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Girl Scouts say goodbye to campsite at Eagle Mountain Lake

Posted Monday, Apr. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Like countless North Texas Girl Scouts before her, Brenna Kaplan cherishes her summertime memories of archery, swimming, canoeing and singing and eating s'mores around the fire with new friends at Camp Timberlake.

On Saturday, Brenna, 11, was among several generations of Girl Scouts who gathered on the shore of Eagle Mountain Lake one last time to say goodbye to the popular camp, which is closing after more than six decades.

"I am sad that Timberlake closed because it was one of my favorite camps," said Brenna, who attended resident camps there the past four years. "It meant a lot to me so I felt like I needed to be there."

After evaluating the conditions of all five of its camps, the Girl Scouts of Texas Oklahoma Plains decided last year to close Camp Timberlake near Azle because of security concerns, unpredictable lake levels and a list of costly needed repairs, which included replacing the entire water system.

The organization has also decided to focus on two premier properties -- Stevens Ranch near Glen Rose and Camp Rio Blanco in Crosbyton -- and provide its changing demographic of campers with the amenities and conveniences that they and their parents want, officials said.

"Girls today do not want to camp the way I camped," said board member Libby Watson, who became a Girl Scout in 1957. "Girls today want heat, they want air conditioning, they want Internet access, they want to plug in their hair curlers. But they will still want their outdoor leadership activities, ropes course and horseback riding."

Besides adding new programs at both camps, planned improvements include modernizing the bathrooms and showers, adding heating and air conditioning, and building new cabins to accommodate more campers, officials said.

Changing times

Girl Scouts of Texas Oklahoma Plains serves about 24,000 girls in 81 counties in Texas and Oklahoma. Girl Scouts have seen about a 1 percent increase in membership per year, with the most growth coming from Fort Worth and Lubbock. Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic group, according to the organization.

Nearly 6,200 girls, or 26 percent of the organization's members, participated in camping activities last year. That's down about 5 percent from 2009, according to the organization.

A survey of girls and their parents found that both groups wanted the Girl Scouts to offer more modern sleeping accommodations with indoor flush toilets, electricity, heating and air conditioning as well as a wide range of programs and activities, including science, climbing, rappelling and horseback riding.

In response, the Girl Scouts have decided to sell some surplus property and focus on what its members want.

At Stevens Ranch, the organization will sell 90 acres that are separated from the main camp by a highway. Stevens Ranch, which has an equestrian program, will also offer shorter camps designed for younger girls who are not comfortable spending a week or more away from home. Additional housing will also be built.

When Camp Rio Blanco opens for summer camps in 2015, the Girl Scouts expect to provide programs that focus on science and technology. Planned improvements include heating and air conditioning, repainting the buildings, and repairing and updating the swimming pool and bathhouse.

Treasuring Timberlake

With encroaching residential development and proximity to a school, officials say the 112-acre Camp Timberlake site was experiencing increased trespassing and vandalism and no longer provided Girl Scouts with the camping experience they could find at other camps.

"Security was part of the decision-making process. That is our No. 1 thing to keep our girls safe," said Becky Burton, CEO of Girl Scouts of Texas Oklahoma Plains. "When we first got that camp in 1945, that area was not built up at all."

The decision to close Camp Timberlake "was very emotional," Watson said, but the board was unanimous about creating a plan to provide safe, quality experiences for campers today and in future years.

The Girl Scouts own the buildings at Camp Timberlake but not the property, which is owned by the Tarrant Regional Water District.

Burton said a committee is exploring whether any of the camp's fixtures, such as the ropes course or the covered wagons that have been used for sleeping for years, can be moved to Stevens Ranch or another property.

Richlyn McGuire, a Girl Scout alumna, recalls sleeping in one of Camp Timberlake's covered wagons when she first attended summer camp as a child in 1964. McGuire said she has 23 summers worth of fond memories from the camp, where she also served as a counselor, assistant camp director and then as camp director from 1977 to 1986.

For months, McGuire and other volunteers worked to organize Saturday's final gathering to celebrate Camp Timberlake's long history. The event featured photos from the past six decades, from traditional activities such as sailing and canoeing on the lake to the more modern challenges like rock wall climbing and zip lining that Brenna enjoyed.

"I kind of felt like I had lost a childhood friend," McGuire said after she heard in September that the camp would shut down. "I was sad but I understood why the decision was made. I was just glad so many girls and young women had the same opportunity I had."

With Timberlake closing, girls can choose between Stevens Ranch and Camp Kiwanis in Amarillo for summer camp this year.

Online: www.gs-top.org

Susan Schrock,

817-709-7578

Twitter: @susanschrock

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