UPPER SARANAC LAKE — Friends of Eagle Island has sued a New Jersey Girl Scout organization, claiming a move to sell the historic Eagle Island Camp violates an original charitable-trust agreement.
The 29-acre island and Great Camp buildings, boathouse and many boats were gifts in September 1937 from the Henry Graves Jr. family to an earlier incarnation of what is now called Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey.
The late Henry Graves donate
d the property in memory of two sons killed in automobile accidents to preserve its beauty for children.
Litigants include Graves’s great-grandson, Henry Dickson “Buz” Graves, and former campers who founded the friends organization Chris Hildebrand and Dorcas Hardy, along with several other former campers.
From 1970 to 1980, Hardy’s mother, Ruth E. Hardy, was president of the New Jersey Girl Scout club that owned the island camp.
The Hardys donated significant funding to restore the original boathouse.
Buz Graves, who was at his Adirondack camp on Bass Lake on Friday, told the Press-Republican the move to sell Eagle Island does not uphold the charitable charter for giving that was drafted in careful stages years ago.
His family bought the Great Camp on Eagle Island from former U.S. Vice President Levi P. Morton in the early 20th century.
Its buildings were designed by famed Adirondack Great Camp architect William L Coulter and remain a nearly intact example of his work.
Eagle Island Camp is listed as a National Historic Landmark. It first opened in 1938 and remained in operation for 71 years.
“The family would really like to see the Girl Scouts retain the camp or operate it or that it go to a group like Friends of Eagle Island, in keeping with the charter of the gift,” Graves said.
“We’ll try whatever we can to preserve the island with the intent of the gift — that it be a Girl Scout camp, an outdoor summer camp for children. Hopefully, if they’re not going to run it like that, they would give it back.”
Hildebrand said that the Friends of Eagle Island had worked with the Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey in good faith to raise funds for restoration and came up with significant monies to buy a new ferry to transport campers.
But they cannot get an accounting of what happened to the money raised expressly for Eagle Island.
The Girl Scouts also won’t negotiate a sale price with Friends.
“We’ve spend a year and a half trying to get them to negotiate with us,” Hildebrand said of their effort to reopen the camp for children.
“This is what we had to do. We have asked that the camp remain as the Graves (family) intended it — a place for children and girls to share in the nature and history there.
“But they are marketing it as a private residence. Now our goal is to get them to recognize they are bound to keep it as it is.”
“Camping is not something that seems to be dying out or that girls don’t want,” Graves said. “This has been quite upsetting just to think that Eagle Island won’t remain a place for children to have to explore the outdoors. That’s why it was given. This is a real jewel.”
Calls to Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey CEO Susan Brooks at headquarters in New Jersey were not returned Friday.
Her name is on the lawsuit, along with the Girl Scout organization and former President and Board Chairwoman Tiffany Wilson.
The historic site has been on the market since October 2010, first priced at $3.75 million. It has since been dropped to $3.25 million.
Hildebrand said they were not aware of any pending interest in the property beyond their effort to buy, lease or otherwise reopen it.
In 2009, with camp applications and payments in hand, the Girl Scout group suddenly opted to shut down for the season, saying then that renovations were needed. The decision came shortly after Girl Scouts USA restructured several New Jersey scout organizations into one unit: Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey.
‘BREACH OF TRUST’
Closure of Eagle Island Camp was not part of the recharter negotiation, according to legal documents filed Thursday in Franklin County Supreme Court.
The litigation claims any sale without restriction “is a direct breach of the charitable trust agreement.”
The lawsuit also purports the sale is “unjust enrichment” and that Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey, a non-profit group, intends “to utilize the proceeds” in order “to satisfy various pension obligations to employees and former employees” of three councils realigned in 2008.
It also claims money raised by Friends of Eagle Island specifically to restore the property was spent on other projects, and it seeks legal injunction against any sale.
Lake Placid attorney Ronald Briggs of Briggs Norfolk LLC is representing Friends of Eagle Island in the case, along with Post, Polak, Goodsell, MacNeill & Straucher P.A. of Roseland, N.J.
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