By Roger McKinney
Area Girl Scouts have been selling cookies since 1946 to pay their way to Camp Mintahama every summer.
The board of directors of Girl Scouts of the Missouri Heartland is scheduled to vote Friday on whether to follow staff recommendations to sell the camp property and close the camp after the 2015 summer camping season.
The 180-acre camp, nine miles south of Joplin in Newton County, has served generations of girls. Some of them who talked with the Globe say their time at the camp influenced their adult lives and career decisions, and provided them with lifelong friends.
The camp has a 12-acre lake with an island and two floating docks. It has three cabins, plus screened cabins, platform tents and tree houses in the woods.
Mintahama is one of two resident camps on which the board will vote, with six properties total up for a decision. The other resident camp is the Latonka Program Center in Wayne County.
If Mintahama were to close, the nearest resident Girl Scout camp would be the Finbrooke Program Center at Rogersville in Christian County, more than 90 minutes away.
A volunteer property committee spent more than two years researching and gathering input from Girl Scouts, volunteers and others. Anne Soots, chief executive officer of Girls Scouts of the Missouri Heartland, said the recommendations are based on a decline in camp participation in recent years. Fewer than 5 percent of the membership attends resident camp, she said.
“When you look at participation numbers versus the cost of maintaining the properties, you have to determine how you allocate those dollars to best benefit all girls across our 68-county jurisdiction,” Soots said in a news release announcing the recommendation.
The news release says the properties also need major upgrades.
“With this much property, the council cannot afford to maintain every site as well as provide the infrastructure and amenity changes that girls and parents want,” Soots said.
Soots said by phone that she recognizes that closing Mintahama would cause heartache.
“There are so many memories attached to it,” she said. “It’s a very emotional issue.”
Since word went out last Tuesday, a group of Camp Mintahama supporters has mobilized to determine if there is a way to keep it open. Jessica Stoerger started the Save Camp Mintahama Facebook page, which had more than 700 “likes” on Friday. About 20 camp supporters met Thursday to strategize.
Stoerger said she went to Mintahama during several summers, beginning at age 7. After that, she worked several summers as a camp counselor. Now she leads a Girl Scout troop in Seneca.
A fisheries and wildlife biologist, Stoerger said her time at the camp helped her to solidify her career choice.
She said she fears that if the camp closes, Girl Scout membership in the area would decline, because camp is a major draw for girls.
“We are struggling in this area to keep membership up,” she said.
Cece McCully, 9, of Goodman, will be going to Camp Mintahama in a few weeks, her fourth summer at the camp.
View Camp Mintahama location in a larger map
“They have trails,” Cece said of one of the aspects she likes about camp. “It’s fun to go on the trails.”
She said she also likes the birdhouses.
“We camp in cabins or treehouses and do different activities like canoeing and swimming,” she said. “We go on nature hikes and do fun activities in nature.”
Cece said she was sad when she heard that the camp may close.
“In the summer, I get to see my friends and all the other Scouts I haven’t met before,” she said. “Everybody else can make friends also.”
Her mother, Roxcee McCully, a troop leader, said that if her daughter could spend her whole summer at camp, she probably would. She said it has taught her a degree of independence, responsibility and confidence.
She said many of the girls’ families have financial challenges, and driving to a more distant camp may be more than they can afford.
“I fear that a lot of girls in our troop won’t be able to go to camp” if Mintahama were to close, she said.
Jamie Rodriguez, a Joplin attorney, said she first went to the camp at age 7 in 1992 and continued every summer until 2000. In 2001, she trained to be a camp counselor and served in that capacity for several more summers.
She called herself a “girly-girl,” but said that as a young camper, she decided to take part in construction projects, in which she and other Scouts built a boat dock and a bridge.
“It was really empowering for girls,” she said.
She said she attended a camp reunion last year and keeps up with other people she met at Mintahama on Facebook.
Rodriguez said she also thinks that too many families wouldn’t be able to afford to go to a more distant camp.
“I think a lot of girls will lose the opportunity to go to camp at all,” she said.
Hailey Logan, 13, of Carl Junction, became emotional when describing her experiences at camp. She started going when she was 7. She said she enjoyed the time away from mobile phones and other distractions. She said she had hoped to be a counselor one day.
“Everything is going away now,” she said as the tears flowed.
Her mother, Jamie Keith, a troop leader in Carl Junction and a service unit leader for all the troops in Jasper County, comforted her daughter. Keith took part in Thursday’s strategy meeting. She said she thinks the board would be willing to listen to the group’s ideas.
The group had wanted to have a representative at Friday’s board meeting who could make the case for keeping the camp open, but the request was denied. Members of the group had discussed asking the board to delay its decision.
Ideas tossed out at the meeting included securing corporate sponsors or establishing an independent support group to subsidize the camp.
“We’re going to have to rely on our logic, because this is a business decision,” said Terry Berkstresser, a Mintahama supporter and former Girl Scout, at Thursday’s meeting.
She said that when she was a Girl Scout, the camp drove Scouting.
“I was a Girl Scout because I wanted to go to Camp Mintahama,” Berkstresser said.
ANNE SOOTS, CEO of Girl Scouts of the Missouri Heartland, invites written comments by email at firstname.lastname@example.org to be given to the board for consideration.