Former Woodstock camp sold as Boy Scouts settle sexual abuse claims
A 160-acre former Boy Scouts camp northwest of Woodstock was sold to a McHenry County foundation, just as the national youth organization faces bankruptcy and works to meet obligations in its $850 million legal settlement of sexual abuse claims.
The $928,000 purchase of the campsite by McHenry County Conservation Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the McHenry County Conservation District taxing body, will prevent any private development from occurring on the site, known as Camp Lakota at 2050 Deep Cut Road, and connect to another almost 2,000 acres of protected lands in the area.
The sale by the Arlington Heights-based Pathway to Adventure Council, a local branch of the Boy Scouts of America, closed as the national organization is completing a settlement reached with attorneys who represent tens of thousands of people who said they were sexually abused over many years.
The national organization is to contribute up to $250 million as part of the settlement, while its local councils are responsible for $500 million, plus $100 million from the Scouts' pension plan, which is overfunded, according to the Boy Scouts of America.
Camp Lakota had been for sale before the national organization's bankruptcy filing, the Pathway to Adventure Council said in a statement, and some proceeds from its sale will go toward a trust mean to compensate victims of sexual abuse.
"To ensure we are best positioned to continue serving youth, families, and communities for years to come, the Pathway to Adventure Council has explored ways to preserve assets critical to our mission while also compensating survivors by contributing to the trust as part of the national organization's bankruptcy process," the Pathway to Adventure Council said in the statement. "Importantly, our council's summer programming will continue as planned and will continue to deliver life-changing experiences to youth in our area well into the future."
The former camp, which stopped hosting Scouts in 2017, is recognized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as having high quality natural biological features, its wetlands in particular, according to a news release from the foundation.
When the decision to close the camp was made, it had been experiencing declining attendance and financial losses, the Daily Herald reported in 2015, and the Pathway to Adventure Council said at the time it wanted to devote more resources to Adventure Camp in Rochelle.
The site's habitats support endangered and threatened birds, including least bittern, common gallinule and yellow-headed blackbird, according to the release.
Individual donors to the foundation, with assistance from the Illinois Audubon Society and a grant of more than $500,000 from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, helped make the purchase possible.
"By working in partnership with the Illinois Audubon Society, the McHenry County Conservation District, private donors and the generous financial backing of the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, we are thrilled to be able to protect not only the environmental integrity of the site for the benefit of the local community, but also ensure so many Scouting memories are preserved as well," McHenry County Conservation Foundation Board President Brad Semel said in the release.
For now, the acreage will not be open to the public as structures -- including the bunkhouses, showers and other facilities -- get assessed for whether they can be reused, said Shawna Flavell, executive director of the McHenry County Conservation Foundation.
"Right now, it's closed to the public because there are buildings out there that need to be evaluated, and the site itself needs to be evaluated before we can open it up," Flavell said.
The site is also home to significant stands of remnant oak trees where woodland flowers like trout lily and shooting stars bloom each spring, according to the release, and its mix of woodland and wetlands make the property ideal for breeding populations of amphibians.
There also are numerous ponds that dry up in the summer on the site, that cannot host fish but make for healthy habitats of frogs and salamanders that need water to reproduce, lay eggs and grow from tadpoles.
The property will be transferred to the McHenry County Conservation District within five years. In the meantime, the McHenry County Conservation Foundation and the district will work together to restore the area.
One of the projects for the site involves removing invasive plant species from the oak woodlands surrounding the wetlands, according to the release.
"Removing invasive species will open the understory, creating more surface airflow and dry vegetation so to allow prescribed fire to positively impact the wetlands, which in turn will open them up and entice avian species to use them," the foundation said in the release. "Restoring this parcel greatly enhances its ecological value as a travel corridor and habitat for sensitive species for which large tracts of land are critical for survival."
The acreage also will serve as a recharge area for the county's groundwater resources, according to the release.