Scouts feel the burn of wildfires

October 5, 2012
photo - Firefighters work Thursday, June 21, 2012 to protect property around Camp Alexander, the Boy Scout camp northeast of the Springer fire.  Photo by MATT STEINER, THE GAZETTE
Firefighters work Thursday, June 21, 2012 to protect property around Camp Alexander, the Boy Scout camp northeast of the Springer fire. Photo by MATT STEINER, THE GAZETTE 

While thousands of acres of national forest burned in the Pikes Peak region this summer, local scouting groups watched as hundreds of thousands of dollars went up in smoke.

Both the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts locked the gates on area camps and felt the monetary heat grow hotter and hotter. The boys’ Pikes Peak Council lost more than $200,000 in camping money while the Girl Scouts were hit for $650,000 in losses statewide.

The week-long Springer fire that began June 10 in Lake George forced the evacuation of the Boy Scouts’ Camp Alexander in Eleven Mile Canyon. The fire grew to more than 1,100 acres before it was fully contained.

Hundreds of Girl Scouts had to leave Sky High Ranch north of Woodland Park after evacuations were ordered during the more than 18,000-acre Waldo Canyon fire. The fire sparked June 23 and destroyed 346 homes and killed two people in Colorado Springs on June 26.

“It was pretty devastating for most of the kids,” said Amanda Kalina, a Girl Scouts spokeswoman who said the Hamp Hut day camp at Garden of the Gods also cancelled  programs during the fire.

Sky High Ranch, located along state Highway 67, shut down June 24. The camp was closed for the remainder of the summer, losing seven weeks of programs.

Kalina said about 40 percent of the Girl Scout losses, about $80,000, came from Sky High and the rest was from losses at Magic Sky Ranch near the High Park fire in the Fort Collins area.

For the Boy Scouts and Camp Alexander, the closure didn’t last nearly as long, but the burn caused lasting scars. The camp south of Lake George closed as soon as the Springer fire hit.

Once that blaze was snuffed out, Waldo Canyon ignited and closures to U.S. Highway 24 kept Scouts away for another week.

Losses reached $260,000 for the Pikes Peak Council, as new CEO Kent Downing prepared to take over on Aug. 15.

“It certainly hurt a lot,” Downing said. “Our accounts payable are very high. We still have some bills from summer camp that haven’t been paid. The vendors are being very patient.”

Downing began his career at the Pikes Peak Council 21 years ago as an entry level executive. He jumped to scouting jobs in Nevada, Hawaii and California before returning home to replace former director Dustin Shaver.

The Arvada native faces a mountain of debt to overcome after almost 800 scouts missed their Rocky Mountain camp experience in 2012.

Both scouting groups have had to look for creative ways to make up for lost money heading into 2013.

The Boy Scouts, which typically depends on the Friends of Scouting Breakfast, individual donations and popcorn sales, are adding two fundraisers in 2013.

The group will sell discount cards for local businesses to funnel money directly into the Camp Alexander fund. And a mud run will take place at the camp in the fall to seek new sponsors.

“It will be another opportunity to expose the public to the camp and tap into a new group of donors in the running community,” Downing said.

The Girl Scouts had more than 600 girls miss camp  at Sky High Ranch and have also discussed ways to make up for losses.

Kalina said the plan is to rent out several of their camps around the state for group retreats, offering “great leadership experiences” and a chance to “diversify revenue streams.” She said the Girl Scouts are targeting members and their families as well as businesses and other organizations for some financial help.

All scouts who missed camp, boys and girls, were given full refunds. Joe Brandon, director of camping at Camp Alexander, said the cost per boy was $305 for a week. Girls attending Sky High Ranch had to dole out $528 for a six-day experience, said Girls Scouts spokeswoman Rachelle Trujillo.

Although access to camps was limited this summer because of proximity to the fires, both Alexander and Sky High were unburned.

“There was no substantial damage,” said Brandon, who volunteered with the Lake George Fire Department during the Springer fire. The blaze came about a half mile from the camp. Crews, including four firefighters from Colorado Springs, helped with fire mitigation at Alexander.

“The fire line breaks that they put in will take years to go back to nature,” Brandon said.
The Waldo Canyon blaze didn’t come as close to Sky High Ranch, but evacuations in Woodland Park to the south led Girls Scouts officials to err on the side of caution.

“Sky High was closed for the safety of the girls,” Kalina said.


Contact Matt Steiner at 636-0362 or follow him on Twitter @gazsteiner.

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