OVID — A proposed $2.6 billion bankruptcy settlement designed to compensate thousands of Boy Scouts who were sexually abused may have another victim: a beloved camp on the shores of Seneca Lake.
The Executive Committee of the Boy Scouts of America, Seneca Waterways Council voted Tuesday to sell Camp Babcock-Hovey, a 283-acre site in Seneca County that opened in 1937, providing summertime fun and education for Scouts of all abilities, as well as children with special needs through the region’s Rotary clubs.
The board announced its decision after voting 21-4 to “begin the process” of selling the camp, which the council said will continue to operate until the end of October, although a summer camp at Babcock-Hovey was already scrapped by the council earlier this year.
Chief among the reasons for selling the camp: a BSA bankruptcy agreement that calls for the Brighton-based Seneca Waterways Council to provide an $8 million contribution. Seneca Waterways also operates the J. Warren Cutler Scout Reservation in South Bristol and Massawepie Scout Camps in Piercefield in the Adirondacks.
“After using all our operating and capital cash assets, together with funds generated from aggressively logging at our camps, we still cannot afford to pay that amount without selling a camp,” the committee said in a message to the Council’s scouting community after the vote.
The council also cited the cost of owning and operating three camps. Reducing the camp number will cut those operating and capital-spending costs, it said.
Stephen Hoitt, the council’s executive/chief executive officer, said Seneca Waterways is “land rich and cash poor,” meaning selling off a camp is the only option it has to generate the kind of money it needs to contribute to the national fund. The decision to sell off a camp was made months ago, he said, and leaders ultimately decided Camp Babcock-Hovey would be the one to go on the market.
The decision comes down in part to numbers, he explained. Massawepie attracts about 1,800-2,000 Scouts each year, with a portion coming from outside Seneca Waterways Council because of its mountain setting on 4,000 acres and multiple lakes. Cutler is essentially designed for the younger Cub Scouts in a less-rustic setting, meaning indoor sleeping facilities and toilets, Hoitt noted.
“There’s no winner here,” he said. “Regardless of which one we sell, we’d have an aggrieved (membership).”
Scout leaders, current Scouts and Babock-Hovey alumni are expressing concern with the decision. Many sent letters to members urging them to keep the Ovid camp and find other solutions to the financial challenges.
Among them, Matthew Crance, who has been a part of the camp for 30-plus years — as a camper, staffer, volunteer and his current role as Babcock-Hovey Properties Committee chairman. The committee maintains the camp and assists in programming there, he said.
“There is little greenspace left like Camp Babcock-Hovey,” he said. “I understand our role as stewards for the entire Scouting movement, but we do need to maintain the program and as many camp properties for future generations, not only as an investment in Scouting, but as an investment in our society. Selling a camp should be a last resort when all other options have been exhausted. The board must feel all other options have been exhausted, and I respectfully will disagree.”
Rich Nardone, a longtime troop leader from Geneva, said the odds were stacked against Babcock-Hovey.
“The folks in the Finger Lakes area were holding out hope, but it’s the folks from Rochester who are making the decisions,” he said.
Not all Boy Scout troops in the region are going to want to make the four-hour trip to the Adirondacks to attend Massawepie, Nardone argued.
He said Geneva’s Troop 4 is instead attending Camp Gorton on Waneta Lake in Schuyler County, part of the Five Rivers Council that covers some of the Southern Tier as well as neighboring portions of Pennsylvania.
He understands why Seneca Waterways is selling, but he doesn’t like it.
“The easiest way to generate money is to sell property,” he said. “And a lot of them are doing that. I understand the business side. I don’t agree with the decision.”
Babcock-Hovey is a special camp, said Nardone, noting the setting as well as the updated facilities, including new showers.
“There’s a lot of lakefront (an estimated half-mile of lake access). It’s great,” he said. “It’s also accessible for differently-abled folks.”
Indeed, the Rotary clubs of Ontario, Seneca, Yates and Wayne counties run a camp for special-needs children each summer at Babcock-Hovey.
Hoitt said the council informed Rotary leaders ahead of the Tuesday vote as a courtesy. He said Camp Onseyawa, as it’s called, will be held again this summer at Babcock-Hovey.
He pointed to the Cutler camp, which is fully accessible and would certainly fit the needs of campers with disabilities — if Rotary chooses to move its program there.
Nardone noted that Rotary has invested significant funds in Babcock-Hovey improvements, as have others, including Mark’s Pizzeria owner Mark Crane, who helped build a road nearly a mile long into the camp.
As for the potential take from selling the Ovid land, Hoitt said they’ve had several appraisals of the property and in each scenario, the sale price would go a long way towards the $8 million the council needs to contribute to the national fund.
“It’s (the price), only as good as what a buyer is willing to pony up for,” he said.
Ovid Town Supervisor Joe Borst expressed disappointment with the announcement.
“The decision by the Seneca Waterways council board to sell Babcock Hovey hits me on many levels,” he said. “As town supervisor, the Town of Ovid has always enjoyed being the home to one of the best scout camps in the state. Stephen Hoitt reached out to me before the vote to give me a heads up. It was up for discussion. We discussed the reasons for the closure and he went over the process they went through to make this difficult decision.
“As a local scout leader in both the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, the news hits even harder,” he continued. “I have spent many days and nights at Hovey camping with my scouts and my four children. I have seen the beauty of Hovey in all four seasons. I have worked alongside amazing volunteers and staff. From building fences to clearing trails and installing tents, I have enjoyed every minute I spent there. We are lucky that our council has two other great camps. I have spent time at both. Unfortunately the accommodations, infrastructure, accessibility and beauty can’t compare. These reasons are why Hovey is being sold, unfortunately.”