Outdoor Program and Property Assessment
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Open For Business Aug. 5, 2013: New GSNorCal Headquarters Location at Harbor Bay, Alameda
As reported to members in January 2013, Girl Scouts of Northern California’s Board of Directors approved a 10-year lease at 1650 Harbor Bay Parkway in Alameda, CA, replacing the existing Oakland office lease at 7700 Edgewater Drive, Oakland, which expired in May 2013.
January 2013 was a good time to sign a new lease! Our new Alameda office will be in a well-maintained building with an efficient ground-floor suite for our work, collaboration, retail shop and heritage museum.
We hope you can join us at our Member Open House, Saturday, Sept. 7, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m., where you can see the new building, participate in hands-on activity booths, get special discounts in our retail store, and much more!
Directions to Alameda Office
Here are directions to our Alameda Office at 1650 Harbor Bay Parkway, Suite 100, Alameda, CA 94502. (Note: we’ve been loading and unloading camp buses from here all summer, so we know these directions work!)
From 880, the distance to the office and shop is 4.3 miles. Take Exit 35 for 98th Avenue toward the Oakland Airport. Stay to the right and take the Ron Cowan Parkway ramp. Merge onto Ron Cowan Parkway. Follow Ron Cowan Parkway until you reach Harbor Bay Parkway. Go straight ahead and stay to your left. Do not turn right when you see the Harbor Bay Parkway sign. 1650 Harbor Bay Parkway is on the left after Abbot Labs. Look for the Hampton Inn. Turn left into the parking lot. The office and shop are facing Harbor Bay Parkway. Click here to learn more here about Harbor Bay, Alameda.
Camp Property Plan Progress Report, October 2012
Last fall the Board Property Task Group developed, with your input at town hall meetings and via email and letters, a draft plan to help us save our camp properties. The Board adopted the plan at its November 2011 meeting. This one year update reports on our progress and the work ahead. In summary, we are making progress. Summer 2012 was a record year for attendance at both council-run and volunteer-run camps, and we were able to reduce annual losses on camp property operations by about $280,000. During 2013 and beyond, we are taking action to achieve a further $220,000 in annual savings.
Our Challenge. Girl Scouts of Northern California spends about $2.1 million each year to operate and maintain 29 Girl Scouts of Northern California properties which include 6 offices, 2 service centers, 8 program centers, and 13 camp properties and outdoor program centers. This is more than we can afford. To maintain a balanced budget, we need to reduce this annual loss by $500,000 on a recurring basis, through a combination of revenue growth, cost reductions, and donations of time, materials and dollars.
Our Property Plan. The Board Property Task Group, formed in April 2008, learned about the properties through property tours, member surveys, girl focus groups, Annual Meeting discussions, evaluations of financial and user data, a camp architect’s report on our resident camps, town hall meetings and a hard look at our council’s financial realities and forecasts. We also took action on Member recommendations, including hiring a Director of Property Development during 2011, to improve marketing and information about our sites, and increase use and rentals of Girl Scout camp properties by Girl Scout members and other non-profits. This gave us an opportunity to “test the market” to see what opportunities there are to increase use and rentals of our properties and to better understand what improvements might be needed to help us increase rentals. Based on this work, the Task Group recommended that GSNorCal use a phased approach to improve the economics of our camps and outdoor program centers, with no planned property sales. Our focus is on saving -- not selling. We hope that by reducing losses on camp property operations, we will be able to save all of our camps and outdoor program centers. The first phase focuses on improving the economics of six Tier 1 and Tier 2 camps.
Tier 1 Camp Properties (Bothin, Butano and Skylark Ranch): These are the most used and most expensive camps to operate and also are the properties from which we are most likely to be able to generate significant additional revenue.
Tier 2 Camp Properties (Sugar Pine, Twin Canyon and Two Sentinels): These are the camp properties where we are most likely to be able to achieve break-even operations.
2012 Progress Report
We made good progress during year one of the Property Plan and are on track to build on that progress during FY2013. The five activities summarized below, reduced our annual losses by about $280,000 on a recurring basis, and there is still room to do better, especially in rentals, donations and work parties.
