A beloved Boy Scout camp on Great Pond in Belgrade that has served generations of young people is due to be sold as the regional Scouting organization looks to pay off debt to save itself from financial ruin.

The Pine Tree Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which oversees Scouting in southern and central Maine, had a board vote Thursday night to sell the 75-year-old Camp Bomazeen in Belgrade. The sprawling camp off Horse Point Road, with a beachfront on Great Pond, has hosted Scouts age 7-20.

An emergency task force of the council formed to come up with a plan to address its financial problems said unless the organization sells the camp, it could be out of money in a matter of months. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has decimated the council’s ability to raise money for Scouting activities, officials said.

Matt Klutzaritz, Scout executive and CEO of the Raymond-based Pine Tree Council, said it was a difficult decision and they understand the move will make some loyal Camp Bomazeeners upset. But it’s necessary to keep the organization, and Scouting, going in the council’s region of the state, he said.

“At some point in the future we’ll run out of money if we don’t raise some cash,” said Klutzaritz, who said that could be within a matter of months. “It’s an emotional thing and not everyone is happy about it, but ultimately it’s to save Scouting in central and southern Maine. We’d hate to see it but it is possible people could be upset. There are people who grew up with this camp, it’s dear to their hearts.We hope they wouldn’t want to leave (Scouting), but we can’t control what people are feeling.”

The property is exempt from paying property taxes because it is owned by a nonprofit organization and is assessed by the town of Belgrade at just under $1 million.

This year is also Camp Bomazeen’s 75th anniversary year. Bomazeen (named after the Native American chief of the Norridgewock band of Abenaki) opened in 1945 on 200 acres, but previous land sales have reduced its current size to about 100 acres.

Staff and Scouts practice archery during a previous season at Camp Bomazeen in Belgrade. Photo courtesy of Virginia Parker

Over the years, the property hosted Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Explorers and Venturers who camped there. In December of last year, well before the coronavirus hit, organizers said in a press release they planned this summer to celebrate the camp’s anniversary, and the skills learned and lifelong friendships made there. Scouting experiences there have included classic activities such as archery, basket-making, learning to swim at the waterfront, plus more modern specialized instruction such on welding, computers and robotics.

Chuck Mahaleris of Augusta, whose son attended Camp Bomazeen as a Cub Scout, said he served on staff at the camp, overseeing activities and classes there.

“It is a special place to generations of Scouts,” Mahaleris said. “Dr. George Averill envisioned it as a place for young people to get out of the cities of Waterville and Augusta and Skowhegan, and discover the grandeur of nature.”

Virginia Parker of Readfield, who over the last few years has camped at Camp Bomazeen with her family — three of five kids were Scouts — said the camp and people who work and volunteer there provide a wonderful experience. She said people love the camp so much they volunteer to maintain it.

“It’s such a welcoming place,” said Parker, who with her family has also volunteered to help prepare the camp before and after the summer season. “It’s an amazing experience. The community supports the camp and we all come together.”

She’s upset the council chose to sell the camp and feels like officials aren’t being forthcoming about the sale. She expects that some families will drop out of Scouts without a local camp.

Mahaleris said he is saddened “that the council felt it necessary to put it up for sale, but when the pandemic hit the donations stopped coming in and it became all but impossible to open this summer, which is even more disappointing because it is our 75th anniversary.”

“Months of planning for a great summer with special anniversary events shelved and now the proposed sale of camp,” he said. “It is all very disheartening. I hope good can come. Maybe a donor will step forward so the camp can be saved.”

The council’s emergency task force report, a copy of which was obtained by the Kennebec Journal, recommends selling Camp Bomazeen within three months, with an emphasis on an ability to do a quick closing. It further recommends to auction the property off, if a sale is not made in 45 days.

Klutzaritz said the ideal sale would include an arrangement that would allow Scouting activities to continue to take place at the property, at times, though he wasn’t sure of the likelihood of that happening.

“I can tell you we have a group of people working toward that as their primary goal,” he said of selling it to an entity that would allow the Scouts to at least occasionally use the property.

Bruce Rueger, a former director of Camp Bomazeen who has been a Scout leader in the area for some 25 years, said he remains hopeful the camp will remain a youth camp, possibly even still a Scouting camp. He said there is a group of people working to try to make that happen.

“We’re hopeful to be able to sell it to a group that’d keep the mission of it and keep it as a Scout camp,” Rueger, 63, who said he’s been involved in Scouting since he was 8 years old. “There’s a group of people working to try to make it not become a (private) development. We are trying to be optimistic.”

The emergency report recommends using the proceeds from the sale to pay down the council’s line of credit and mortgage on council properties, though it will also be needed to provide cash flow to the organization, which Klutzaritz said has cut staff from nine people to five to try to help trim costs.

Klutzaritz, who has been CEO of the organization since January, said the council has debt going back for years, including for construction of a new dining hall at Camp Hinds in Raymond.

He said the organization was off to a good start financially this year and hoped to make progress paying down debt, but then the coronavirus pandemic struck and forced the cancellation of major fundraisers and worsened its financial position.

“We were actually having a pretty good January and February and turning the ship around a bit. We weren’t going to pay off all that debt in one year, but we heading in that direction,” he said. “We had three major events scheduled for March and April, that would have raised over $100,000 and then, poof,” the pandemic and restrictions meant to control its spread hit.

The organization is back to running weekend programs at Camp Hinds, drawing Scouts from throughout the state, but is not operating its other three camps.

It has about 4,000 kids in its Scouting programs.

The task force report’s longer-term recommendations also include selling Camp Nutter in Acton and Camp Gustin in Sabattus.

The Camp Bomazeen entrance on Horse Point Road in Belgrade. The board of the Pine Tree Council of the Boy Scouts of America voted Thursday to sell the 75-year-old property for Scouts along Great Pond. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

The council’s board discussed those properties Thursday but did not vote to sell them, according to Klutzaritz. He said the council has had some discussions with a land trust about Gustin, which could allow the Scouts to retain some usage of the property if the council decided to sell it. But the land trust, he noted, like other nonprofits was also struggling to raise funds from donors during the pandemic.

He said selling a camp, as some other Scouting organizations have also had to do elsewhere across the country, is often emotionally difficult but “we’re in the business of building leaders for tomorrow and ultimately we need to continue that and a sale of (Camp Bomazeen) will help the council make sure we keep doing that in the future.”

Rueger said those hoping to keep the camp as a Scout, or at least a youth, camp have talked with neighbors and others in the community and said there seems to be a lot of interest in keeping the camp available to kids.

Parker hopes if Bomazeen is sold it will be sold to some other entity that would run it as a youth camp.

“I’m hoping, somehow, someway, it can be for the youth of the community,” she said.

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