April 28, 2011 -
There are many strange things in the Blood Root Valley. There is the half-abandoned tuberculosis hospital. There is a 260-foot mountain made by Robert Moses. And there is Pouch Camp, a hidden 143-acre oasis with a 68-year-old lake, mountain ponds, rustic cabins and 55 lean-tos. For over 60 years, Pouch Camp has been a secret haven for New York City's boy scouts. Each year, thousands of scouts learn to swim and camp within the boundaries this vast idyllic refuge. Located in the heart of Staten Island, Pouch Camp is so large it even has its own private island, which is difficult to reconcile with the fact that the camp is situated inside the most populous city in the United States. Located just 10 miles from Wall Street, Pouch Camp has somehow remained largely anonymous. "Few New Yorkers know of it," according to the NY Times, and it is instead "a habitat for deer, owls, snakes, turtles and herons."
In the off season, William H. Pouch Scout Camp is peaceful and largely deserted. Winding trails snake through hills dotted with ponds. Lean-tos sit quietly in the woods, waiting for summer. Small streams flow down from the hills into Ohrbach Lake, the man-made lake at the heart of Pouch Camp. Its beaches are closed, the boats stowed, and park rangers are busy replanting trees and cleaning roads around its edges in preparation for another busy summer season. Aside from the scouts, Pouch Camp also hosts a day camp each summer for boys and girls from around New York City, with fishing, swimming, boating, rock climbing and archery.
However, a "black cloud" hangs over the preparations for this summer, and "the future of the property is very much uncertain," according the most recent news from the Staten Island Advance. Back in November 2009, "citing financial stress," the Greater New York Councils of Boy Scouts announced that they planned to market and sell Pouch Camp (PDF document). The boyscouts had been "hit hard by the recession," according to the NY Times, and had lost $5 million in donations. Almost immediately, thousands of Pouch Camp supporters organized in response, according to the Staten Island Advance, amidst fears that the property would be sold to developers. Members of the community have marched on City Hall, organized a website (www.savepouch.com) and have a 6,000+ member facebook group (Save the William H. Pouch Scout Camp). Despite their efforts, the camp may still be closed down and sold off.
For many of Pouch Camp's supporters, the heart of the issue is not just supporting the camp's activities, but trying to preserve a vital link in Staten Island's Greenbelt, a 2,800 acre wilderness that is "New York City’s largest remaining forest preserve," according to the Greenbelt Conservancy. "Even if you don't have any first-hand caring about the Scout program or the habitat for critters there, the economic benefit throughout the world, the country and the region is proven," the president of the Greenbelt Conservancy told the Staten Island Advance. "Something like this just makes your home livable."