Furnace Hills Camp may stay closed

By on August 17, 2017

By Marylouise Sholly

The Furnace Hills Girl Scout Camp faces an uncertain future after being heavily damaged by the wind storm that blew through northern Lancaster County last February.

Located in West Cocalico and Clay townships, the 325-acre camp has been a staple of Girl Scout retreats, camping, and education since 1947.

But since the straight line wind storm that occurred on Feb. 25, bringing gusts of 75 to 90 mph, it’s up in the air whether the camp will see it’s 71st anniversary.

A 2008 flag ceremony at the Girl Scouts’ Camp Furnace Hills in northern Lancaster County. The 320-acre camp, which began in 1947, may be sold.

Estimate of damage reached about half a million dollars, according to Ellen Kyzer, CEO of Girl Scouts in the Heart of PA, a branch of the national Scouting organization that covers 30 Commonwealth counties.

The Foxfire Barn, a 550 square feet wooden structure, took the brunt of the storm and was totally demolished, Kyzer said.

“The barn was used for learning programs; it’s not where girls would sleep or stay,” Kyzer said.

The name Furnace Hills comes from an 18th century furnace in the area, when the prestigious Coleman family owned the land.

The camp’s 19th century bank house, known as the Foxfire House, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and was not damaged.

A squirrel-tail oven from the period, by the side of the Foxfire House, remained undamaged, although a storage barn was also destroyed.

Three Girl Scouts, ages 13 and 14, and two leaders were at the Furnace Hills camp when the storm occurred, but no one was injured, Kyzer said.

“They were able to take shelter in a building in the lower camp,” Kyzer said. “The storm was very fast-moving and we hadn’t been anticipating it.”

The camp is divided into an upper and lower portion and it was the upper half of the camp that sustained the most damage.

Findings from the insurance company were complex, Kyzer said, running the gamut from destroyed buildings to some that could be repaired.

The outcome of the insurance report is that no one is currently allowed on the property, due to the hazard of damaged structures and unstable trees.

“The camp is not open to anyone now,” Kyzer said.

Girl Scouts gather at Camp Furnace Hills, local Girl Scouts’ main camping experience since 1947.

Nearly a year ago, before the wind storm, the Board of Directors of Girl Scouts in the Heart of PA created a long-range property and planning committee to compile a strategic plan for the future, Kyzer said.

Camp Furnace Hills was one of seven properties undergoing the strategic review, she said.

“The Board of Directors will be making a decision about Camp Furnace Hills in late August,” Kyzer said. “All of our camps and outdoor programs are under this strategic review process.”

This past spring and summer, day camps for girls were moved to the J. Edward Mack Scout Reservation, a Boy Scout camp just west of Brickerville.

Other local camps also served as substitutes for Furnace Hills programs during the past several months.

For now, the GSHPA is looking at various partnerships as part of their long-range planning process, said Veronica Longenecker, chair of the GSHPA Board of Directors.

“We’re looking at Refreshing Mountain, for example, but what type of partnerships, we’re not sure at this point and we don’t have anything aligned,” Longenecker said.

Currently, clean-up continues at the camp, Longenecker said.

Hundreds of trees were uprooted, with many trees falling to the domino effect. Others remain uprooted, but leaning against other trees, creating a hazard.

“The camp is up on a ridge and the storm came down and went right through the camp,” Longenecker said.

Insurance is helping to pay some of the clean-up costs and the scouting organization is working with a timber company to sell some of the wood, she said.

“We’re trying to make the best of a bad situation,” Longenecker said.

Looking to the future, the GSHPA had a website open for a time to gain feedback about the camp.

“We’re looking at financial implications and we’re looking at a lot of different data,” Longenecker said. “For now, safety is our main concern. We want to get the camp back to a safe place.”

While Girl Scouts have first preference for use of the camp, Furnace Hills is a year-round camp that’s rented to outside groups, too.

Total occupancy for the camp is 287 in summer, and 113 in winter.

The scouting organization is poised to keep itself current and relevant to the population it serves, Kyzer said.

A new set of badges for Girl Scouts USA were recently launched, Kyser said, including engineering, science and technology badges.

“Over the past few months, we’ve done focus groups, talking to girls, asking how they feel about the outdoor experience, and their interests,” Kyzer said. “We’re interested in the girls’ voice; that’s who we’re here to serve and they’re telling us what they want.”

Early in 2017, the Girl Scouts organization starting using a mobile STEM lab to introduce more Scouts to science and technology.

“We want to know what they’re looking to learn,” Kyzer said. “We want to know what STEM education really means to them. Do they want to just walk in the creek or do they want to take water samples, too? Knowing that helps to form our thinking.”

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