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Camp Eagle Island (Photo: Frriends of Eagle Island website)
Camp Eagle Island (Photo: Frriends of Eagle Island website)

Movement grows to save Camp Eagle Island

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A plan hatched late last year by a friends group to purchase a historic Girl Scouts camp in the Adirondacks is gaining momentum.

In December 2010, the Friends of Eagle Island announced that they would seek to acquire Camp Eagle Island.

The group held a meeting in New Jersey earlier this month, and as Chris Morris reports, their dream of reopening the famed camp is moving closer to becoming a reality.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

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Camp Eagle Island is a 32-acre estate on Upper Saranac Lake. It consists of 11 buildings and was originally built in the late 1800s for Vice President Levi Morton, who served under America’s 23rd president, Benjamin Harrison.

The camp was designed by William L. Coulter, a renowned Adirondack architect who came to Saranac Lake in 1896 to cure his tuberculosis. He ended up staying, masterminding the designs behind some of Park’s most celebrated great camps – including the Knollwood Club on Lower Saranac Lake and the Porcupine on Park Avenue in the village of Saranac Lake.

In 1937, the estate’s second owner, Henry Graves Jr., gifted the camp to a Girl Scouts organization from New Jersey. Over the decades, the camp provided a variety of wildlife experiences for visitors in a setting that remained relatively untouched, and it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2004.

But in 2009, the camp’s owners – the Girl Scouts Heart of New Jersey Council – closed it down and announced they would sell the property. That prompted a group of individuals who spent some of the formative years of their lives at Camp Eagle Island to get together in an effort to acquire the property and reopen the camp.

Beth Rubin is a spokeswoman for the Friends of Eagle Island.

“Yes, we’d like to acquire the island and reopen the camp on the island, primarily for youth and preferably for girls and young women, because that’s been the tradition,” she said. “But we also need to raise money, and are raising money, for an endowment to keep the camp going.”

Rubin says the friends group wants to preserve the island and its historic buildings in order to ensure that future generations have the same opportunity that past campers had.

The group also wants to add new activities and modernize the way the camp is run, Rubin adds.

“It’s a new day for Eagle Island,” she said. “We’re planning on instituting programs for families, for young people, for those living in the area, people who are interested in the outdoors and want to take advantage of the beautiful setting up there. We’ll have things like sailing and boating and canoeing and backpacking.”

But the new Camp Eagle Island won’t just be about physical activity, Rubin says. There’s an educational aspect, too – a focus on the environment and on history.

That’s why the Friends of Eagle Island are looking to set up an endowment that will take the group beyond simply acquiring the land and the buildings.

According to Rubin, the group awaits 501c3 approval from the IRS, which would give them the ability to seek large donations in order to realize their goal.

Rubin says refurbishing the buildings will be costly, as they’ve lain dormant for nearly two years and have just endured one of the harsher winters in recent history.

Rubin declined to estimate how much the friends group has raised to date, but she did disclose that some 1,000 members have made a “significant financial pledge.”

“We’ve been getting our ducks in a row,” she said. “We have many pledges from alumni that will certainly form the basis for what we need to do. However, we’re accepting donations from anyone who has an interest. We’re looking for donors and we’re looking for partners so that we can realize our vision.”

There’s no official listing price for the estate, but those involved estimate it will cost millions of dollars.

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