More than one-third of the wooded J. Edward Mack Scout Reservation in northern Lancaster County could be sold in 2019 as the camp celebrates its 50th anniversary.
In a proposal more than a year in the making, some 392 wooded acres along a ridge top in Elizabeth Township could be purchased by a nonprofit land preservation group with state and federal funding, then turned over to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Such a land transfer would connect, for the first time, the Middle Creek and Furnace Hills state game lands.
It would also preserve for public use the popular Eagle Rock overlook; hiking trails that include a section of the 140-mile Horse-Shoe Trail; and one of the largest blocks of privately owned forestland in the Furnace Hills of Lancaster and Lebanon counties.
Public hunting also would be allowed, as it is in all game lands.
Matt Adams, Scout executive of the Pennsylvania Dutch Council of the Boy Scouts of America, calls the proposal “sell to preserve.”
“Part of our mission is stewardship of land,” Adams added. “It would be used exactly as it is today, without the ability to camp.”
Camp Mack would still retain nearly 600 acres of land near Brickerville that includes all its campsites, swimming pool, dining hall and other buildings.
Moreover, Adams said all money realized by a sale would go into an endowment to be invested in camping programs.
“Camp Mack is a bright property, but it’s pretty tired and old, and it needs investment into it,” Adams said.
He emphasized the facility, which has served Boy Scouts in Lancaster and Lebanon counties since 1968, is not in any kind of financial crisis, which has been an issue in recent years in some other Scout camps in the region.
But he said the Boy Scout council, like many, finds itself “land rich.”
Loren Miller, manager of Elizabeth Township, said the “township would applaud retaining it as publicly accessible lands.”
The Boy Scout camp has long allowed the public to park and hike on its property.
The land is zoned conservation, which would restrict most types of development.
None of the parties involved in the negotiations would reveal the proposed purchase price. One party to the proposal said the 392 acres was valued at one point at $3 million.
More than a year ago, initial negotiations to preserve the property were spearheaded by the nonprofit Lancaster County Conservancy, which hoped to buy the property.
But the conservancy brought in the Game Commission to be the landowner because that could open up substantial federal money under a program known as the Highlands Conservation Act. The conservancy also asked the Delaware County-based Natural Lands group to handle grants.
Next steps in process
If the Pennsylvania Dutch Council board votes to proceed with seeking grants toward a land sale in January, Natural Lands would initiate grant applications.
“We wouldn’t be talking if we did not have a pretty good idea that we were going to be successful,” said Jack Stefferud, senior director of land preservation for Natural Lands.
State grants for recreation and conservation also would be key funding source.
“We all want to do the right thing for both the land and Boy Scouts,” Stefferud said.
In addition to the game lands connection and protection of existing trails, he said a deal would preserve mature forestland and protect clean water and wildlife corridors.
“It rings all the bells. From a conservation standpoint, there is no reason not to do this,” he said.
The Game Commission could not be reached Friday for comment.