Girl Scout camp to close

Thursday, July 14, 2011

By Jessie Salisbury


WILTON – The announcement that the Anne Jackson Memorial Girl Scout Camp in Wilton Center will close after this season has prompted some former Girl Scouts to recall the early days of the facility which opened in the early 1960s. Next year, the program will be combined with Camp Kettleford in Bedford.

Lyndeborough’s Lucy Schmidt, a long-time leader, was camping in the lower field with a group of Cadette Scouts in about 1964, she said. “A terrific thunder storm came up all at once. Lightning and heavy rain.”

She recalled wet tents and sleeping bags, and frightened girls, and then being rescued by Milford Girl Scout legend Hazel Adams with dry blankets and lots of calm advice.

“It’s times like that you remember best,” Schmidt said, “not when everything goes as planned.”

Lorrie Haskell’s memories from the early 1970s are more typical.

“Sitting around the campfire singing,” she said. “We ate our s’mores and wove our sit-upons out of newspaper. We did a lot of singing.”

She recalled a night in the Lodge, where the troop had moved because of rain.

“The upper floor was more like an attic then, and a bat got in,” she said. “Lots of squeals and giggles over that, not that anyone intended to sleep anyway.”

Through the 1970s, the camp was mainly a primitive area, with a couple of Adirondack shelters in the lower fields. The camp was used by troops in area towns for camping and training.

Swift Water Girl Scout Council undertook a gradual improvement and development of the area and by 1985 there was an established day camp under the direction of Helene Wardman, of Hancock. That year, there were 120 girls at the first session and 90 at the second. They came from 17 towns, from Hancock to Nashua, mostly grade-school age.

The main feature that year was learning “The Eight Basic Skills of Scouting,” which all girls are expected to know: first aid, proper outdoor dress, fire building, outdoor good manners, cooking, knife safety, basic knots, and protection of nature.

A water front area had been developed so swimming and canoeing could be offered. Prior to that, campers were transported to Goss Park for swimming lessons.

In addition to the day camp, the area is used throughout the year in good weather by area troops. Troops that have reserved space this fall will not be affected by the camp closing.

The decision to sell the site was not made lightly, according to Patricia Mellor, the chief executive officer of Girl Scouts of the Green and White Mountains, of which Swift Water Council is now a part.

“It was a difficult decision for the Board of Directors,” Mellor said of the decision reached June 29. A letter was sent the following day to all Girl Scout personnel affected.

“We had appointed a task force to look at all of the properties and the programs,”Mellor said. “They asked, ‘What do girls want to do? What facilities are needed to meet those needs? Who can we partner with?’”

She added, “A marketing group evaluated each property, the physical condition and future needs to bring them up to standards. They also surveyed the girls for their interests.”

“We realized there was a duplication of efforts. Except for those in the Wilton area, it isn’t that much farther to Kettleford,” Mellor said.

The majority of the programs are run by volunteers, and that also had to be assessed, Mellor said.

In the end, the decision was made to close five facilities: Anne Jackson and Sunset Valley in New Hampshire, and Wapanacki, So-Ko-We-Gi and The Vermont House in Vermont. The process of selling the properties has begun.

“We are aware that there is a tremendous emotional connection that campers have with their camp,” Mellor said in her letter. “All decisions were made with the goal of improving the camping experience for our current and future members.”

Mellor said all net proceeds from the sale of the properties will be placed in a fund for maintaining and improving camping facilities.

While saying they understand financial difficulties and changing lifestyles, those former Scouts are left feeling sad and a little let-down. One neighbor of Anne Jackson also wondered aloud how a memorial gift to the Council could be sold.

From the early 1900s through the 1940s, the property was owned by Dr. Fordyce Colburn and his wife, the then popular novelist Eleanor Hallowell Abbott. The present lodge was Abbott’s studio and is the only building left of what she called “Rollo Farm” in honor of her grandfather.

After the death of her husband, Abbott moved to the seacoast area. The farmhouse was eventually burned by the Fire Department because of repeated vandalism. After her death, the property was acquired by her friends, Patrick and Anne Jackson. After Anne’s death, Patrick Jackson gave the property to Swift Water Council as a memorial.

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