker Council of Boy Scouts of America and the possibility of it closing Camp Black Mountain on Silver Lake, near Maple Falls, by going online to mountbakerbsa.org.
Click on “CBM Study” on the left to read about the Camp Black Mountain proposal.