The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Gary Spicer a concerned alumni of Camp Pioneer.
Dear Alumni and Friends of Camp Pioneer,
This past Friday on June 19, the members of the Caddo Area Council, Boy Scouts of America, Executive Board were notified of a non-scheduled meeting called for this Sunday afternoon. The express purpose of this meeting is to consider accepting an unsolicited cash offer for the purchase of Camp Pioneer, which is located near Hatfield, Arkansas. The justification for the sudden non-scheduled meeting is that the offer apparently has a very short deadline attached.
Camp Pioneer is the historic primary long-term camping facility of the Council, located at the confluence of the Mountain Fork of the Little River and Two-Mile Creek. The property is over 350 acres of wooded hills with approximately 0.5 miles of riverfront and 0.6 miles of creek on both sides. It has numerous structures, several buildings, roads, city water, a relatively new residence, a shop, trails, developed camping areas, etc., and access by a paved county road.
Recently Camp Pioneer has fallen onto hard times, due mainly to very poor stewardship and management. There was no summer camp held in 2018, and although a 2019 summer camp was promised by the Executive Board, it was apparently never really considered and was quickly abandoned. In the meantime, all support for maintaining the facilities at the Camp has been stopped, and even projects developed and/or funded by volunteers to support the camp have not been allowed.
In the past 5+ years the membership of the Council Executive Board has changed noticeably, as has the Council’s Professional staff. It now consists largely of members and staff with little or no experience, or tenure, at Camp Pioneer. Many of the board members, I have been told, have never actually been to Camp Pioneer while it is in operation. The typical construct of the Board has also changed, there are no longer meetings of some of the standing committees such as the Properties Committee, and the membership of the Board is not to be found on the Council website.
Reportedly, this current Executive Board has been re-vamped to make the “hard decisions”, with the primary goal to rid the council of cost and assets. Several minor pieces of property have already been disposed of, but the now they appear to be primed and coached to make the really “hard decision”.
For anyone who understands the real and intrinsic value of Camp Pioneer it would be a very “hard decision” to sell it; but without that burden a “hard decision” would be much easier all you have to do is accept an unsolicited offer. The really “hard decision” would be to take a step back and honor their fiduciary responsibility to secure the best deal for the Council. It does not take a real estate professional to recognize that an unsolicited cash offer, with a short deadline, for an unlisted property with no professional appraisal is seldom the best offer or even a fair offer. The Executive Board should know that, and they should also know that anyone who is truly interested in purchasing the property will still be interested beyond June 30.
The Board should also recognize a responsibility to the ideals of Scouting and the greater good. What is the intent of mystery buyer? Is it to flip it, develop it, preserve it, or cut all the timber? It has always been a place where young boys and girls could experience the outdoors, swim in a river, hike a trail through tall trees, sit around a campfire, observe nature, and learn many, many, lessons. Camp Pioneer was described by Caddo Area Council Scout Executive Anthony Escobar in 2017 as an excellent backdrop for Scouting. It would be shameful to sell this unique and irreplaceable resource without any consideration for its possible highest and best use simply because you took the first offer made.
Unfortunately, the un-scheduled “hurry up” meet to be held this Sunday afternoon is going to be a Zoom meeting over the phone, reportedly due to COVID-19 concerns. As someone who routinely participates in numerous Zoom meeting every day, I can tell you that they are not conducive to the open exchange of ideas or healthy debate if there are more than three people participating. This meeting could and should have over thirty participants. Unlike an open in-person meeting, in a Zoom meeting the participants can preserve their anonymity, the host can arbitrarily mute individuals, and because of the technology only one person can be heard at a time. If one person is speaking, and for as long as that person is speaking, no one else can be heard – even if they are yelling that there is a fire in the building. So, the incredibly significant and important meeting, this “hard decision”, may be decided by an essentially anonymous board, with no realistic opportunity to debate or openly discussion – not what you would hope for from the Boy Scouts of America.
Ironically, this summer is the 100th Anniversary of Camp Pioneer. The first Council summer camp was held in 1920, the Scouts rode a train from Texarkana and then hiked to the camp from the station. Since then there has been literally tens of thousands of alumni of Camp Pioneer throughout the Ark-La-Tex and for 500 miles in any direction. Pioneer is important to so many people, it serves as a common touchstone for the past century of Scouting in this area, and it has helped to shape many of the leaders of our communities for that 100 years. If for no other reasons, it should be recognized as something of real value and not just sold off on a street corner to the first person that drives by and flashes some cash.
I hope that everyone who knows someone on the Caddo Area Council Executive Board will take some time to contact that person as ask that they step back from this rush decision. I also hope that every member of the Executive Board will stand up and make the really “hard decision”; to do the right thing and step back from this high-pressure low-value offer. If the decision is made to actively try to sell the property, then do it right, have it appraised, put it on the market, and handle it in a professional and open manner.
Gary L. Spicer
Camp Pioneer Alumni
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