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Girl Scouts Closing 5/9 Camps

Claiming young girls today have a declining interest in outdoor activities, the Girl Scouts of Western Pennsylvania is closing five of its nine outdoor adventure camps. In 2016, the GSWP spent $2 million to run the camps but earned only $600,000 from them. The GWSP includes 23,000 girls in 27 counties but only 13% of those actually attend the camps for weeklong stays.

"This trend has been going on for a while," says GSWP's Lisa Shade. "In 2007 there were 42,000 Girl Scouts. In 2010 it was down to 35,500. So our numbers have reduced by half in a decade."

The camps to be closed and sold off are Resting Waters, Singing Hills, Curry Creek, Elliott and Roy Weller. The Girl Scouts will keep Camp Redwing but discontinue its weeklong resident camp programs. Sky Meadow, Hawthorne Ridge and Conshatawba will remain fully operational.

Redwing has long been the favorite of Girl Scout Troops in the Western Hills, probably because it's the closest. Redwing is just outside Renfrew, a Butler County village about 40 minutes from Cory. Redwing was the first Girl Scout camp, opening in 1923 on 123 acres along Connoquenessing Creek. For 94 years, local girls have enjoyed Archery, Canoeing, Hiking, Swimming, Camping, Horseback Riding, arts and crafts on rainy days, and evening campfire programs. In the last few decades the camp has added climbing and a ropes course, shown at right. Redwing includes two heated lodges, a large dining hall, and an assortment of tents and yurts. Girls could either "camp" in the tents or a yurt or stay in one of the lodges or cabins.

Probably the most sophisticated camp is Sky Meadow, at Avonmore in Armstrong County, On 371 acres, it's totally devoted to Equestrian skills. There are horse barns and miles of riding trails. The girls learn every detail of caring for a horse, training it, saddling it, riding it, and all about horses : their history, biology, injuries and diseases. Sky Meadow will be kept open.

"We still have a lot of girls participating in outdoor activities," points out GSWP CEO Patricia Burkhart. "They just prefer to come out for a long day, or at most a weekend. Interest in staying for a whole week in the Summer has fallen off."

The girls themselves are not convinced. We talked to girls in several communities. Some are in troops right now, while others have dropped out.

"They say girls aren't interested in the outdoors anymore," says Iola Stevens of Moon Township. "Believe me, it's not the girls. I personally, and I know lots and lots of friends who feel the same way, would love to be in some program where we could do a lot of backpacking, skiing, whitewater rafting and big time rock climbing. But we can't find women to take us. It's the adults who don't have the interest. They think we want to sit around and do arts and crafts. They think a big outdoor activity is a Sunday afternoon three mile hike out at Raccoon State Park or Settlers Cabin. Those are fun for grade school kids. Middle school and high school kids want a real adventure." Stevens said she tried Girl Scouts for a while and dropped out. "It just wasn't challenging,:" she explained. "None of our leaders were willing to take us for a week or two to Redwing or any of the other camps. We'd have had 20 girls sign up on the spot if they'd offered."

Stevens and several of her friends said they envied other countries where Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts are combined. "When the guys and their Dads gt involved, you really get to go do stuff," said Ruthie Isbell of Robinson. "They go to camps way up in the mountains, and by the time they're in high school they're going to that camp way out West ."

The "camp way out West" is Philmont, the famous Boy Scout Camp in New Mexico where for a century experienced boys have gone for a week or 10 days of long distance wilderness trips. Girl Scout units have always been welcome at Philmont but two adults must bring them.

Several Girl Scout leaders we talked to admitted they couldn't take their girls as often or as far as they'd like. "But we have families," one pointed out. "We have jobs. We have our own kids. And a lot of the women leading Scout units are older. After you hit 50, hiking 10 miles with a 30 pound pack, sleeping on the ground, and setting up tents in the rain is not as appealing as it was when you were 28."

Troop sponsorship has also become a problem. Churches usually sponsor Scout troops. But fewer kids now go to church. So unless a friend recruits them, many kids now don't have the chance to join.

Coraopolis girls for several decades had their own lodge, built in the woods above the old Coraopolis Park, around the cliff edge from Wildcat Rock. Local troops could hold weeknight or weekend events there. But when they bulldozed off the top of the hill for the new Cornell School, both the lodge and Wildcat Rock were destroyed.

Coraopolis now has just one Girl Scout troop, at the Methodist Church.

The loss of Summer camp experiences is especially sad because other ways girls got outdoors are not as common. Family vacations are not the tradition they used to be. Development has gobbled up the nearby woods so kids can't find their own outdoor adventures near their homes. And schools don't take field trips like they once did. Professionals worry about this because a generation of kids with no familiarity with the outdoors will not plan trips to National Parks or vote for taxes to support them. Americans have always loved Nature, but we may be growing a generation cut off from it.

Lampreys Return To Lake Erie

Lamprey Eels, the scourge of sport fishing in the Great Lakes, are back. Coraopolis and Western Hills fishermen who love to fish at Presque Isle or other areas along Lake Erie are once again confronted with steep declines in their favorite fish, especially Lake Trout and Steelhead Trout.

Old timers remember when Lake Trout was the prime sport fish in Lake Erie. Fishermen from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia vacationed at Erie and spent two blissful weeks fishing for Lake Trout, the most aggressive fighter but also the best eating fish available. Then Lamprey Eels, which were not native to the Great Lakes, worked their way up from the ocean through the St. Lawrence River and Welland Canal and in a few short years decimated Lake Trout.

As seen in the photo at right, Lampreys possess an evil looking rotating disc of sharp teeth which allow them to attach to the side of a fish, bore a hole in it, and suck out its insides. The fish has no defense. Lake Trout were almost eradicated, and fishing for them died.

It took Icthyologists and Fisheries Biologists decades to figure out the key to Lampreys. They figured out that they spawn in the streams feeding into the Great Lakes. So they set about building barriers to keep the Lampreys from entering those streams. It took a while, but they finally reduced the Lamprey population so low the Eeels were no longer a threat. Lake Trout have staged a major comeback, and have been joined by a companion sport fish, the Steelhead Trout, seen at left. Steelhead are now considered the prime sport fish in Lake Erie, followed closely by Lake Trout. Coraopolis and Westerjn Hills fishermen once again vacation at Erie and many go up on weekends and go out on charter boats to fish for Steelhead. So both the commercial and sport fishing industries in Lake Erie are back in business.

Except those barriers after several decades have deteriorated to the point Lampreys can now circumvent them and spawn in the streams. In 2016 the number of Lampreys has exploded from 6000 to 24,000. And the Lake Trout and Steelhead are again in rapid decline.

Coraopolis and Western Hills fishermen who head for Erie every chance rhey get say this has been the worst season for Steelhead in decades. At least this time, the situation isn't hopeless. Icthyologists and Fisheries Biologists don't have to start researching from scratch. They know all about the Lampreys and how to stop them. They just need to rebuild their defenses.

Kevin Kayle, Supervisor of the Lake Erie Fisheries Research Unit, says "We have a brand new lampricide, TFP, which has been approved by the EPA. Lamprey eggs hatch into tiny fingerlings, which live in those side streams for a year before heading out into the open lake. TFP kills those fingerlings but doesn't hurt any other eggs, fingerlings or fish."

Furthermore, Fisheries Biologists have pinpointed the key spawning streams. "Big Creek, Cattaraugaus Creek, Conneaut Creek and the St. Clair River are the primary sources of young Lamprey," Kayle says. "We're targeting those streams with every weapon we have."

By Spring 2017, Kayle says, fishermen should see a resurgence in the Steelhead and Lake Trout populations.