The fight to save Camp Richard on Nantucket.
Camp Richard probably isn’t on your map of Nantucket. The hundred acres of pine forest is surrounded on all sides by development, yet somehow it’s still hidden away in the busy mid-island area and relatively unknown. Camp Richard has also been the home of the Nantucket Boy Scouts since President Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House. And it’s now the crux of a contentious, high-profile legal skirmish over the ownership of the campground that has pitted Boy Scouts on either side of Nantucket Sound against each other.
Trust. Loyalty. Friendship. Courteousness. These are a few of the pillars of the law of the Boy Scouts. Yet they are the very qualities that have been seemingly absent in the dispute sparked by what has been called a “land grab” by the Cape Cod & Islands Council of the Boy Scouts of America. It’s been nearly two years since the Council claimed ownership of Camp Richard and disclosed a plan to sell off thirty acres of the Nantucket campground to a developer for $3.5 million.
The news stunned Nantucket’s Boy Scout leaders. After all, Camp Richard was given to the island’s Boy Scouts decades ago by the Nantucket Civic League in a series of land transfers beginning in 1955. The gift came with just one string attached: If the campground ever ceased to be used by the Boy Scouts, its ownership would revert back to the Civic League. To the scout leaders on Nantucket, it was an accepted fact that the campground belonged to the local scouting committee, and the land was, for all intents and purposes, protected by that deed restriction. Over the years, they had contributed hundreds of hours of their time and raised more than $200,000 to turn Camp Richard into a destination that now attracts scouts from all over New England and beyond. So when Nantucket’s Boy Scout leaders first caught wind of the Council’s plans to sell part of the campground, their reaction was visceral. “Yeah, it was disbelief,” said Bob Graves, one of the island scout leaders. “Hell no. No way.”
The Council had staked its claim on a little-known loophole in Massachusetts real estate law that allows deed restrictions to expire after thirty years unless they are renewed. The restrictions on Camp Richard, it turnedout, had never been renewed.
Graves and the other island scouting leaders made their opposition to the sale of Camp Richard known to the Council. But then they took things to another level by taking the extraordinary, and some might say exceedingly clever, step of transferring the deed for the campground from the Nantucket District Committee of the Boy Scouts of America to the Camp Richard’s Campers Association, a separate non-profit they had created years ago to provide for the care and maintenance of the campground. It was a preemptive legal maneuver to scuttle the sale of Camp Richard before the Council had the chance to close its deal with the developer. “It’s not theirs,” Graves says emphatically. “End of story.”
Unfortunately for Graves and his fellow island Boy Scout leaders, that wasn’t the end of the story. The climax of this tale is still very much in doubt and far from settled. The transfer of the deed prompted a swift and unsparing response from the Council. It sued the Nantucket Boy Scout leaders personally in Barnstable Superior Court, accused them of attempting to “steal” the campground, and stripped them of their membership in the Boy Scouts of America. They even changed the locks at Camp Richard. It was the opening salvo in what has become a protracted battle for the ownership of the valuable Nantucket campground.
Two years later on a recent spring afternoon, Graves sauntered across Camp Richard’s thin carpet of pine needles toward the Boy Scouts’ lodge eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and sipping from a Diet Pepsi bottle. “Everything moves slowly here,” he said. “I love this property…It’s a labor of love.”
Graves is a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel who served in Vietnam and is the father of an Eagle Scout. He is one of a handful of adult Boy Scout leaders who helped build the new lodge in the late 1990s and who provided for the maintenance and upkeep of Camp Richard for decades. Under the terms of a management agreement brokered by a Superior Court judge, Graves has been allowed back onto the property, though he’s still officially banned from the Boy Scouts of America. “Oh my achin’ butt,” he says only half-joking. “I personally went through a whole bunch of sleepless nights over this.”
The acrimony clearly remains and the legal stalemate is unresolved, but Camp Richard continues to be the sanctuary it has long been for generations of Nantucket’s Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts. On a sunny Sunday evening in May, the unmistakable sounds of boyhood filled the campground as dozens of Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts darted around the clearing that marks the entrance to Camp Richard.
