Girl Scout Adult Alumnae Club.jpg

Girl Scout alumnae raise the flag at an adult camping weekend at Camp Whispering Pines in Independence.

A local Girl Scout chapter has found a buyer for Camp Whispering Pines, where generations of scouts have fond memories of retreats in an endangered forest.

Girl Scouts Louisiana East’s board of directors voted last week to approve a buyer for the 600-acre getaway off La. 1054 near Independence, chapter CEO Rebecca Pennington said in a newsletter to registered scouts.

The buyer is an individual landowner near the property. But the Girl Scouts aren't disclosing who they are because both parties signed a non-disclosure agreement, said Madeleine Briscoe, Chief Development Officer for Girl Scouts Louisiana East.

“The purchaser is an individual landowner near the property that has a demonstrated interest in conserving land in and around Independence, Louisiana, and Tangipahoa Parish,” Briscoe told The Advocate. “The property is projected to officially change hands later in the fall of 2021, possibly in the name of a holding company or trust established for the purchase of the site.”

Plans to sell the camp have alarmed some former scouts and conservationists, who worry about the future of endangered longleaf pine trees there. They've argued the organization hasn't been transparent about the sale.

The choice to sell the camp hinged on budgetary challenges: Girl Scouts Louisiana East made a last-ditch effort to raise $1 million for crucial repairs at the camp, including a leaky spillway, but came up short.

Longleaf pines offer pristine habitat for hundreds of animal species, including threatened gopher tortoises and red-cockaded woodpeckers.

New commercial, residential and energy-production developments appeared rapidly in Tangipahoa Parish in recent years, driving debate over impacts on flooding and natural landscapes. When it’s sold, some ex-scouts fear that the camp could become home to the next big development.

Others mourn what they fear will be the loss of a beloved childhood getaway.

Members of Friends of the Longleaf Pines, a group concerned about the future of the property after the camp changes hands, tried fundraising $950,000 through a GoFundme campaign to buy the property themselves.

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But the scouts said the group — which at the time had the title Friends of Camp Whispering Pines — couldn’t use the camp’s name in fundraising efforts because doing so violated Girl Scout policy.

Girl Scouts Louisiana East Chief Operating Officer Jill Pollard sent a cease and desist letter to Rosie Tran, a group member organizing the fundraiser, saying the GoFundme page “must be immediately canceled and removed,” emails obtained by The Advocate show.

Instead, the fundraiser pivoted to become a broader longleaf pine conservation effort. It has raised a little over $5,300.

Joan Doyle, a spokeswoman for Friends of the Longleaf Pines, said former scouts in the group feel left in the dark by the “clandestine” way that the board chose a buyer.

“I’m ready to call Girl Scouts USA and say, ‘You can have my Girl Scouts membership back,” she said.

Girl Scouts Louisiana East will shift to hosting scouts at two other Louisiana Camps in Covington and St. Francisville once it shutters the camp in Tangipahoa Parish.

The chapter also plans to open a new “Experience Center” where scouts can gather, according to Pennington's memo.

Hurricane Ida's shrieking winds damaged part of the camp, according to Pennington. The unnamed buyer is working with the scout chapter to "relocate meaningful features of the property" left undamaged by the storm to one of the other two Louisiana camps, she said.

The Girl Scouts plan a closing ceremony for camp alumni to visit Camp Whispering Pines one last time. A date has not yet been announced.


James Finn writes for The Advocate as a Report For America corps member. Email him at JFinn@theadvocate.com or follow him on Twitter @RJamesFinn.

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