TRUMANSBURG, N.Y.—The future of Camp Barton, a boy scout camp along the western shore of Cayuga Lake, has begun to look more certain after a public meeting on Tuesday between officials from the New York State Office of Parks and the elected representatives of the Village of Trumansburg and the Towns of Ulysses and Covert.

The goal of the meeting, which was held at the Trumansburg Fire Hall, was to discuss the possibility of New York Parks purchasing Camp Barton from the Baden-Powell Council. The council has turned to selling the property in order to meet a $1.4M financial obligation to its national organization, the Boy Scouts of America, which is reaching a $2.7B settlement with tens of thousand of cases of sexual abuse cases that have been brought against it

The results of Tuesday’s conversation seems to indicate that the Town of Ulysses and the Village of Trumansburg are interested in becoming the stewards of Camp Barton, which means that they will begin the process of composing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with State Parks to “explore and develop an operating agreement.” 

About 35 people attended Tuesday’s meeting in person and 35 attended virtually.

Frontenac Falls at Camp Barton. Credit: Jimmy Jordan / The Ithaca Voice

This will begin at each of the municipal government’s respective board meetings in March. Once State Parks has an MOU in-hand, they can begin the acquisition process, which could take about 18 to 20 months. In the case that the Baden-Powell Council needs to come up with it’s financial obligation any sooner, State Parks is discussing a contingency plan with the Finger Lakes Land Trust, which would purchase and hold the property for State Parks until it is able to purchase it. 

The Town of Covert’s board expressed that it would like to see the land preserved but the Town of Covert’s Supervisor, Michael Reynolds, said on Tuesday, “that there would be no taxpayer dollars going into it from Covert.” 

Reynolds further added that it is simply a larger risk for the Covert due to the town’s tax revenues being smaller than that of Trumansburg and Ulysses.

The cost to acquire the Camp Barton property is not firm, but Tuesday’s discussion placed it somewhere north of $3M. Without State Parks involvement, or its deep pockets the chance at preserving Camp Barton would be zilch. The state’s attention was captured through the efforts of State Sen. Pamela Helming (R-Canandaigua) and Assemblymember Anna Kelles (D-Ithaca) lobbying for Hochul’s attention on the issue, and a concerted public push.

“We are in the catbird’s seat. The state is saying we will buy this for you,” said Ulysses Town Supervisor Katelin Olson. “This never happens. And they are making no more lakes and no more water front.”

The general worry has been that if Camp Barton were to be sold on the open market, a unique opportunity to preserve access to a natural area would be lost to some luxury lakeside development. The 138-acre property features the stunning Frontenac Falls, a rare strip of undeveloped lakeshore, and mature hardwood forests. The site is also the location of a unique gravel-aquifer, “a miracle of nature” as Trumansburg Mayor Rordan Hart called it, which is the source for 50% of Trumansburg’s water supply. 

But while State Parks says it is able to purchase the property, it also does not have the financial budget to operate it as a park.

Fred Bonn, the Finger Lakes Regional Director for New York State Parks said, “Operationally we’ve been flat funded, but for land acquisition we do have the financial resources.”

Fred Bonn, the Finger Lakes Regional Director for New York State Parks, leans onto a table as he discusses the possibility of his state office purchasing Camp Barton from the Baden-Powell Boy Scout Council (02/15/2022) Credit: Jimmy Jordan / The Ithaca Voice

The operational budget that State Parks estimated for running Camp Barton as a park is $325,000, a number which is based on the nearby Taughannock State Park operating budget. The Baden-Powell Council shared that the budget which they operated Camp Barton at in 2019 was about $200,000. They shared on Tuesday that they generated about $15,000 of profit in 2019.

For both the Town of Ulysses and the Village of Trumansburg, the opportunity to make a little extra dough is appealing, but the excitement for becoming stewards of Camp Barton mostly stemmed from the opportunity to open access to Cayuga Lake, 90% of which is privately owned, as well as making a space for youth activities.

Walter David Banfield, the Chair of the New York State Parks Finger Lakes Commission, said that there’s “really only one shot” at preserving the camp, which means a quick commitment from municipalities to manage.

“They’re not building any more lakefront,” said Banfield, a sentiment which had a strong resonance throughout the meeting. 

“We are in the catbird’s seat. The state is saying we will buy this for you,”  said Ulysses Town Supervisor Katelin Olson. “This never happens. And they are making no more lakes and no more water front.”

Camp Barton is in the Town of Covert, in Seneca County, which Olson said does make it seem odd that the Town of Ulysses would be managed as a state park. Trumansburg has an obvious interest in keeping its water supply secure, but Olson said that she’s heard a great deal of public interest in seeing the park preserved and sees it as a valuable resource for the larger informal Trumansburg Community.

Aside from developing the MOU, the work remaining is for Trumansburg and Ulysses to develop an operating agreement and a business plan for Camp Barton. The site could feature paddleboard rentals, campsites, or even a wedding venue but that will be up to the municipalities to decide.

“There is going to be very little that is going to be dictated on part of State parks,” Said Bonn, regarding how Camp Barton is operated.

Members of the Baden-Powell Council also chimed in during Tuesday’s meeting to note that they would still like to use Camp Barton for scouting activities, which they would pay to do so. With the cabins and mess hall that are already on the property, it would appear that scouting would be a built-in cash stream.

Mike Brown, the Taughannock district commissioner in the Baden-Powell Council, advertised that the scouts could even contribute to light maintenance if they were to continue to use the space, such as lawn mowing.

“Please factor in the volunteer labor that you will have in maintaining that property,” said Brown.

Brad Grainger, a board member and former president of the Baden-Powell Boy Scout Council, spoke stands as he spoke to State Parks officials and the elected representatives of the Village of Trumansburg and the Towns of Covert and Ulysses (02/15/2022) Credit: Jimmy Jordan / The Ithaca Voice

Brad Grainger, a board member and former president of the Baden-Powell Boy Scout Council, has been the main liaison between the boy scout council and the municipalities seeking to preserve Camp Barton.

He said on Tuesday that the scouts are willing to make some financial contributions in the interest of keeping Camp Barton a natural space.

The Baden-Powell Council did have to sell off a 41-acre parcel of land along NYS Route 89 in order to address an immediate portion of its financial obligation, which it announced in early February.

The looming possibility of the Baden-Powell Council doing the same with a parcel along Cayuga Lake, Grainger assured, is off the table so long as State Parks, Trumansburg, and Ulysses keep working towards an agreement.

“On the assumption we keep making progress, we will hold off on that,” said Grainger.

Jimmy Jordan

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