In the wake of a near-closing last year, Camp Sugarbush is alive and well and about to get a facelift.
"We're planning on modernizing," Gerard Kelly, regional manager at Girl Scouts of America, said. "Most of what we have dates back to the 1950s. In order to make sure we're upgrading everything and that we have the money for it, we have some other camps that we need to sell."
Originally, Camp Sugarbush was one of several northeast Ohio camps selected for closing, but that decision was rescinded.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Jennifer Shima
Girl Scout Cadet and Camp Sugarbush attendee Monica Doyle, 13, and Scout Senior and Camp Sugarbush attendee Karina Betts, 16, both of Austintown, are shown at the camp.
"They looked at where the camps are and they said that we really can't close Camp Sugarbush because the region goes from Ashtabula to East Liverpool in Columbiana County, so it's a pretty big area,'' Kelly said. ''The further people have to drive, the fewer people you're going to get.
"In order to step in the future, we conducted an online survey - getting the girls' input was critical," Kelly said. "Change is hard, it's very hard, but some changes have to be made."
The improvements that have been planned for Camp Sugarbush include showers, flushing toilets, maintenance on existing structures and the construction of a new program center.
"More girls will come because of the new amenities we're planning, and that's what it's all about," Kelly said. "We will still have more primitive camping areas. But if that doesn't appeal to you, we will be able to provide more bed space, more shower space, if they want that."
"I understand that Girl Scouts is trying to keep up," Hope Kaput, leader of Troop 77115, said. "But at the same time I think they need to look at their old traditions and keep the girls outside. These girls will eventually need to learn how to start a fire, how to survive outside.
''What if they're driving and they're teenagers and their car breaks down on a rural road? They need to have basic outdoor survival skills, and that's what they learn at camp that they don't learn at school,'' Kaput said.
"They'll still be having the camping experience," Kelly said. "You'll always have the hardcore girls that will just pitch a tent, but we want more girls to experience camping, even if it's more like camp Beverley Hills. The things they learn will stay the same. Outdoor education, learning about the environment "
Senior Girl Scout Karina Betts of Austintown said, "I worked there. I pretty much lived there from when I was 5, and I'm 16 now. It's not a sissy camp. If you want to learn outdoor stuff, you go there to learn it. They teach you a lot about survival, and it's really good for people."
Kelly said, "I don't think that camp modernization conflicts with learning self-sufficiency. The opportunities are still there, but the modernization will attract more girls who will then have the opportunity to go do the outdoor programs we have there and make new friends and learn about surviving outdoors. We see it as an answer, we're opening it up."
Like Camp Sugarbush, Girl Scouts of America is also changing to meet the needs of the modern girl.
"We have a new push called Forever Green," Kelly said. "You go online and sign a pledge saying that in your life you're going to make decisions that are going to help the planet. For instance, you are going to recycle. It's a new mission, it began in October of 2011. It's a big change. But Girl Scouting has changed a great deal anyway.
"We're engaging girls in a way that fits their lifestyle instead of forcing them to do things our way. They're beta testing a Facebook-like program for the Scouts only, through Girl Scouts of America so that they can communicate with other girls in a forum that's familiar to them."
Through this and similar online programs, it's possible for girls to become Scouts without joining a troop, making camp interactions more important than ever.
The mission of Girls Scouts is "build girls of courage, confidence and character to make the world a better place," Kelly said. "Girl Scouts has always been about empowering women and girls, always. We want girls to know that they can do anything that they want, and we need to work with them to identify and overcome barriers."
One of the ways Kelly hopes girls will feel empowered is by engaging them in the sciences. According to the American Association of University Women, careers in science continue to be held largely by men.
"We want more girls to get into the sciences if they're interested," Kelly said. "A professor in the archeology department at Youngstown State held a class for the girls on campus, and then we went out to Camp Sugarbush and we did a dig, and they actually found an arrowhead. Camp provides an opportunity for programs like that."