Camp Ilchester was the site of innumerable campfires, events, planned and run by girls to raise funds for their projects and trips, and an amazing nearby affordable summer camp. My girls came home from Camp Ilchester tired and dirty, but healthy, connected, and peaceful. This property was an oasis to my Girl Scouts where they grew and flourished. —Liz Kehrman, Mother of 5 Girl Scouts and Camp Ilchester Advocate
Camp Ilchester, a 19-acre green space located in Ellicott City, is the center of controversy. The Girl Scouts of Central Maryland (GSCM), citing financial prudence, plan to sell the beloved camp despite protests among scouts and troop leaders.
I had the opportunity to interview parents and troop leaders. They talked about the history of Camp Ilchester, the motivations to sell a piece of land that has held more than just memories since 1949, and the repercussions if the green space is lost.
“Camp Ilchester is lovely, especially all of the troop and Girl Scout projects that dot the landscape.”—Bethann Snyder, Mother of a Daisy Scout
Surrounded by houses and pavement, Camp Ilchester is a critical part of maintaining an effective watershed in the area. This is especially true in light of the devastating floods that plagued Ellicott City in 2016 and 2018.
The camp is irreplaceable and more than its mere monetary value. It is the home of tree-planting projects, award projects for scouts, rescued animals, camping, archery, campfires, day camps, memorial gardens, a nature center, and more.
“The Camp Ilchester property has more value than a listing price, and it is needed intact to continue a healthy relationship with the Girl Scout members, council, local ecosystem, and community. GSCM is short-sighted in selling this irreplaceable asset, and I believe at a greater cost than they realize. They will be losing volunteers and scouts as members and goodwill. This sale is a gut punch in an already difficult time especially for girls preparing to head out into the world. They see the council cashing in instead of being caretaker, and that will have long term negative ramifications.” —Liz Kehrman
Concerns over the motivations for selling the beloved camp
While GSCM cites “financial prudence” for selling Camp Ilchester, the proceeds will fund a not as yet guaranteed Camp of the Future at Camp Woodlands. Camp of the Future is an estimated $21M renovation project. As of now, GSCM has only been able to secure $1.8 million in funding for the camp renovation. It appears that GSCM is cannibalizing the existing property of Camp Ilchester to raise capital for this project and for no other financial reason. Without financial transparency, the sale of Camp Ilchester is looking like a money grab to fund a speculative renovation as GSCM “hopes” to secure grants and donors.
Zoned as R20 (residential), Camp Ilchester is a very attractive piece of land for developers. However, if sold to residential developers, it will damage the environment and the surrounding community. According to troop leader Carrie Koenig, “Much of the camp memories and important features (especially trees and wildlife) can be preserved if sold to the county or other preservation buyer.”
“We live in Elkridge, so my community will be adversely affected by the sale of Ilchester to a developer.”—Bethann Snyder
While the Board has determined to move forward with the sale of the property, the new mission from Camp Ilchester champions is to “Keep Ilchester Green.”
Alongside the concerns of environmental damage if sold to developers, many members are concerned that there has been little to no transparency on the long-term plan for managing the ongoing maintenance cost of the to be renovated Camp of the Future at Camp Woodlands. Camp Ilchester, by contrast, is and has been a very affordable camp. The same cannot be said of Camp of the Future.
“So many moms and former campers have worked to make Camp Ilchester and its summer camp traditions unforgettable each year. It thrives on its volunteers and was the most affordable summer camp out there! Many girls and families are grieving its loss.”—Amy Odom, Girl Scout Mother
The future of Girl Scouts of Central Maryland may be in jeopardy
The Love for Camp Ilchester Coalition surveyed 400 members and determined there could be a significant loss of membership and troops if Camp Ilchester is sold to residential developers. If sold to a preservation buyer, families may be more forgiving. According to Koenig, "Selling to a developer will be in stark contrast to the environmental preservation and core values that the Girl Scouts endorse.”
There has also been talk among members about switching to another council or joining Boy Scouts of America.
“My daughter is a Daisy Scout and we were looking for to having a Girl Scout camp so close to us for the day camp…Camps Whippoorwill and Woodlands are too far away for frequent use…unless we switch Girl Scout councils.”—Bethann Snyder
According to a FAQ sheet about Saving Camp Ilchester it is important to keep in mind, “GSCM is the sole beneficiary of the Clementine Peterson designated endowment fund held in trust by the Baltimore Community Foundation. The annual income from the fund is available for maintenance of the Clementine Peterson Activity Center at Camp Ilchester. 49% of GSCM’s revenue is based on the sale of Girl Scout cookies, sold by girls expressly, for the purpose of funding council infrastructure such as camps. Further, Camp Ilchester is arguably underutilized as a revenue-generating asset.”
“We teach our girls that cookie sales help support and maintain camps. When we told girls that GSCM is selling a camp, they asked, ‘Isn’t that why we’re selling cookies? Why do they have to sell our camp? Didn’t we sell enough cookies?’ Moms and troop leaders report that the conversations with girls have been really tough.” Carrie Koenig, Troop leader, Love for Camp Ilchester Coalition Steering Committee, and Ellicott City Resident
What Can YOU Do to Support the Efforts to Keep Camp Ilchester Green?
Carrie Koenig shares some tips to support the efforts to keep Camp Ilchester Green:
- Keep talking about preserving the green space at Camp Ilchester. Share the information with friends and families and advocate for finding a preservation buyer.
- Make sure that Girl Scouts of Central Maryland knows how very important it is to the Girl Scouts to preserve Camp Ilchester as a green space. GSCM boards' and leaders' email addresses are available publicly on GSCM's website.
- Thank local government advocates for their advocacy and reciprocate the support of their efforts. Koenig says, “The love for Camp Ilchester Coalition plans to continue our dialogue with local government advocates like Liz Walsh, Calvin Ball, County Watson, and Katie Hester” as “they have already expressed their support in preserving Camp Ilchester.” Koenig further states, The Love for Camp Ilchester Coalition will remain active in recommending action items that the community and Girl Scout members can support to help us keep Camp Ilchester green.
“Though we are incredibly saddened and truly disappointed by the decision to sell, we have refocused our efforts now on keeping the camp space green. We beg GSCM to sell to a preservation buyer, though this option may generate a lower financial gain. If not preserved, loss of the green space will be devastating to the community.”— Carrie Koenig
Special thanks to Carrie Koenig for much of the background and content that formed this article. Carrie is a 4th grade Girl Scout troop leader (“Juniors”), member of the Love for Camp Ilchester Coalition Steering Committee, and Ellicott City Resident.