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Richmond Likely To End Effort To Buy Girl Scout Camp

This is a picture of lakefront at Camp Marion White in Richmond, Massachusetts
Berkshire Regional Planning Commission
Camp Marion White

Richmond, Massachusetts town leaders will most likely end efforts to buy a Girl Scout camp and turn into a recreational area after voters rejected the plans earlier this month.In October, the town announced it had entered into a purchase and sale agreement with the Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts for Camp Marion White. The property encompasses 50 acres on Swamp Road in Richmond, which borders Pittsfield to the north and New York to the west. With the agreement worth $1.375 million, Richmond leaders asked town voters to approve borrowing $1.5 million for the purchase and initial improvements to the property. A working group and the Board of Selectman have been talking with the Girl Scouts for more than a year, according to town administrator Matt Kerwood.

“We very quickly came to the conclusion that we should honor what the property has historically been, a day camp, with hiking trails, a lodge and other structures and keep it in that spirit and look to turn it into a park.”

The 10-year bond would have meant an initial tax increase of $195 for the average homeowner. With 160 opposed and 133 in favor, Richmond voters rejected the purchase on November 18th. A two-thirds majority was needed. Despite the result, a special election days later went ahead to determine whether to exclude borrowing from the town’s levy limit. That effort failed 255 to 168. Kerwood said voters expressed concerns about the financial aspects of the plan while others said the town doesn’t need the property. He met with the Board of Selectmen on Wednesday when they decided to table discussion on terminating the purchase and sale agreement, which Kerwood recommended. Talks are on hold until a Select Board member who suffered an injury is able to participate.

With the purchase and sale agreement in effect until the end of the year, Girl Scouts of Central and Western Massachusetts COO Suzanne Smiley says any other plans for the camp are on hold unless the agreement is terminated.

“I have a number of people calling me, which is great,” Smiley said. “Everything from individuals who want to build, to camps, to people who want to hold it in conservation. I don’t know everybody’s motives or what they’re interested in, but I do have a number of people calling.”

Kerwood says 90 percent of people who responded to a survey on the town’s open spaces before the votes said Camp Marion White should be protected and supported town ownership. He does expect action to be taken on the purchase and sale agreement before December 31st.

“Based on the outcome, it would be very unlikely that we as the town would try to renegotiate a deal with the Girl Scouts,” Kerwood said. “I think the sentiment from town meeting was clear that there just really wasn’t an interest from the town to move on this particular matter.”

Smiley says she doesn’t see the organization going below the $1.375 million purchase price, but the Girl Scouts haven’t had those conversations internally. She says the group plans to look at all options for the land.

“What was so attractive to us about the town’s agreement was that it would keep the property open and available to the most people,” Smiley said. “So I would think that given a choice, if all things were equal, we’d probably look to what would keep the property consistent with our mission and letting children and people appreciate and benefit from it.”

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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