Property Reserve Portfolio: $114,000. In March, 2012, we announced transactions called “conservation easements” on Butano Creek and Skylark Ranch. Sempervirens Fund, a conservation organization, paid Girl Scouts of Northern California $2.86 million, and, in exchange, we are not allowed to cut down trees or develop the properties outside a defined “camp activity area.” Our Board and Investment Committee established a Property Reserve Portfolio with a goal of growing the portfolio over time and generating needed funds to maintain our Tier 1 camp properties. Assuming 4% growth – the fund will generate about $114,000 each year. On average, we should be spending or reserving about $114,000 each year to pay for required capital repairs on Butano Creek and Skylark Ranch. So the Property Reserve Portfolio helps us maintain and sustain these beloved camps!
Rental Fees: $110,000. We rent Girl Scouts of Northern California Properties to our members and to other non-profits. We raised fees in 2012 and saw results from the Director of Property Development position we created in 2011 to increase promotion and rentals to Girl Scouts and other nonprofits. Through August 2012, we generated almost $110,000 more in rent than we did during 2011.
Donations: $38,000. During 2012 we received the largest donation in the history of our council -- $1 million from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation to improve Camp Butano Creek. The Butano improvements will help us increase rentals and also reduce repair costs. We also received $38,482.31 in donations designated to our Tents and Trails Campaign, found online here. Many Tents and Trails donors donated to the general fund for all camps and others chose to donate to specific camp properties:
- All camps as needed: $33,104.01
- Sugar Pine: $200
- Hidden Falls: $1,404.50
- Skylark Ranch: $1,100
- Twin Canyon: $2,673.80
These donations make a big difference in our ability to keep our camps open.
Gifts of time and labor. During FY2012 140 volunteers pitched in at 8 work parties held on 7 different camp properties. Our goal for FY2013 is to increase this to 325 volunteers at 13 work parties!
Two Sentinels ($20,000). This is an amazing volunteer-run camp run on a beautiful property in the High Sierra. The property is only open when camp is in session. The Two Sentinels volunteer group stepped up and took full responsibility for operation and maintenance of the camp, and will work with our staff property team before and after each camp season, so we can make sure the camp meets safety standards and is appropriately insured. This change in how we are operating this camp property, achieves our goal for Two Sentinels, bringing it to “break-even” operation, and reducing our forecast average annual loss (which included average planned capital repairs) by about $20,000 each year.
Looking Ahead to 2013
The actions we took during 2012 reduced annual camp property losses by about $280,000 on a recurring basis. Our goal for 2013 is to reduce annual losses by another $100,000, primarily through increased rental and program fees and progress on the Twin Canyon Break-even plan.
Rental and Program Fees. Our goal is to continue to increase use of our properties by members and other non-profits. We also are raising rental fees to keep up with rising costs, which include insurance and maintenance costs. We plan to generate an incremental $50,000 through these actions during 2013. You can learn more about property rentals at our website.
Work parties. We have planned 13 work parties for the 2012-2013 Girl Scout year, including 4 already completed this fall. 40 volunteers pitched in at last weekend’s Butano work party, and we are expecting at least 25 at Skylark Ranch on November 3. Our goal is at least 25 volunteers at each work party – so that would be 325 volunteers during FY2013, up from 140 during the 2011-2012 year. Priscilla McKenney, our Director of Property Development, wrote after the Butano work party: “I worked with 9 Girl Scouts who were really great workers. We were working on the restoration of one of our trails- primarily improving the eroded steps. This troop wants to come back and continue working on this trail!” You can see the girls’ restoration project in this photo!
You can learn more about how to help out at the Work Party section of our website.
Bothin Outdoor Program Manager. Bothin is our most-used and our most expensive property to operate and maintain. It is a great site for year-round gatherings. Our goal is to make it easier for members and other non-profits to rent Bothin and enjoy all that it has to offer. Towards that end, we are hiring a new position – a year round Bothin Outdoor Program Manager. The Bothin Outdoor Program Manager will help coordinate program experiences at Bothin and also serve as the summer Camp Director. Our goal: to make it easier for Girl Scouts and other non-profit groups to rent Bothin and experience all that Bothin has to offer, including the Challenge Course, Bothin Organic Garden, Archery and nature walks. We also are excited to be offering a week day volunteer-run archery program at Bothin, which is already sold out!
