BEVERLY — The city will soon own a piece of Paradise — 12 acres, in fact.
The City Council voted this week to purchase Camp Paradise, a wooded lot off Cole Road owned by the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, for $950,000.
The property contains a short but winding dirt and gravel road leading to a small building. Picnic tables are scattered along the path to the building, and a small pond provides a scenic view deep inside the wooded area.
Many longtime Beverly residents have fond memories of times at the camp.
“I remember going to a church picnic there when I was 12 or 13 years old,” said Bruce Doig, Parks and Recreation director. “My daughter was there when she was a Girl Scout, and my son went there for several things when he was a Boy Scout.”
“Some of us grew up skating on Girl Scout Pond,” said Mayor Mike Cahill. “I know I did for years.”
The Girl Scouts acquired ownership of the camp in 1963, and it remained under the care of the local Spar & Spindle Girl Scouts Council until 2008. That’s when three Girl Scout councils, including Spar & Spindle, merged to form the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, according to Barbara Fortier, chief operating officer of Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts.
One of the new council’s first tasks was to go through the 27 properties they owned and shed the least desirable. Camp Paradise and another piece of property in Rowley ranked the lowest of all of the group’s holdings, Fortier said.
Over time, the Girl Scouts and city officials worked out a deal for the city to buy the property. As they did so, the recreation department rented the site and started using it regularly to see how it could best be used going forward, Doig said.
“Starting in late June, we started taking our camp groups over there,” Doig said. “We put our camps there and the kids did a lot of different activities over there, games that require less space and other activities like arts and crafts.”
What the department found was that the site was paradise for much of their programming, Doig said.
“We envision using it for some science camps, camps for kids who want more of a natural, nature setting and less of the oceanfront,” Doig said. “Down here at Lynch Park, our camps are very active camps with games and sports-related activities. Over there, it wouldn’t be more educational, but more nature-centric.”
The building could be used to house small lectures and craft projects. A full basement could also be used for storage.
There is some concern about traffic safety, so the city will spend $64,000 to put sidewalks in on one side of Cole Street.
The impact on traffic will be minimal, according to Cahill. Programs running at the site aren’t expected to draw massive crowds, so trips on the road will almost appear routine.
“The use of this property, in this area, is going to include local traffic that’s already using those roads,” Cahill said.
The purchase, meanwhile, isn’t expected to take place until at least July 1, 2015, when some of the funding will become available, according to Cahill.
The site is being paid for through a state grant for $400,000, along with $450,000 in city money from the Community Preservation Act. Another $100,000 will come from the Parks and Recreation’s enterprise fund. The state grant won’t be available until July, the start of the new fiscal year, Cahill said.
Fortier said the Girl Scouts are thrilled that Camp Paradise will continue to be used in the same manner.
“We started with a goal of wanting to conserve the property, because they’re beautiful properties,” Fortier said. “The partnership with the town is the best, best, best possible outcome for us, and we couldn’t be happier.”
The purchase hasn’t received universal acclaim, however.
City Councilor Matthew St. Hilaire has opposed it from the start, on financial grounds.
“It’s going to have implications for the city going forward,” St. Hilaire said. “We’ve got the new middle school coming up, a lot of infrastructure projects, a lot of things outlined by the administration over the next five to 10 years.”
He said it’s not just the purchase cost, but ancillary costs that come with owning property.
“We’re going to have to maintain it,” he said. “If this is something we’re going to be losing money on, I don’t see it as a priority.”
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