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Famed golf course developer wants to build on Boy Scouts' oceanfront site between two camps.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: ALVARO FONTAN - Aerial photo shows Boy Scout camps Meriwether and Lewis, with surplus land between the camps slated for possible golf course. Cape Lookout State Park is to the north.
Boy Scouts have long operated with a “Leave No Trace” mantra, but critics say plans to turn a scenic stretch of the Oregon Coast into a golf course violate that ethic.

The Portland-based Cascade Pacific Council of Boy Scouts is seriously considering Mike Keiser’s proposal to turn 200 acres of oceanfront property sandwiched between two beloved Boy Scout camps in Tillamook County into an 18-hole, links-style golf course.

The concept calls for developing about a quarter of the council’s 800-acre property, including two miles of beachfront below Cape Lookout State Park and north of Sand Lake.

Keiser, who owns the world-renowned Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Coos County, proposes building the course on densely forested land between Camp Clark and Camp Meriwether.

No letter of intent or lease agreement has been signed yet, and council leaders say camps Meriwether and Clark will remain open if an agreement is sealed.

It’s the first time the council has seriously considered a development proposal for the property, because this one calls for a 50-year lease instead of selling the property, Council CEO Matthew Devore wrote in emailed comments to Sustainable Life.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: ALVARO FONTAN - Sign on Boy Scouts oceanfront property south of Cape Lookout reminds scouters that their peers replanted the forest about 64 years ago.

Some Scouts, environmentalists opposed

At least two groups — the Oregon Coast Alliance and the Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition — as well as some within the Scouting community, oppose the golf course development.

A Facebook page called “Save Camp Meriwether” drew more than 700 likes, and an online petition requesting the council withdraw the development proposal has more than 4,000 signatures.

“A golf course in this beautiful region would disrupt and forever change not only the Camp Meriwether property, but also the coastal experience for hundreds of thousands of visitors,” wrote Cameron La Follette, executive director of the Oregon Coast Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting coastal natural resources, in a letter to the Boy Scouts of America.

“This development would be terrible for the coastal environment, the stretch of beach between Cape Lookout and Sand Lake, and is not in the best long-term interests of the Scouts,” said Jonathan Linch, an Eagle Scout whose family volunteered for many years as Camp Masters at Meriwether. “It seems to go against the Scouts' own ideals of environmental conservation," Linch said. "It doesn’t feel like a good fit for the Boy Scout program.”

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: ALVARO FONTAN  - Aerial photo shows Boy Scout camp facilities on the Oregon Coast. The Scouts are contemplating a long-term lease of some of their land for an oceanfront golf course, just south of Cape Lookout.

Being conservation minded?

Scouts have long preached “Leave No Trace” to describe how they leave campsites pristine. As part of the organization’s mission to foster a deep respect for nature and reduce environmental impact, Scouts also pledge to “Be Conservation Minded.”

Even a links-style course — which is built on sand and uses fescue grass compared with typical commercial courses built on soil that use manicured lawns — is not healthy for the environment, said Doug Myers, an assistant scoutmaster and former Camp Meriwether counselor whose family has camped there since it opened in 1926.

Building a links-style course would require removal of the coastal forest now there, as well as the underlying soil that would support regrowth if, 50 years from now, the Scouts don't renew the lease. “These are not natural sand dunes,” Myers said. “It’s just going to make barren ground visible from Cape Lookout State Park.”

In a February podcast, volunteer Council President Rob Cornilles admitted that, at first glance, leasing the property might seem like an extreme measure.

“As Scouters, of course, we believe we are the premier environmentalists because of how we treat and how we hold dear the land that we use,” Cornilles said.

But the golf course, called the Chamberlain Project, could address how the organization sustains itself and grows, “not only for today’s kids but for the kids who aren’t even born yet,” Cornilles said. “We have a responsibility to constantly look outside ourselves and look outside the box. … And certainly in the area of fundraising, we have to think different in the future. It is getting more and more difficult for every nonprofit to raise funds, and we have to stand out.”

Ninety-year history

COURTESY PHOTO  - Ezra Chamberlain, the original white homesteader of the Meriwether Camp property.Camp Meriwether is the council’s most used and oldest summer camp, dating back to 1926. That’s when the Boy Scouts purchased it from the Chamberlain family of homesteaders, some of whom are buried on the property.

Today, the council serves 18 counties throughout Oregon and southwest Washington. Last year, nearly 21,500 youth and 1,200 Scouting groups were served through the council, which boasts 11,000 volunteers.

The council also owns and leases about 20 camping areas, totaling 2,800 acres. A 2014 long-range property plan determined that all of the properties had “significant deferred maintenance needs,” and listed more than $40 million in projects. However, that includes wish-list items like expanded facilities and programs.

In short, the plan concluded the council has more properties than it can afford and should explore “revenue-generating opportunities for and involving current properties,” according to a council Q&A on the Chamberlain Project. “The possibility of developing this unutilized but valuable property aligns with that board-approved recommendation.”

Council leadership believes the proposed golf course could generate enough money to improve camps Clark and Meriwether, plus all of the council’s other properties. Although there is no camping on the 200 acres in question, it does have structures like staff housing that the developer would need to rebuild as part of the lease agreement.

Keiser, whose father was an Eagle Scout, also has suggested incorporating Scouting into the golf course, possibly in its name. This could create a marketing and merchandising partnership, as well as other revenue opportunities.

More bad publicity?

The national organization has garnered headlines in recent years over its decades-long stance to ban gay members and leaders — bans that finally were lifted in 2013 and 2015.

Sex abuse lawsuits filed by former Scouts, including local cases in Multnomah County, also have made international headlines.

Some in the Scouting community fear a golf course could further damage the Boy Scouts’ image.

Nationally, membership has seen a decade-long nosedive, although last year the local council saw membership increase, Devore said.

Boy Scout and Girl Scout camps are being sold across the country. Locally, the Cascade Pacific Council is selling its 122-acre camp on Scouters Mountain near Happy Valley, in Clackamas County, to a housing developer.

“There are already enough recent events that damaged the Scouting brand,” Linch said. “So why make one more high-profile decision that puts local Scouting in a negative light?”

He would rather see the council start an open and collaborative discussion of specific financial needs with members and donors, and then launch a capital campaign to fund deferred maintenance, instead of new multimillion-dollar buildings. “I support the Scouts and want them to be prosperous,” Linch said. “I just think this idea is terrible.”

Council leaders, however, don’t seem deterred by such opposition. The development may take four to six years to materialize, but leaders hope to have a letter of intent signed in the near future and are working through attorneys to finalize the deal, Devore said.

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