ITHACA, N.Y.—Local municipalities and lawmakers in the Finger Lakes are banding together and requesting assistance from New York State to preserve Camp Barton, a 138-acre Boy Scout camp along the western shore of Cayuga Lake. It encompasses the outlet of Trumansburg Creek, lake shore, mature hardwood forests, and Frontenac Falls. 

The property is owned by the Baden-Powell Boy Scout Council, and has been effectively preserved for almost 100 years under the council’s stewardship. But it’s also one of the few assets that the regional council has that could help it pony up a $1.4M contribution to the $850M settlement that the Boy Scouts of America reached with tens of thousands of people who claim they were sexually abused by scout leaders and members of the national organization.

“Our share is $1.4M on a $1.1M budget,” said Brad Grainger, a board member, former president of the Baden-Powell Boy Scout Council, and an Ithaca area resident. Grainger has been one of the primary points of contact between the Baden-Powell Council and the municipalities seeking to preserve Camp Barton as a natural resource, which includes the Village of Trumansburg and the Town of Ulysses in Tompkins County; and the Town of Covert in Seneca County, where the camp is located.

Grainger said that the Baden-Powell Council needs cash soon to cover what they’re obligated to deliver to the Boy Scouts of America. However, he said that the regional council is sympathetic to the desire of surrounding municipalities to see the property preserved.

“I would say we’re more than sympathetic,” said Grainger. “I would definitely want to see that happen.”

The Village of Trumansburg’s Mayor, Rordan Hart, said that the total value of Camp Barton’s property is likely somewhere between three and four million dollars, putting it far outside the buying power of Covert, Ulysses, and Trumansburg. That’s why they’re lobbying for the attention of Governor Kathy Hochul.

A petition urging Hochul to protect Camp Barton has accumulated over 3,300 signatures. Tompkins County Legislator Anne Koreman has vocalized her support for the effort. New York State Assemblymember Anna Kelles and Senator Pamela Helming wrote a joint letter to Hochul, asking her to direct funds to preserve the “environmentally valuable property” and allow it to be managed for public benefit. 

The Finger Lakes Land Trust has also been closely involved in the effort. The organization was able to attract Hochul’s attention to obtain and preserve the Bell Station property along the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake.

With the stated cooperation of all parties involved, it would seem that protecting Camp Barton would be a slam-dunk. However, how much of the 138-acre property ends up being preserved will depend on how soon New York State gets involved, if it does. 

To cover its dues with the Boy Scouts of American, the Baden-Powell Council is considering selling the most valuable parcels within the property: the one that abuts New York State Route 89, and one of the scarce remaining undeveloped parcels of land along the shore of Cayuga Lake. Both parcels are between 40 and 50 acres when combined.

Concern abounds that if the land is developed along the shoreline, it may impact the surrounding ecology. Covert does not have public sewer and water services, which would mean septic systems would need to be installed. The property also includes a gravel aquifer that Trumansburg sources about 50% of the water used in its Public Water System. Although the village’s use of the aquifer is protected by an easement, Hart said, “Hey, we’ve seen developers take municipalities to court to try to break 50-year-old easements before. So, it would be nice to avoid that potential headache.”

Hart said, “À la the Bell Station property a few months ago — if we get enough real constituent interest to capture the Governor’s attention, then maybe we can make something happen in a short timeframe.” 

What the three municipalities are hoping for is that New York State will buy the whole property, but would contract with local governments to manage the land as a park. The approach would save the state the annual costs of management, and the idea has precedents with Camp Beachwood in the Town of Sodus, and Camp Onanda in the Town of Canandaigua. 

If things work out as hoped, Ulysses and Trumansburg have an already existing “recreational partnership” that Covert would be folded into to manage Camp Barton. Grainger said that the Baden-Powell Council would like to maintain access to the location, and even consider participating in a management agreement with the surrounding municipalities.

Grainger declined to comment on how soon Baden-Powell Council would need confirmation of the state’s involvement before being forced to go ahead with selling the most valuable portions of the Camp Barton property, saying he would rather not negotiate through the media.

“We have a financial obligation larger than our annual budget,” said Grainger, “and the state is a large ponderous bureaucracy. […] At the moment, we have not listed the property for sale, but we can’t wait forever.”

Jimmy Jordan

Jimmy Jordan is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn