The following article was originally published in the Statesman Journal (http://www.statesmanjournal.com/article/20130803/NEWS/308030035/Local-Camp-Fire-chapter-closes) in August 2013.
Local Camp Fire chapter closes
Move affects children in six local counties
FILE – Campers at Camp Kilowan cook hot dogs over a campfire in 1998. The camp was operated in Polk County by the Willamette Council of Camp Fire Boys and Girls. After almost 70 years, Camp Fire USA Willamette Council has closed. / Copyright 1998 Salem Statesman Journal
After almost seven decades, the Camp Fire USA Willamette Council has closed.
The official end was Wednesday, said Sandra Florip, the council’s executive director.
Formed in 1944, the Willamette Council was part of the National Camp Fire group, which was founded in 1910 as Campfire Girls.
The group became a co-educational program in 1980 and was known as Campfire Boys and Girls. The name changed again in 2001 to Campfire USA. The national group continues operating.
The Willamette Council’s area included Marion, Polk, Linn, Benton, Lincoln and Yamhill counties, and in the past year 7,789 youth participated in council programs, down from 8,623 participants the previous year.
“Over the last nearly 14 years the Willamette Council served over 100,000 youth in our programs,” said Florip, who itemized the services as resident and day camp, camp rental groups, clubs, and after-school enrichment programs.
She said at the time of the council closure, no children were directly involved.
“We closed down programs prior to closing the offices, so there are no current youth involved in programs,” Florip said. “They ran during the school calendar year.”
Reasons cited for the local chapter’s closure boil down to finances.
“Willamette Council was closed due to the downturn in the economic support of the council,” said Danny Bisgaard, former chair of the Willamette Council board.
Florip said much of the council’s focus was centered on after-school enrichment programs in places such as local schools, YMCAs, libraries and the Boys & Girls Clubs.
Those included full kitchen and no-cook cooking classes, community gardens, mousetrap race cars, simple science, charcoal and watercolor art, arts and crafts, beading, jewelry making and babysitting courses.
Florip said the council felt the same pinch that other nonprofits have over the past decade. She noted that at one time it had a staff of 18. That count was down to three at the time of its closure.
“Many smaller nonprofits were hit hard after 9/11, as funding priorities were adjusted,” she said.
She also noted that competition for children’s activities is pretty strong around Marion and Polk counties, the core of the Willamette Council’s service area.
Willamette Council also owned Camp Kilowan near Falls City, which was recently sold to another, undisclosed nonprofit group with residual proceeds going to National Camp Fire in Kansas City.
jmuch@StatesmanJournal.com or (503) 399-6736, cell (503) 508-8157 or follow at twitter.com/justinmuch