Leaders of the Hudson Valley Boy Scout Council are considering turning Camp Bullowa in Stony Point into a nature conservancy
A battle for control of the $3.8 million Camp Bullowa Trust Fund continues in New York Supreme Court. The case pits the owners of Camp Bullowa (the Hudson Valley Council of the Boy Scouts of America) vs. three longtime trustees of the Camp Bullowa Trust Fund.
The millions in question are part of a dedicated fund created in 1943 to help maintain and improve Camp Bullowa. Hudson Valley Council President Howard Hellman has added a twist to the situation, as he told the Rockland County Times the Council is pursuing a conservancy agreement for the 300+ acre Bullowa property.
Conservancy agreements prohibit development of natural woodlands, of which Bullowa’s property is about 70 percent, guaranteeing the land will remain pristine. In return, participants gain certain benefits, but ownership of the property is usually transferred to a private third party for a fee or donated to the state. The seller/donor retains sole rights to use the property, but they lose the ability to develop the property. The legal ramifications a conservancy agreement would hold for the Bullowa Trust Fund is not clear.
Hellman would not confirm whether or not transfer of ownership is part of the conservancy deal the Scouts are considering. He indicated it is early in the process and the Boy Scouts are still investigating the details.
Girl Scout Camp Addison Boyce, down the road from Bullowa in Stony Point, announced a conservancy arrangement this August, which handed ownership of the campgrounds to the environmental organization Scenic Hudson. The deal was negotiated with the assistance of New York State.
In the agreement the Girl Scouts ceded ownership of the land to Scenic Hudson and were paid an unknown sum, guaranteed sole use of the property and promised the land would never be developed. Scenic Hudson also promised to work to connect the Boyce property to surrounding state parks. Other possible benefits were not mentioned publicly.
A statement put out by Hellman, Council Commissioner Jackie Heubach and Scout Executive Director David Horton, in response to “Save Camp Bullowa” signs popping up in Stony Point, said, “Camp Bullowa will continue to be a Hudson Valley Council, BSA-owned & operated camp for many years to come. In fact, the Council Executive Board has discussed camp improvements, with an emphasis on making Camp Bullowa an even better camp operation, than it has been in the past! We are justifiably proud of our heritage, relative to the council’s camping program, and plan to continue our efforts to expand and improve the camp in every way possible.”
Advocates of conservation agreements say everybody wins. Camp Bullowa Trust Fund trustees might not agree.
The trustees are stewards of a dedicated fund that has grown from thousands to $3.8 million over 73 years. Care of the camp is the sole stated mission of the fund and Bullowa has maintained excellent fiscal health through the years. In contrast to the Bullowa Trust Fund, the Hudson Valley Council of the Boy Scouts of America has experienced financial challenges for decades.
Bullowa Trust Fund Trustee Ralph Heavner told the Rockland County Times there are members of the Hudson Valley Council who would like to use the $3.8 million in Bullowa Trust Fund money to fund the Hudson Valley Council’s general operations instead of for its chartered purpose: maintaining Bullowa. Earlier in 2016, Hellman and the Council attempted to remove the incumbent Bullowa Trust Fund trustees and install new ones.
The incumbent trustees, represented by Heavner, a long-time practicing attorney, were granted a stay by the NY Supreme Court. There had never been a power struggle for control of the fund over the previous 73 years and no clear protocol exists for handling such a controversy.
The state Supreme Court will be tasked with adjudicating the proper succession of power for Bullowa Fund trustees, as well as who ultimately controls the $3.8 million fund. The Hudson Valley Council believes since they are the owners of Camp Bullowa and have traditionally appointed replacement Trust Fund trustees when incumbent trustees retired or died, it stands to reason they should have the right to replace the three incumbents now holding the position. The incumbents counter that the intent of the Council is to squander the Trust Fund monies on purposes not true to its mission.
And, again, the impact of any possible conservancy agreement on the Trust Fund’s legal predicament is an unknown at this time.
High tensions between the Bullowa Trust Fund and the Hudson Valley Council can be traced back to a loan the Fund gave to the Scouts, which has not been repaid. In order to balance their budget, in 2003 the Boy Scouts borrowed $500,000 from the Bullowa Fund.
The Council paid interest on the sum for the next decade, but never reduced the overall balance owed, Heavner said. Then, in the year 2013, the Boy Scouts Council stopped making interest payments.
Heavner, who also served on the Hudson Valley Council until his recent termination, told the Rockland County Times that Hellman wanted to negotiate the terms on the debt owed to the Trust Fund. Heavner and the other Bullowa Fund trustees told Hellman and the Council such a negotiation would violate their fiduciary responsibilities as trustees.
Things became really interesting when the Bullowa Trust Fund then sued the Boy Scouts for non-payment of the loan. Heavner said the Council members were astonished by this legal maneuver.
Some in the Boy Scout community have questioned whether Heavner’s in-house lawsuit backfired and instigated the Council’s power play. On the other hand, others agree that since the Bullowa Fund had gone years without receiving payments owed to it by the Council, some action was needed to move things along.
Heavner and others in Rockland also figure to put up a fight against the proposed conservancy deal. Ownership and maintenance of Bullowa is a point of pride to many in the scouting community. Hellman assures scouts that should a conservancy agreement be reached, “Nothing will change” for campers who use the grounds.
But questions remain about the financial future of the Fund.
If the Hudson Valley Boy Scout Council wins in court and appoints new trustees, what will the Boy Scouts Council do with the money? What happens if the Boy Scouts run through the newfound “Bullowa bucks” with haste?
If another entity does purchase the Bullowa campgrounds under a conservancy agreement, what would the legal ramifications be for the Trust Fund?
Heavner put it like this in a conversation with the Rockland County Times: “Million dollar question….What happens to the money paid to preserve camp property? Will it be spent for office expenses and salaries in the Newburgh office? Or, will it be used to improve the camp and sustain the camp?”
Hellman would not comment directly on the lawsuit, but he released the following general comment: “As previously shared, I hope you understand we cannot comment on active litigation. However, on background, I can tell you that the Hudson Valley Council, Boy Scouts of America, believes strategic and careful management of our resources is critical to continuing our mission of bringing life-changing experiences to youth in the communities we serve – both for today and for the future. We manage resources with the assistance of our council executive board members, volunteers and professional employees. We carefully review all options concerning council finances and make decisions based on what is best for the council and our youth members in New York and Pennsylvania.”