It (the lawsuit) hasn’t impacted actual scouting whatsoever,” said Jeff Fox, the Cubmaster for Nantucket Cub Scout Pack 92. “The boys don’t know anything about it, and we’re carrying on just like any scout organization.”
For others like Bill Humphries – who volunteers as scoutmaster for the island Boy Scout troop – the episode has left a bad taste in his mouth. Standing just outside the Camp Richard lodge, a building in which the words of the Boy Scout law are inscribed on quarterboards hanging from the walls, Humphries was struck by the juxtaposition of those values measured against the recent actions of the Council. “That was one of the first things we said: this was not ‘loyal’ or ‘trustworthy’,” Humphries said. “It basically went against every word in that room.”
Since December, both sides have filed motions for summary judgment in the case, and oral arguments in Barnstable Superior Court are expected to begin in June. Outside the courtroom, the response from the island community has been similarly hostile to the idea of the Council profiting from the sale of an island campground.
“When I heard the news, I was appalled like everyone else,” said island physician Greg Hinson. Maddux, Hinson’s ten-year-old son, had joined the island Cub Scout pack shortly before the lawsuit. “To learn the Cape Council was attempting to sell the land at a ridiculous price, I mean thirty acres for $3 million?” Hinson said. “It felt suspicious in that regard. And to learn how they underhandedly attempted to keep our scout leaders out of the camp and sue the leaders for looking after the best interests of the kids? All of that was just too much to handle.”
Hinson launched an online petition entitled “Save Nantucket’s Camp Richard!” that caught fire on social media, and was ultimately signed by 3,257 people. The petition was sent to Boy Scout leaders across New England, as well as Atlantic Development, the company that was in negotiations to buy the thirty acres of Camp Richard from the Council.
Other calls and pleas for help to well-connected, senior members of the Boy Scouts of America organization about Camp Richard went unheeded. But that’s probably because this type of thing is happening all over the country. As Nantucket’s Boy Scout leaders researched their predicament, they quickly learned that Camp Richard was just the latest example of the Boy Scouts of America selling off land previously donated to the organization for big bucks.
A 2009 investigation by Hearst Newspapers found that regional Boy Scout councils all over the U.S. had “reaped tens of millions of dollars from selling decades-old campgrounds and other properties — including some previously given to them with the intention they be used for outdoor recreation…”
Mike Reilly is the Cape Cod Council’s “Scout Executive” who receives $119,644 in annual compensation according to the group’s most recent non-profit tax filing with the IRS. Reilly himself answered the phone when I called the Council’s Yarmouthport headquarters last month. He politely referred all questions to Robert Chamberlain, an attorney and one of the Council’s directors. Chamberlain, whose law firm is representing the Council in the Camp Richard case, never returned the voicemail I left for him. But their side of the story has emerged in court filings and affidavits. Reilly, for instance, claimed in an affidavit that the island Boy Scout leaders’ transfer of the deed “essentially amounts to stealing the land.” It is the custom of the Boy Scouts of America, the Council has alleged, for the regional councils to assume ownership of all land assets in their area. The Council has also claimed that the sale of what amounts to less than a third of a lightly used portion of Camp Richard will actually benefit scouting activities in the entire Cape and Islands region, including Nantucket.
For Nantucket’s conservation groups, the potential for an undeveloped, 100-acre property that they had long considered protected to suddenly be within the grasp of a developer amounted to a DEFCON 5 scenario. “It never was on anyone’s radar,” said Cormac Collier, the executive director of the Nantucket Land Council. But it was a fight the Land Council had no problem picking. The island environmental watchdog is now funding the legal challenge mounted by the Nantucket Civic League and the island Boy Scout leaders. In late 2014, the Land Council announced a $150,000 challenge grant to the Nantucket community to solicit the funds necessary to sustain the legal defense of their claim to Camp Richard.
Peter Fenn, an attorney representing the Land Council, believes one of the cornerstone’s of the Cape Cod Council’s claim on Camp Richard is bogus. The mandate for deed restrictions to be renewed, he said, does not apply to Camp Richard because the original transfer involved nonprofit charities, which are exempt from the requirement.
“This is the last thing the Boy Scouts should be doing,” said Fenn. “They should be preserving this land for future scouts forever, not trying to make a quick buck.”