CORDESVILLE -- Loretta Graham dares to hope that the Girl Scouts' Camp Low Country can be saved for future generations of girls.
Graham, chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of Eastern South Carolina, said the group decided last month to sell the picturesque, historic camp and almost all of its other property in the wake of severe financial problems.
But since the announcement, she has received many calls from people interested in the camp, which is now on the market for $7 million. Some want to buy it outright, others want to purchase it and possibly allow the Girls Scouts to use it, still others have talked about donations. She hasn't received any firm offers or commitments yet, but "the response has been overwhelming," she said.
And people who support the Girl Scouts or have fond memories from the camp are talking about raising awareness and money in hopes of saving it. Some volunteer leaders have even sent pleas of help to Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres.
Graham said the most important goal is to keep the organization afloat so it is available to future generations of girls. She likened putting the camp and other properties up for sale to a similar act by Girl Scout founder Juliette Gordon Low.
When the organization hit financial hard times in its early days, Low sold her pearls, which were a wedding gift from her husband, to keep it solvent, Graham said.
But saving Camp Low Country would take about $5 million, she said. The group needs more than $200,000 to pay for a house it built for a ranger; $800,000 to pay off a line of credit for operating money; and about $2.5 million for restoration work on the camp's five historic buildings. The group's national office also recommends it have a $1.3 million reserve fund in place, Graham said.
The group's financial problems escalated after a 2005 decision by the national organization to merge councils, Graham said. Two eastern South Carolina councils merged, she said. The move was supposed to save money, but it had the opposite effect. Legal and other merger fees were costly, and the new organization lost members. That meant fewer Girl Scouts were selling cookies and participating in other fundraising events.
But the outpouring of support for Camp Low Country, a 153-acre site on the Cooper River, has led her to believe that it just might be saved after all.
Donna Hollars, the mother of a Girl Scout and a troop leader from Mount Pleasant, hasn't been to the camp, but she's planning to go with her daughter soon. And she already knows she wants to help save it.
Hollars went to Girl Scout camp in Tennessee when she was a child. "It was a life-changing experience," she said. "I was a young girl very attached to my environment, but I had to learn to find safety elsewhere." She gained a great deal of confidence and strength from spending time in the woods at night, she said.
She's written to Oprah and DeGeneres asking for help, and said a lot of other volunteers have done the same. And she's brainstorming with other leaders on how they might raise money. She'll soon talk with the girls in her troop to see how they might want to help. "It's a grassroots effort," she said.
Charlie Smith, a real estate broker and owner of CSA Real Estate Services, said he's "spent my whole life working in (historic) preservation." And he wants the camp's historic structures, especially the large Richmond Plantation manor house, to be preserved. He's hoping to bring a buyer for the property that would allow the Girl Scouts to use it. But he thinks the $7 million price tag is too high. The camp is under a conservation easement, he said, and can't be more intensely developed.
"I would like to find a good marriage where the Girl Scouts can use the property at no cost to them," he said.
Graham said Camp Low Country, which the Girl Scouts have owned since 1963, is a beautiful piece of property and is loved by generations of women and girls. "It comes with a lot of emotions and a lot of attachments," she said.