November 30, 2018 

Dear Council Leaders, Volunteers and Families, 

A bedrock principal in the world of Scouting has always been to “ leave your campsite better than you found it.” I believe this can be applied to all aspects of our lives and our movement. When we as a unit, district, or council are presented with a challenge, it is important we keep this goal in mind while working towards a resolution. In the interest of total transparency with our members, I feel it is important to provide you with detailed information on the condition of our council camping program. This should help you understand why certain decisions are being made. 

In 2018, we announced important decisions made regarding our camping programs. These decisions were made partially for financial reasons, with primary focus on strengthening the future of our camping programs. Our final goal is to develop Bay-Lakes Council camps into the preferred upper Midwest Scout camp experience destination. The first step in this process includes the Growing Future Leaders initiative and program location changes. 

Entering the 2019 camping season, we have more decisions to make and have worked as a Council Program team to continue the journey to “ leave our campsite better than we found it”. Most councils in the BSA operate one or two camp properties. We are unique, because we operate four major camp properties ‑‑ which presents both an advantage and a challenge. In recent years, we have experienced financial challenges due to rising food costs, program expenses, camp staff salaries and facilities maintenance. Previously, we have increased camp fees minimally, operating with the strategy that larger volumes of camp attendees would make up for tight budgets. Historically, this strategy has worked effectively and has allowed us to keep individual fees as low as possible while providing top-notch program experiences at all our camps. However, in 2018 we missed the mark. 

Camp attendance this year was lower than expected, contributing to a $150,000 deficit in our camp operating budget. As a non-profit organization, our goal is not to make a profit. However, we cannot sustain our programs if we continue to run our budget in deficit. We have witnessed councils around the country running their camp budgets in deficit for several years, only to put themselves in a position where their only option was to divest all their camp properties in order to remain solvent. The Bay-Lakes Council’s professional and volunteer leaders will not allow this to happen. We expect most of our camp program costs to rise again in 2019, so we need to take swift action to increase revenue and decrease expenses to ensure we continue providing the outstanding camp experiences Bay-Lakes Campers expect. 

To help us to balance our 2019 Summer Camp program budgets, we have sought counsel and insight from food industry leaders on how to reduce food costs. We have gone out for bid to multiple food service providers so we can provide the highest quality camp food service available, while being good stewards of the costs involved. By relocating our Webelos summer camp program to Camp Gardner Dam coupled with the consolidation of Scouts BSA summer residence camp to Camp Bear Paw, we have effectively reduced from 5 summer camp programs to 4. These changes will only get us partially to the goal of running a financially sustainable summer camp program, therefore, we will be making some increases in the cost of attending our summer camp programming in 2019. I want every member of our Scouting family to understand the immense amount of effort and thought that went into each of these decisions. On behalf of the Bay-Lakes Council, we thank you in advance for your understanding, support, and commitment to Scouting. 

We have done a great deal of due diligence to make these decisions and did not base them 100% on revenue, but also on what we felt was most fair to the families attending our camps. Additional items to note:

  • Some out-of-council camps, especially at the Scouts BSA level, appear to have lower camp attendance fees. Please recognize that some of these camps charge additional fees to participate in certain programming. Bay-Lakes Council includes some of the extra programming fees as a part of the attendance fee. For example: Supplies for the archery merit badge are included as part of the regular camp fee. If you review these carefully, you will likely find that costs at out-of-council camps come in level or sometimes higher than the fees at Bay-Lakes Council’s camps.
  • We realize that receiving camp cost information at the end of the year (after most fundraising is completed) can put a strain on units. In 2018 I expressed that it was my goal to release camp costs earlier in the year. Although we did not attain it this year due to the extensive analysis involved, we are still committed to that goal and will make every effort possible to meet it when setting fees for the 2020 camping season.
  • If a youth is unable to attend camp due to financial hardship, camperships are available through the Council. We do our best to offset costs based on individual need. Campership applications are available in the online summer camp reservation system for each camp.

As you can see, some very important decisions needed to be made and it was important that we found a way to balance the budget and to make sure our program costs were not prohibitive to people attending camp. We believe we have achieved this goal and have made, and will continue to make, great steps toward “ leaving our campsite better than we found it”. As always, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to me via e-mail at May God bless all of our Scouting Family this holiday season and I hope to see you all at your camps next summer! 

Yours In Scouting,

Brendan Marston
Vice President-Program
Bay-Lakes Council, BSA