Butano Creek Improvements. We will begin work this year on improvements to Butano Creek funded by the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, increasing capacity and making this camp work better for Girl Scout programs and camp and week day rentals to other non-profits.
Twin Canyon Break-even Plan. The volunteer-led Twin Canyon Working Group, began work last March, at the request of the Property Task Group, to develop a plan to get Twin Canyon to break-even operation by the 2017 budget. The Twin Canyon Working Group presented its plan to the Property Task Group earlier this month. They’ve done a great job, working closely with Diablo Day Camp volunteers, who run a wonderful summer day camp on the property for over 1,600 girls. The Twin Canyon Working Group has also worked with community members and presented a five-year plan that includes increased day camp fees, fund raising, and donations of time and materials. Their plan for 2013 will reduce losses by about 50% with the remaining 50% loss reduction occurring through fund raising and increased rentals between 2014 and 2017.
Sugar Pine. Sugar Pine is in the group of properties that we think we should be able to get to break-even operation by increasing camp capacity to improve the economics of this camp. However, to increase the number of girls at camp, we need to remodel the kitchen and add some platform tents. We have included these costs in our 2013 budget, but will not spend the money to increase capacity at Sugar Pine until we see results indicating that 2013 revenue is on track to meet our budget goals.
Other Camp Property News
Camp Improvement Plans. We have worked with a camp architect to develop improvement plans for our three most used camps: Bothin, Butano Creek and Skylark Ranch, with a goal of increasing capacity and rentals, enhancing program experiences and reducing repair costs.
Ropes and Challenge Courses. The ropes course at Skylark Ranch and challenge course at Bothin are open for day rentals – and we are starting to increase week-day rentals. Click here for ropes course rental information.
Bothin (Marin County). We opened an amazing Challenge Course and held a successful “Journey Weekend” and have more scheduled for 2013.
Deer Lake (near Truckee). Because of late snow and early school start dates, the season keeps getting shorter and that makes it increasingly difficult to manage the costs of operating this camp property. During 2012 we held a successful Labor Day weekend family camp and will continue to explore ways to increase use of this beautiful mountain property by Girl Scout members and other non-profits. To improve the economics of operating this camp for such a short season, we need to increase the number of girls who can attend each session of camp. This would require an investment of dollars to increase the camp’s capacity. Our Plan calls for us to improve the economics of our Tier 1 and Tier 2 camps before we make a decision about whether we can afford to invest in increased capacity at Deer Lake.
Hidden Falls (Santa Cruz County). This lovely property is re-opened for troop camping (it was closed pending required and expensive road repairs). This camp has quite a bit of deferred maintenance and needs still more road work. Once we’ve made more progress on improving the economics of our Tier 1 camps, our Property Task Group hopes to form a Hidden Falls Working Group (as we have with Twin Canyon) to help us develop a long-term plan to improve the economics of Hidden Falls.
Rainbows End (Santa Clara County). We have the permits in hand (at long last) to repair the bridge to this property (home to Camp Metro day camp in the summer), as required by the County. This is an underused property and we will be working with local service units during 2013 to determine whether there are opportunities to increase its value to and use by members.
Ida Smith (San Francisco County). We expect this property to be returned to Girl Scouts by the Water District during 2013, and will work with local members to develop a plan for its use, improvement and funding.
The Cove (Napa County). This is a very rustic property, so it is not nearly as expensive to operate as some of our other camp properties. We’ve had success renting it to nonprofit groups that teach outdoor survival skills! Unfortunately, we had to cancel our fall 2012 work party because of low participation.
Cordelia (Napa County). We continue to use the outdoor space for program and the building (which was damaged in a 2005 flood) as a Council storage facility.
It is great to see increased use, work party participation and dollars for our Camp Properties. We are making progress because volunteers, parents, camp alumnae, staff and donors are working together towards a shared goal – to build and execute long- term sustainable plans to maintain and operate our camp properties. That’s how we save our camps!
