TEXAS TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Members of the West Michigan scouting community said the future of the Rota-Kiwan Scout Reservation is still uncertain, though it might not be as bleak as previously thought.
The sentiment came after the Michigan Crossroads Council (MCC), a statewide council leading Michigan’s Boy Scouts of America, held a meeting to discuss the camp’s closure. Media was barred from attending the meeting, which was open only to the organization’s leaders, parents of scouts and donors.
Attendants of the meeting said the room where it took place was nearly at capacity as the MCC defended its decision to close Rota-Kiwan starting Jan. 1, 2020. The MCC said it plans to move both weekend and summer camp operations from the reservation primarily to Camp Teettonkah in Jackson, Mich.
Representatives of the MCC previously told Newschannel 3 that the decision to close the camp was not due to finances or attendance, but concerns over both factors were brought up at the meeting, according to attendants.
“To me, it seemed a lot of it was about money, even though they said it’s not,” said Nathan Banks, a parent of two scouts. “It was the first thing they started talking about. They didn’t seem to be talking about kids a whole lot, and I think that’s rather disappointing.”
Banks said the presentation given by MCC members stated attendance at the camp was not where it was expected to be, and that repairing buildings on the reservation would be a costly expenditure. He said people in the crowd claimed they’d been trying for years to get permission to have community members donate time and materials to make necessary repairs, but their efforts were denied by leadership.
“It’s circular logic here. They [the MCC] say they’re not going to invest in the camp because we don’t get enough people,” said Banks. “But we’re not going to get enough people if we don’t invest in the camp.”
Banks said the MCC’s presentation left many unanswered questions, like what the future of the reservation land looks like and if it's possible for the community to save it.
Chris Hopkins, MCC’s chief information officer, said the council had no plans in place to sell the reservation, and had not yet decided what to do with the property.
Melissa Stricherz, CEO of the organization’s Southern Shores Field Service Council, declined an interview with Newschannel 3 just prior to Wednesday’s meeting. Both her and Hopkins failed to respond to Newschannel 3’s requests for information following the meeting.
“They know when they’re closing the camp, but that’s all they seem to know,” said Banks.
Banks became emotional when explaining the passion his family has for Rota-Kiwan, recalling the years of memories he and his sons have spent on the property. He said he and others were frustrated with the way the announcement of the closure was handled.
“They feel like they’ve gotten the rug pulled out from under them, and rightly so. This just happened with hardly any notice at all,” Banks said.
But Banks and others say the door to save Rota-Kiwan might not be completely closed. Cub Master Elrico Hurley said the scouting community is eager to find opportunities to save the camp. He said that includes raising money to pay off the camp’s debts, as well as purchasing the property and running it on a local level.
“We got a little bit of hope tonight,” he said. “Hopefully we will be given the opportunity to fundraise, to friendraise, and to build our network to ensure that camp Rota-Kiwan stays camp Rota-Kiwan and doesn’t just turn into another memory.”
Hurley said there is a window of opportunity for the community to step-in, but said the details of what it would take to save the camp haven’t been provided by the MCC. He said Rota-Kiwa serves as one of the three oldest youth-serving camps in the community, and is just two years away from its 100th anniversary.
Bill Breyfogle has been part of the camp for about half that time, acting as its nature director. Decades before that, he attended the camp as a scout.
“The purpose of the scout program is to develop moral character, leadership and physical and mental fitness,” he said. “It’s the best program in the world.”
Breyfogle said the announcement of the camp’s closure hurt, but that he's optimistic it might not be the end-all of its existence.
“I think they [the MCC] listened to us, and I think we’ll have the opportunity to help solve the problem,” he said.
Life Scout Zach Zlomek, 17, said Rota-Kiwan is the place where “he got hooked on what it meant to be a scout.” He’s been visiting the camp since he was in first grade, and now serves as a lodge chief.
He called the potential closure of the camp an “incredible shame.”
“If it closes, of course scouting will continue to go on, but it will be impacted greatly in this area,” he said, noting that he too is encouraged the reservation can be saved.
“There’s a lot of people there that they really showed that they’re willing to do a lot for this camp. Even if we can’t do anything, I really learned a lot that our strength in the scouting community is phenomenal,” he said.
The scouting community plans to hold another meeting to discuss its next steps on Sunday, Nov. 3 2019. The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Portage United Church of Christ.