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Scouts sell land to water district

Published Aug. 28, 2005

The governing board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District agreed Tuesday to buy the McGregor Smith Scout Reservation in northeast Citrus.

The $13.5-million purchase will join Swiftmud properties at Flying Eagle, Potts Preserve, Gum Slough and Panasoffkee Outlet. It also will change the nature of the 5,484-acre camp, which the South Florida Council of the Boy Scouts has owned since 1969.

The property sale is expected to close in December, according to Swiftmud officials. Norm Silber, president of the South Florida Council, said the Boy Scouts will continue to maintain the property until then because Swiftmud hopes to make public use of some of the facilities.

The property may be open to Scout activities in the future.

"We've had some discussions about it," said Michael Molligan, Swiftmud spokesman. "We're open to the idea."

The property, which includes 3.7 miles of frontage along the Withlacoochee River, was purchased by the Boy Scouts' South Florida Council for $1-million in 1969. Anyone wondering why the organization is selling the extensive acreage, Silber said, should consult a map.

"Do you know where Citrus County is in relation to Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties?" asked Silber, whose organization represents Florida's three most southern counties. "Having driven it myself, it's about a 5{-hour drive, depending on how fast you fly."

The original plan, Silber said, was for about 10 Boy Scout councils throughout Florida to develop camps at the McGregor Smith Scout Reservation, and 30,000 Scouts could attend camp there each summer. "Instead of that, only one camp was ever developed," Silber said. "Everybody else backed out."

For the past decade, the number of Scouts attending camp at McGregor Smith has hovered around 1,000, Silber said.

He estimates that the council loses $100,000 to $150,000 annually just to maintain the camp. And since the United Way cut its ties with the Boy Scouts, fundraising is difficult, he added.

The South Florida Council owns other properties within its district, but those were donated by the government, and revert to the government, if the Scouts decide to give them up. McGregor Smith, meanwhile, was an asset worth money.

The decision to sell didn't come easily. The McGregor Smith Scout Reservation holds memories for generations of Florida's Boy Scouts, including many who remain involved as troop and council leaders today. The board of the South Florida Council voted on a 2-to-1 margin to sell, Silber said, despite the financial liabilities of the camp.

Silber noted that the Scouts favored working with Swiftmud to keep McGregor Smith undeveloped.

"Personally, I camped there with my troop as a scoutmaster. It's classical Florida. I love it, and it's a great piece of property. The problem is, people don't want to go there.

"Not enough people liked it. Not enough people wanted to use it."

The Boy Scouts' South Florida Council will continue pumping money into the property until the Swiftmud closes on the deal, probably in December. Just keeping the power, the swimming pool cool and other general maintenance in check will cost about $30,000 over the next few months, Silber estimated.

Added Silber: "We're trying to be Scout-like about it."

Amy Wimmer Schwarb can be reached at 860-7305 or wimmersptimes.com.