PA DCNR Grant Announcement for Camp Tuckahoe Explained

As part of the April 7, 2022 council-wide virtual roundtable and the June 1, 2022 in-person Program Launch at Camp Tuckahoe, Council President Matt Haar and I shared information about discussions the Council was having with the Central Pennsylvania Conservancy about preserving “buffer acreage” at Camp Tuckahoe – parts of the property that we don’t actively use for camping and programming but serve as natural wilderness areas and as a buffer against development encroaching on those areas of Tuckahoe we actively use.

Today, we want to provide our New Birth of Freedom Council Scouting community with updated information on the progress of this effort. Earlier this week, Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) announced a $1.17 million grant to the Central PA Conservancy toward their potential purchase of 916 acres at Tuckahoe (Tuckahoe is approximately 1,300 acres).

While the DCNR grant is a significant step toward a potential sale of this acreage, we’re not yet at a final decision point, and there are still several issues and considerations for the Board to consider before making a decision about a prospective sale. The appraised market value of the 916-acre parcel is $2.29 million, and the Central PA Conservancy is still working diligently on securing additional public and private funding to make up that difference. We do hope that DCNR’s commitment will be a catalyst in completing the funding process.

So, if you haven’t heard anything about the presentation Matt and I gave at the April Roundtable and the June Program Launch, you’re probably thinking, “What does this mean for future operations at Tuckahoe? And what happens next?”

First and most importantly, we will be able to operate Tuckahoe in the future precisely as we do now. We plan to operate Tuckahoe for a long time. If we do complete the sale to the Central PA Conservancy, we will protect the natural wilderness areas surrounding Tuckahoe that provide a buffer against the encroachment of civilization while, at the same time, redirecting the financial value of this “buffer acreage” to support our core programs to serve youth. Tuckahoe will continue to look as it does today for our current and future campers.

As many Scouters will recall, our Council previously worked with the Lancaster Conservancy a few years ago on efforts to preserve Wizard Ranch while unlocking the financial value of the land to benefit Scouting. While Wizard Ranch is a terrific site for Safari events, it was not used extensively otherwise as an undeveloped property and holding one event there every four years did not justify keeping the value of the land locked in ownership of the parcel. We worked closely with the Lancaster Conservancy for many months, negotiating the deeded right to hold the Wizard Safari at Wizard Ranch every four years (starting with the September 2023 Safari) along with other camping opportunities, before agreeing to sell Wizard Ranch to the Conservancy in 2020. That sale provided the Council with a little over $1.7 million while preserving the land for future generations as part of the Hellam Hills Nature Preserve. The Executive Board designated the earnings from the sale of Wizard Ranch for capital improvements at our camps, and we have seen those earnings put to use in the camps.

Since the sale of Wizard Ranch, we have continued to explore ways to partner with local conservancies to preserve wilderness areas at our properties and secure additional financial resources to support local Scouting.

Should the sale at Tuckahoe come to fruition, the Central PA Conservancy would be an interim property owner, with the eventual owner being either the National Park Service, PA State Game Lands, or PA State Forest. In all cases, this acreage will remain undeveloped, with passive recreational access for the public to hike, bike, or perhaps hunt. These options will depend on the use guidelines of the eventual owner, but in actuality, we have been seeing these activities in the buffer acreage for years.

This potential sale of acreage at Tuckahoe, if successful, will most likely not play out immediately and could take 2-3 years. It will not help our Council to make its $2.7 million contribution toward the victims’ trust fund in the resolution of the Boy Scouts of America’s bankruptcy, which we anticipate will be completed later this year. But this effort could one day help us replenish our reserves, including endowment for our camps.

We will also pursue additional opportunities with the Central PA Conservancy, including putting the camping areas we would retain at Tuckahoe into a conservation easement or carbon credit programs that would provide funding to help us maintain forested areas at the camp. These same options, including the potential sale of “buffer acreage,” will also be considered for Hidden Valley in the future. Still, we are primarily focused on Tuckahoe right now, as the South Mountain area is a priority area for the Central PA Conservancy in seeking out opportunities to preserve natural lands.

In addition to looking at these conservation options at Hidden Valley and Tuckahoe, the Board is looking at several potential scenarios regarding our current service centers. Not many councils have multiple offices and Scout Shops, and like many other businesses during the pandemic, we can see our need for office and retail space changing. The ability for units to conduct business with the Council electronically and to obtain Scout merchandise through on-line services such as Scoutshop.org and even Amazon has grown considerably in the past few years and dramatically decreased the need for people to come to our offices in person. With that being the case, it is only prudent that we consider what our actual requirements will be. The Board has a fiduciary responsibility to carefully consider the best use of all our assets, including our properties.

Change is always challenging, and our ongoing focus is always to be looking for ways to strengthen our Council’s ability to support local Scouting units. We know our camps are especially critical in that effort, and I appreciate you taking the time to read this article so that you can better understand our Board’s thinking regarding this potential sale at Tuckahoe and other initiatives we’ll be considering going forward.

Yours in Scouting,

Ron Gardner
Scout Executive & CEO

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