Friends of Eagle Island announced today that it has filed suit against Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey in the New York State Court, Franklin County.
Friends is a not-for-profit group with the goal "to save, protect, and perpetuate the intended use of Eagle Island."
Eagle Island is a National Historic Landmark Great Camp on Upper Saranac Lake that was a summer home to generations of Girl Scouts from Essex and Union counties in New Jersey — and in some towns beyond. The camp was designed by noted Adirondack architect William L. Coulter.
Henry Graves, Jr., a New Jersey industrialist, and his wife Florence, donated Eagle Island to the Girl Scouts of the Oranges, N.J., in 1937 in memory of their two sons, with the intent that it be maintained and used in perpetuity as a recreation camp for girls and young women.
Eagle Island operated as a summer camp until 2009 when the GSHNJ closed it. Representatives of the Girl Scouts Heart of NJ have said that the camp became too expensive to maintain and was too distant from the troops it served.
Patch is reaching out to GSHNJ for a response to the suit. Here is an excerpt of today's release from Friends of Eagle Island:
Since July 2011, GSHNJ has been attempting to sell it without any use restrictions.
“Friends of Eagle Island has filed this suit not only on its own behalf but on behalf of the many girls and young women who stand to benefit from the same skills and confidence-building acquired by past campers over 70 summers,” said Dorcas R. Hardy, President of FEI.
“After several years of trying to work with GSHNJ on a solution for keeping the camp operational,” she added, “it is clear that GSHNJ’s primary objectives are not about preserving a unique and historic piece of America, championing young people’s relationship to nature, and providing America’s future leaders with opportunities for high adventure.”
FEI maintains that the proposed sale is inconsistent with the donors’ intentions, and selling it without a restriction that it be used as a recreation camp for young people is in direct violation of the charitable trust created in 1937, the year of the donation. FEI’s offer to purchase the camp for $1 million was rejected by GSHNJ. According to statements made by the GSHNJ CEO, the Girl Scouts are seeking to maximize the proceeds they receive for the property, currently listed at $3.25 million, and have earmarked the proceeds for corporate employee benefits.
The suit maintains that the Girl Scouts accepted the gift in 1937, fully understanding the donors’ intent. The Girl Scouts operated the camp for that purpose until GSHNJ, formed in 2008 by the merger of three existing Councils, failed to honor that obligation.
Henry Dickson (“Buz”) Graves, great-grandson of Henry Graves, Jr., and an FEI board member, said: “My great-grandparents gifted this island in memory of my grandfather and his brother with the intent that it serve as a place for children and young women to learn, grow, and experience the outdoors in a unique, historic Great Camp setting. It was entrusted to the Girl Scouts with the caveat that they would honor this purpose and not sell the beloved island to turn a profit.”
Plaintiffs include former and current campers who have donated time, money, and efforts to operate and maintain Eagle Island, based on the understanding and affirmative representations by GSHNJ that Eagle Island would continue to remain a recreation camp for girls.
In addition to ensuring the continued use of Eagle Island as a recreation camp for young people, FEI seeks to preserve the unique character of the 32-acre island and its historic structures, which resulted in its designation as a National Historic Landmark, as well as continue the role Eagle Island has served in the Adirondack community as a beacon of nature and adventure. While a private purchaser would have no obligation to protect those features, FEI wants to ensure that the future use preserves the historic value of the camp and remains in harmony with the Upper Saranac Lake community.
Friends of Eagle Island is represented by Ronald Briggs of Briggs Norfolk, LLC, Lake Placid, New York, and by Post, Polak, Goodsell, MacNeill & Straucher, P.A., Roseland, New Jersey.