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Proposed sale of part of Boy Scout ranch draws opposition

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, August 25, 2012, at 8:22 p.m.

About 700 Boy Scouts took a bus trip on Feb. 20, 1960, to a nearly 3,000-acre parcel of sprawling prairie near Sedan in southeast Kansas.

Later, they donated more than $175,000 to buy the land and transform it into the Quivira Scout Ranch the following year, according to a booklet about the ranch’s history. Many boys gave $10 each, earning certificates labeled “Warranty Deed” for their contributions – a promise to preserve and protect the land for future Boy Scouts, according to those who own them.

But a proposed plan to sell a small parcel of the land to a neighboring rancher next month has upset some local Scouts and volunteers. And some think the proposal might leave the Boy Scouts amenable to selling off the ranch and other land piecemeal if buyers offer a high enough price.

“Once you start selling those little bits and pieces, it gets easier every time you do it,” said longtime Boy Scout volunteer Shirley Lundy, who said her four sons and grandsons “learned lifelong skills while camping down there.”

“We’ve been entrusted to preserve and protect that land. I personally think it’s very wrong to sell it.”

Proposed sale

Scout executive Mike Johnson said rancher John Hale approached the Quivira Council – which Johnson leads – in February, asking to buy 160 acres of Boy Scout-owned land abutting his sprawling ranch. The rocky terrain, which juts into Hale’s property, is rarely used other than for summer hikes by Boy Scouts.

The ranch usually leases the small parcel to hunters in the fall to help control the deer population and to generate income for camp improvements. But the practice was suspended in 2009 after Chautauqua County filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the ranch’s tax exemption status due to the added income. It may resume later this year, Johnson said.

Hale, whose headquarters sits near the property line, had safety concerns, he said.

“They’ve had bullets and slugs come whizzing by there from deer hunting,” Johnson said of Hale. “He asked to buy that so there is a buffer created.”

Hale did not return a message seeking comment.

The council created a six-member task force to evaluate the impact of selling the land. After setting forth a handful of deed restrictions – Hale agrees to give Scouts access to the parcel and avoid commercial development – the group decided the sale “made a lot of sense,” said Brad Haddock, a member of the task force who said he camped at the ranch as a boy.

The council’s 14-member executive committee also unanimously approved the sale.

“We have an opportunity to sell the property, continue to be able to use the property,” he said.

Hale and the council agreed on $1,500 per acre – $240,000 total, including mineral rights – a “very good purchase price” in line with area land values, Haddock said.

If sold, the money will pay for optional improvements to the camp, including a boat, five new campsite pavilions, a training pavilion, a climbing wall and other campsite upgrades.

Approval by the executive board is the final step. The sale proposal is available at www.quivira.org.

‘You’ll never get it back’

Lundy, Bel Aire resident Richard Goates and Troy Leewright of Arkansas acknowledge Hale is a generous neighbor, but they are among a group of Scout volunteers who say they oppose a sale.

Goates said he is “totally against the selling of the land.” He calls the sale proceeds a “short-term” solution to capital improvements, although council officials said the upgrades are optional.

“I think that those kinds of upgrades will not last until eternity,” said Goates, 64, who camped at the ranch as a teen.

“But once you sell a piece of land, you’ll never get it back … (and) it opens up the floodgates to sell other pieces of property when you need money.”

Some suggest selling the parcel’s seasonal hunting rights to Hale, rather than the land. In 2009, the ranch earned $21,000 from leasing the hunting rights, council officials said.

Others, like Leewright, say the Quivira Council – which serves 13,000 youth in 30 central and south-central Kansas counties, according to its website – made a promise to “preserve and protect the land for future generations” when it issued those “Warranty Deeds” to the Scouts who donated $10 each to buy the ranch.

The deeds, it turns out, are not legally binding.

“It’s a worthless piece of paper, legally,” said Leewright, 35, who visits the ranch yearly.

But they are “not worthless to the people who own the deeds,” he said.

Council officials confirmed there are no donor restrictions or trusts that limit the sale of the property.

The vote

The sale of the land goes to a vote before the 52-member Quivira Council executive board on Sept. 25. The meeting is open to the public, but Johnson, the Scout executive, said the discussion would focus on concerns of board members. The board is not expected to take comments from citizens.

Haddock, also a member of the executive board, will share comments and concerns expressed by the public to him during an informational meeting held earlier this month.

The executive board meeting starts at 11:45 a.m. at the Wichita Country Club, 8501 E. 13th St. Board members in attendance will decide whether to approve the sale. Reservations are required to attend, and there is a cost for lunch. Interested parties may RSVP to Johnson at 316-264-1772.

Anyone with comments about the sale is asked to contact the Boy Scouts of America Quivira Council office.

“Emotions kind of get wrapped into all of this whenever anybody talks about a sale of a piece of property that people have camped on,” Haddock said.

“It gets very, very emotional.”

Reach Amy Renee Leiker at 316-268-6644 or aleiker@wichitaeagle.com.

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