RURAL DONIPHAN — Thousands of scouts have attended camp at Camp Augustine since it was founded in 1945, but scout officials are making changes to help keep the camp open in the future.
Dave Plond, scout executive for the Overland Trails Council of Boy Scouts of America, said the camp has operated at a loss for years. Decreased scout enrollment and lower camp attendance have hurt the camp’s bottom line.
“Nationally, there hasn’t been a membership increase in 20 years,” he said in an interview last spring. “At the local level, we’ve had pockets of good increases but probably half of what we used to be.”
Another factor that has been limiting Camp Augustine’s use is competition. Plond explained that there are three similar camps in a three- to five-hour radius, offering more varied scenery than central Nebraska. When Camp Augustine was established in 1945 as a gift from the Augustine family of Grand Island, Plond said, Interstate 80 hadn’t been constructed.
“It becomes very difficult to attract kids to Camp Augustine in central Nebraska along the interstate,” he said.
Operating expenses run about $100,000 in the hole for Camp Augustine out of a total cost around $200,000. Those costs include the salary for the ranger overseeing the grounds, wages for summer camp staff, insurance and electric bills.
In 2017, officials were able to drop that deficit to about $80,000, but the continued losses have drawn the notice of national executives. Plond said representatives from the national Boy Scout organization are looking at three aspects of each council: Fiscal stability, camps and memberships.
Without sustained improvement, Plond said, national representatives will look at other ways to cut costs, such as merging councils or closing the camp.
Merging councils as a method of curbing costs is not new. Plond said the entire state of Michigan now is under one council. In the Chicago area, there used to be seven councils, which have all now merged into one.
Nor is it unique to Boy Scouts. Plond said other national organizations like the Girl Scouts and American Red Cross have consolidated councils.
“The bottom line through all of this is we have to do what’s best for the kids and the program,” he said.
Closing the camp would be a serious blow since having a camp in this area helps curb the travel costs associated with camping, enabling more scouts to attend. Plond said local leaders are focused on keeping the camp open for the foreseeable future.
“We’re trying to prevent that,” he said of a possible closure. “We’re fighting to keep this open. We came a long way last year, but we continue to need to improve it.”
To that end, local leaders have developed a three- to five-year plan to get the camp back on track. If the council is able to knock the deficit down about $20,000 each year, it will show the national executives that they are being good stewards and the camp should remain open.
Due to the competition from other camps, Plond said, Camp Augustine has kept prices low, but this year officials introduced a tiered cost plan.
Tier A represents the true cost of camp for a scout. Tier B is partially a subsidized rate, marking the halfway point between Tiers A and C. Tier C is a heavily subsidized rate meant to be competitive with other camps. Each tier receives the same benefits and opportunities during camp, but Plond said it’s a way for families who can afford to pay the entire cost of their scout’s camp experience to do so.
While Plond said they expect most campers to pay the Tier C rate, Tiers A and B were included in the list of prices as an option for families with the financial means to contribute more. He hopes the move also brings awareness to the true costs of camp and encourage families with the means to provide additional assistance to the council.
Besides the competition factor, Plond said, the main reason to not simply increase camp costs is to make sure local scouts have an option for attending camp. Camps are an essential element of the scouting program.
No matter what, Plond said, they don’t want to turn any scout away for not being able to afford the cost of camp. Scouts without the ability to pay for the cost of camp are encouraged to apply for camper-ships, which are like scholarships to help scouts get afford camp.
“We don’t want a kid not to come to camp because of cost,” he said.
Other ways in which the council seeks to improve the bottom line are additional donations, Friends of Scouting fundraising, and annual popcorn sales. Another item that could help would be an endowment. Plond said it would currently take about a $3 million endowment to generate $100,000 each year and keep the camp in the black.
“That would totally take care of our operating costs for camp,” he said.
Plond said he is confident that the efforts of area leaders and community supporters will help the local scout program maintain Camp Augustine for years to come.
“I’m feeling positive about where we’re going in the future,” he said.