Historically, Girl Scouting has been synonymous with camping -- sleeping in tents, building fires, hunting crayfish in stream beds, hiking in the woods.
But interest in those rustic experiences has waned, and Girl Scout membership has declined. Today -- two years before Girl Scouting's 100th anniversary -- only 25 percent of the members of Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania participate in camping activities.
Meanwhile, the region's membership fell to 35,500 last year, or 6,500 fewer than in 2007, when five smaller councils merged as part of a national realignment. That's better than the national trend -- 12 percent of eligible girls belong, compared to 9 percent nationally -- but leaders still recognized a need for reassessment.
As a result, the council is planning to divest six camps in its 27-county area over the next three years. The closures will target facilities where troops and their leaders go as a group for overnights. Summer resident camps will continue to operate.
Slated to be sold are Camp Yough in Elizabeth Township; Camp Timberlake in Washington County; Camp Wright-o-Way in Chippewa; Camp Lend-a-Hand in Crawford County; and Camp Trefoil Trails in Mercer County. Furthermore, the lease will not be renewed for Camp Birdsall Edey in Warren County.
The saved resources will go to improving the remaining camps -- Camp Redwing in Renfrew, for example, may get an indoor horseback riding facility that could operate year-round -- and toward beefing up other programs in high demand, such as science, technology and financial literacy.
Joyce Lewis-Andrews, spokeswoman for Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania, said the decisions followed a 10-month process involving girls, volunteers and adults. Surveys looked at usage, facilities, demographics and the potential of each camp for future development. The full reports are posted on the organization's website, www.gswpa.org.
"We looked at what the girls wanted to do and how we could best serve them, knowing we couldn't have camps in all 27 counties in our area," Ms. Lewis-Andrews said.
"Girls will still be camping but not always in Girl Scout-owned camps. In many cases we can give them a better camping experience by using state parks, recreational facilities or camps owned by other groups."
It's always hard to close a camp, she acknowledged, and the decisions are not made lightly.
"There's an emotional attachment to the camp you went to as a girl, or sent your daughter to. But the memories do live on outside of camp, and that's the healing factor."
The camps to be closed drew about 9,700 attendees combined last year, she said, which is far short of their full capacity.
One reason girls are doing less troop camping, she said, is the busy schedules of leaders and parents.
"Time is scarce and volunteer time is precious. These are the same people who volunteer at churches and schools. It's a limited resource."
Two additional camps are under sales agreement because of nuisance development on their borders. Camp Roy Weller in Bruceton Mills, W.Va., is one of them, even though it was only 11 years ago that Weller opened the $2 million Eberly Family Learning Center, where girls learned about botany, geology and other environmental fields.
No one at the time predicted that a developer would propose a horse-racing track on the adjoining property. Ms. Lewis-Andrews said that if the track is approved, the lights and traffic would render the camp unusable. Then the council would sell to the developer.
Also under sales agreement is Camp Resting Waters in McKean County, where a developer put a landfill on the adjacent land.
The council will continue operating six summer resident camps in its region: Camp Redwing (the most popular, it drew some 2,200 troop campers and 7,800 resident campers last year); Camp Elliott in Volant; Camp Conshatawba in Ebensburg; Camp Hawthorne Ridge in Fairview; Camp Singing Hills in Franklin; and Camp Skymeadow in Avonmore.
The council operates Facebook pages for each of them, one indicator of how the Girl Scouts are striving to keep up with the population they serve.
Also continuing will be Camp Curry Creek in Jefferson County.
Former Girl Scouts interested in the organization's 100th anniversary in 2012 may contact email@example.com to learn about reunion events.
Sally Kalson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1610.