March 1, 2018
Dear Scouts and Scouters:
Back in 1960, Mahlon N. Haines, a well-known local businessman and philanthropist in York, donated to the York-Adams Area Council a substantial tract of property owned by him in eastern York County (Hellam Township) near the western banks of the Susquehanna River. The property was known as Haines’ “Wizard Ranch,” and it was Haines, an enthusiastic Scouting advocate, who personally hosted the first-ever “Haines Safari” on his ranch back in 1941. The tradition of the “Wizard Safari” continues to this day, with the most recent Safari held in 2015 and the next Safari set to happen in October 2019.
Generations of Scouts have attended Safaris at Wizard Ranch, with those shared experiences creating lifelong memories for many tens of thousands of area Scouts and establishing Wizard Ranch as a cherished special place in the hearts of many in the local Scouting community. We feel these past (and future) Scouting memories and Wizard Ranch itself are important to preserve.
In the years between Safaris, the 253-acre Wizard Ranch experiences much more limited use, with occasional camporees and weekend camping by Scouting units. Wizard has been carefully preserved as a wilderness camping area, with minimal facilities available, when compared to developed council-owned camps such as Hidden Valley or Tuckahoe. Developing Wizard to be more like these other camps has never truly been an option. It would be redundant and incredibly expensive. However, preserving Wizard Ranch’s wilderness has always felt like the right thing to do.
Last year, the National BSA office conducted a review of all of the camping properties in our area and published a report with its findings and recommendations. The report, the New Birth of Freedom Camp Properties Report, is posted on the Council’s website. One of the study group’s recommendations was to “monetize Wizard Ranch and place the proceeds in a restricted account and to use the interest to improve the Council’s outdoor program.” This recommendation was not surprising, given our limited use of the property and what we already knew about the real estate development value of the Wizard Ranch property. As with any organization, we must periodically evaluate all of our resources, including the properties, to ensure we are best able to support our mission. Converting that asset to cash seemed to the study group like a logical step to take. But selling Wizard Ranch outright, not being able to continue the rich tradition of Wizard Safaris, and having the land turned into a commercial or residential real estate development, was a difficult thought to embrace and we knew that many local Scouters would likely oppose such a move.
Not too long after this report was posted, the Council was contacted by the Lancaster County Conservancy, which expressed an interest in buying and preserving Wizard Ranch. The Conservancy often pays for its purchases in part with funds from the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which imposes restrictions on usage of property obtained with its funds. In this case, DCNR informed The Conservancy that if it acquired Wizard Ranch, the Council would be able to continue to use Wizard Ranch for setting up and running future Safaris every four years or so, for as long as the Council would like. The Conservancy, in turn, agreed to leave the existing fields and open spaces as such to facilitate continued Safaris and also agreed that they would work to create opportunities for individual Scouting units and the public to utilize the property for weekend camping.
A recent appraisal of Wizard Ranch established the value of the land at $7,000 per acre, for a total value of approximately $1,764,000. As part of the Council’s endowment fund and properly invested, the annual proceeds from these funds could have a significant impact on the Council’s programs far into the future.
The proposed agreement seems like a win-win for the Council and its youth members. The Council will receive a substantial sum of money while still maintaining and preserving a property and longstanding traditions. The plan is to present the proposal to the Council Executive Board for approval at its next regularly scheduled meeting on March 20, 2018 (which was rescheduled to April 2 due to inclement weather on March 20). Before that happens, though, there is a great deal of information that we’d like to share with you about this opportunity. Please take a few minutes to review all the information we’ve posted here on our website.
We are truly appreciative of this opportunity with the Lancaster County Conservancy to preserve the wilderness and beautiful of Wizard Ranch for future generations to appreciate, and to be able to continue to use Wizard Ranch for future Safaris and other camping opportunities.
Dr. Kevin H. Mosser Ronald M. Gardner, Jr.
Council President Scout Executive