If you are interested in learning more about the Property Plan and progress to save our camps, I encourage you to visit the following sites:
The Girl Scouts’ 100th anniversary celebration theme, “Forever Green,” now rings more true thanks to the purchase by Sempervirens Fund – a nonprofit land conservation organization – of conservation easements on two Girl Scout properties in the Santa Cruz Mountains that will protect redwood forests and habitat from subdivision, development, and commercial timber harvest while enabling Girl Scouts to continue camp operations on the properties.
On March 1, 2012, Sempervirens Fund purchased conservation easements in the amount of $2.86 million for two Girl Scout properties: the 270-acre Skylark Ranch near Año Nuevo and the 142-acre Camp Butano Creek near Pescadero.
A conservation easement is a legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values. It allows landowners to continue to own and use their land and also sell it or pass it on to heirs. The easement remains in place even if the owner of the land changes, thus assuring that the resources on the land are protected in perpetuity.
Both properties have very high conservation resource values and contain large volumes of redwoods, including over 1,420 old-growth trees that will be permanently protected under this easement. The properties are located in high priority conservation areas, with streams and old-growth redwoods that provide habitat for the marbled murrelet, an endangered sea bird that nests in old-growth trees. Butano Creek, which runs along the Camp Butano property, is a designated critical habitat for the endangered central coast Steelhead trout, as is Skylark Ranch, which contains part of the headwaters of Whitehouse Creek.
The conservation easements will ensure permanent protection of the forests and other natural resources on the properties by stripping the properties of their development rights while at the same time allowing Girl Scouts to retain ownership of the land, fund the upgrades and maintenance of camp facilities, and continue camp operations.
Click here for a map that shows how this conservation easement purchase will add 412 acres onto an expansive network of connected protected lands that total 34,000 acres. Camp Butano Creek adjoins Butano State Park on two sides and shares a third side with a property already protected with a conservation easement. Skylark Ranch shares its western border with Año Nuevo State Reserve and is only 500 feet from directly adjoining with Big Basin Redwoods State Park. More ...
Girl Scouts NorCal Properties
Girl Scouts of Northern California operates 29 properties: 6 offices (staff, retail shops and meeting space); 2 service centers (staff, meeting space and no retail shop); 9 program centers (meeting/program space only) and 12 camp/outdoor program properties.
Click here for a map that shows the location of each property.
The council’s Oakland office includes many of the council's headquarters functions and also includes a retail shop, museum and meeting areas. The Oakland office lease expires in 2013. During March and April 2011, GSNorCal adult members were invited to participate in a survey to give input regarding what’s important to them about a Girl Scout office/service center. 1,106 members participated in the survey, and their responses will help GSNorCal develop a plan for the 2013 expiration of the Oakland office lease. Click here to see results from the survey, and click here for a summary of these results.
In the summer of 2009, the Property Task Group toured camp properties, conducted a member survey about outdoor program and conducted girl focus groups at 4 camps: Deer Lake, Sugar Pine family camp, Hidden Falls and Skylark Ranch.
Information about this Outdoor Program and Property Assessment has been shared with members through email updates in "Notes from the CEO" (click here to subscribe). This page contains additional information for those interested in getting a more in-depth look at this process.
In August 2011, the Property Task Group shared an update with preliminary recommendations for member input via email and at September town hall meetings. The Property Task Group recommendations are aligned with the proposed 2012-2014 Strategic Plan – a link to the Strategic Plan Update also is included below:
- August 2011 Property Task Group Update
- 2012-2014 Strategic Plan Update
- September Delegate Meeting Schedule
Background: In September 2011, I shared with members the Property Task Group’s draft recommendations for Girl Scouts of Northern California’s camp properties, and Michelle McCormick (Chief Program and Membership Officer) and I met with members in Walnut Creek on September 21, to discuss the Task Group’s recommendations.
The Task Group’s initial recommendation included Twin Canyon in the group of Tier 3 camps – camps at risk of sale or mothballing if we are not able to reduce losses on the Tier 1 and Tier 2 camps. Tier 1 camps are the three most used residential camps: Bothin, Butano and Skylark. Tier 2 camps are the camps the Task Group thinks we have a realistic opportunity to get to a break even operation: Deer Lake, Two Sentinels and Sugar Pine.
