The Girl Scouts have been leasing land for Camp Westana since at least the 1960’s. It’s on state managed school trust land north of Whitefish near Olney. Troop Leader Becky Johnson-Opalka says the cost of the lease jumped from 5-thousand-dollars a year to $25,000 a year after a land reappraisal in 2009. Johnson-Opalka says the rate increase should have applied last year, but they were given an extension by the state, “and we’ve been fighting an uphill battle with trying to get all the pieces in place so we can come up with this amount of money,” she said.
The scouts are trying to raise the $500,000 needed to purchase the easement to the property.
That’s one step.
Another step is getting a public entity, like Fish, Wildlife and Parks, to hold the easement. Johnson-Opalka says the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation regulations do not allow a non-profit, like the girl scouts, to hold the easement.
Camp Westana includes 7 acres of land on the Lower Stillwater Lake. Former scout Nikki Roth says she learned camping skills and more at Westana.
“It’s where I learned to fold a flag, it’s where I learned about flag burning ceremonies. It’s where I learned about capers- or chores that you had to do to make sure that camp ran smoothly,” Roth said. Now, Roth’s 11-year old daughter is a girl scout who recently had her first trip to Westana.
“Getting that quiet time, that time away from technology, and that time to build friendships, and to learn to depend on each other,” Roth said,
Johnson-Opalka says if the scouts lose this camp they have two other options. One option is camping at different sites on state, forest service, or at Glacier Park which she says would cost too much.
“If we wanted to stay for more than a day, we’re going to have to pay more money and that gets pretty spendy pretty quick because each of the troops have to pay for their own way when they stay at those camp sites. And then on top of it, we would have to bring everything in, and have all of the supplies, which some of the troops don’t have their own tents yet, and some of the troops don’t have all of the cookware for cooking outside yet,” she said.
Another option is going to the Girl Scout Residential Camp in Butte. Johnson-Opalka says use of that camp costs $300 per week, plus the drive time.
“What we do at the local use camp is we can stay there a week if we want to, or a couple days, and the girls get to plan it out, and they get to feel like they’re involved in that process. And so, and then if we go to somewhere else that’s locally here, they don’t keep coming back to the same exact thing, like if they built this structure, they don’t come back and see that structure again.,” Johnson-Opalka said scouts have made improvements to the site over the decades including cabins, tent platforms, and trails. She says they’ve appealed to local and national businesses for donations, and girls have committed a portion of each box of cookies they sell among other fundraising efforts. They’re also active on social media with a blog and a facebook page giving updates on what’s happening with Westana.