Apple Hill Scout Camp up for sale — Vankleek Hill Review

By Louise Sproule
Vankleek Hill Review, August 4, 2004.

Apple Hill — Local Scouting groups were not prepared for this.

A July 21 letter from Scouts Canada informed Stormont and Glengarry Area Commissioner Dave Desmarais that Camp Apple Hill Scout Reserve would be sold; the news came after being told just two months ago that the camp was not on the endangered list.

Local Scouting groups were told last year to put camp improvements on hold for the 300-acre property while Scouts Canada evaluated its properties and the needs of the young people involved in Scouts. But then two months ago, the local groups were given the go-ahead to start making improvements to Camp Apple Hill Scout Reserve.

The camp's winter cabin had been lost to a suspicious fire last year, but according to local Scouting authorities, "membership and community rose to meet the challenge and the past year has seen many improvements to the camp at a minimal cost."

At a Friday afternoon press conference, Scout enthusiast Wade Bates showed off a new chapel and explained the value of the Apple Hill Scout Reserve to local Scouting groups.

"We have an archery range, we have a rope bridge in the works, a short trail for winter camping, we've cleared several campsites in the woods and this 300 acres is a perfect spot for wilderness camping," Bates said.

But it's the camp's location - its proximity to Eastern Ontario Scouting groups and groups in Montreal, Ottawa and the U.S. which local Scout authorities tout as the camp's biggest asset.

"If this camp closes, it will mean parents having to drive long distances to drop off their children for camping . . . it would mean sometimes a three to three-and-one-half hour drive on a Friday evening then again on Sunday to pick them up. Transportation is just too expensive," Bates said.

The closest Scout camps are located south of Perth or in the Quebec Laurentian mountains.

Bates admits that the camp was perhaps under utilized. Last year, the camp was occupied for 350 child overnight stays. But that should be a reason to publicize and increase usage of the ideally-situated campground, not close it, he says. The camp had been used less in the past year also because it was lacking a building, a requirement for younger Beavers and Cubs.

"We're talking about a lot of lower-income families in the area who are able to send their children to camp here, but wouldn't be able to afford it if it involved high transportation costs," Bates said.

The camp, located off Loch Garry Road west of Alexandria, was purchased in 1961 by the Cornwall District. The camp has been serving the youth of Eastern Ontario since that time.

Camp enthusiasts point out that thousands of area Scouts, not only from Ontario, but from Quebec and the U.S. have camped there since its inception.

Vankleek Hill Scout groups have even bicycled the 36 kilometres to the camp.

But in recent years, Scout membership has declined and it is for this reason that Scouts Canada has been reviewing its real estate holdings, deciding, in the end, to dispose of 20 leased properties and 10 owned properties in Ontario. Last year, the membership of Stormont-Glengarry (which includes the 1st Vankleek Hill Scouts) decided to voluntarily close Camp Tsotahoteh, which was located near Cornwall. That camp had consistently posted a deficit and no longer met the needs of outdoor Scouts programs.

Local Scouters point out that Camp Apple Hill has been operating since 1961 without any financial assistance from Scouts Canada.

Bates says local companies and volunteers have made improvements possible at the camp.

"If we lose this camp, we lose our identity," said one parent.

First Maxville Scout leader and parent Paul Hauck, involved with Scouting since 1969, said that closure of the camp would impact the way he can deliver Scouting programs.

Local Scouting groups have 15 days from the July 21 letter to appeal Scouts Canada's decision to sell the property, said Bates, who, worried that there wasn't enough time to rally local support, organized a press conference at 4 p.m. last Friday. The 15-day mark was yesterday (August 3).

In its letter, Scouts Canada (the Eastern Ontario Administrative Centre), said that it was necessary to sell 20 properties to ensure the long-term financial health of its other properties. Scouts Canada currently owns more than 500 properties across Canada.

"Funds generated from the sale of these properties will be invested into the remaining facilities that will serve the membership previously served by the property that is being sold."

The letter said the funds will be used to enhance programs at the other facilities or might be used for a membership recruitment drive.

According to the letter, Royal LePage will handle the listing for the property.