Since the Task Group’s preliminary recommendation, we heard from many members who would like to work with us to get Twin Canyon to a break even operation. As a result, at the November 5 Board meeting the Task Group recommended, and the Board agreed, that Twin Canyon be moved to the Tier 2 category. Our goal is to work with members during the 2012 fiscal year – now through September 2012 – to develop a realistic plan to get Twin Canyon to a break even operation. We also are continuing our work to reduce losses on the Tier 1 camps – and have made progress towards that goal this fall, with the dedication of a new donated adventure course at Bothin and a $1 million grant from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation to support our camp improvement plan (to increase capacity and sustainability) at Camp Butano Creek in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
January 18 Twin Canyon meeting topics:
- We answered questions about and developed a list of further information members would like to have. You can click this link for information that responds to the question: Why does Girl Scouts of Northern California need to reduce its losses on camp properties?
- We shared information and exchanged ideas about different “levers” we can use to get Twin Canyon to a break even operation. These included:
- A fee increase paid by Diablo Day Camp participants – The Day Camp committee is exploring this
- Increase membership, family giving and / or cookie sales: Currently, there are about 11,000 girl members in Service Units that are the primary users of Twin Canyon. These charts show the impact of achieving council averages for the cookie, fall sale and family giving in these Service Units and the impact of membership growth assuming that girls’ rate of participation in product sales and family giving remains the same
- Establish a reserve goal – We can explore ways to include Twin Canyon as part of the 5 year 100th Anniversary Campaign. A $1 million Twin Canyon fund, would for example, generate about $40,000 per year for Twin Canyon (using a 4% spending rate) – that would be one way to build a secure future for the camp. This would, however, require a significant effort by members willing to work with us on a campaign.
- Explore a conservation easement on the property
- Next steps: A broad community of members uses Twin Canyon in different ways – school year troops, service units and summer day camp. What is the best way to collaborate to make sure we can get things done and develop a plan the community supports?
The reality of bringing camp magic to you translates into loads of behind-the-scenes labor to keep our sites maintained and repaired. The very thing that draws you to our camp properties - that remote beauty, the sense of escape into nature - means we have to work extra hard to keep up with the toll that Mother Nature takes on our constantly-aging properties. Help keep our campfires burning for years to come.
This survey focused on camp properties (as distinct from programs, which we explored in the survey described below). 658 members started this Survey and 554 members completed this Survey, which GSNorCal conducted from March 16 – April 15, 2010. Survey participants offered lots of ideas about ways to increase resources needed support to camp properties and outdoor program experiences. The Survey also provides helpful information about members’ views on future trends, factors that are most relevant in evaluating different camp properties and priorities for resources generated from camp properties.
As part of the Outdoor Program and Property Assessment process, Regional Delegates were asked to discuss a few key questions with members regarding the role that outdoor programs and camp properties play in supporting the Council’s Mission and Vision. Below are the responses received by the Property Task Group representing various Service Units. This input will inform what our Council’s vision and goals will be for outdoor program and property and will set the stage for the next level of discussion regarding the future of our outdoor programs and camp properties.
- Vacaville (SU 206)
- Diablo Shadows (SU 321)
- Diablo Shadows (SU 321) (additional)
- East Contra Costa (SU 322)
- Creekside (SU 324)
- Orinda/Moraga (SU 327)
- Richardson Bay (SU 342)
- Marin Del Centro (SU 345)
- Mission Rafael (SU 346)
- Mission Rafel (SU 346) (additional)
- Novato (SU 347)
- Palo Alto (SU 601)
- Evergreen (SU 602)
- Evergreen (SU 602) (additional)
- Los Altos (SU 608)
- Blossom Hill/Los Gatos (SU 610)
- Saratoga (SU 618)
- Alum Rock (SU 621)
- IBM/S San Jose (SU 623)
- Cupertino (SU 630)
- Willow Glen/Cambrian (SU 638)
- Downtown/W SJ/Campbell (SU 661)
Reasons That Girls Do Not Attend Camp:
GSNorCal Camps Attended
Ranking of Favorite Activities:
Ranking of "Don't Like" Activities:
Ideal Length of Stay at Camp:
Ranking of Most Important Factor in Selecting a Camp: