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Making New Memories at Camp Golden Pond

Starting at their first Daisy troop meeting, Girl Scouts are taught to “make new friends but keep the old. One is silver, and the other’s gold.” No words rang truer when the time came for local Girl Scouts and troop leaders to partner with community members to keep an old friend, their beloved Golden Pond camp, as a Girl Scout treasure after it was closed down.  

Located less than 20 miles south of State College, Camp Golden Pond opened as a Huntingdon County Girl Scout camp in 1988, when the Hemlock Girl Scout Council purchased 200 acres of camping area that included Lake Louise, a seven-acre man-made lake. Prior to this purchase, State College-area Girl Scouts had camped at the now defunct Camp Barree, also in Huntingdon County. For more than 30 years, the summer experiences and memories created at Golden Pond were more priceless than the camp’s precious-metal namesake.  

“Golden Pond was home to many service units and troops through the years, allowing deep connections and memories that surround many outdoor activities such as archery, canoeing, hiking, day camps, outdoor cooking, camporees, singing, team building, exploration of nature and so much more,” says Sharon Bloom, a Friends of Golden Pond board member and the organization’s treasurer.

In 2008, the Hemlock Girl Scout Council merged into the Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania (GSHPA) as the Girl Scouts of the USA realigned its assets and council boundaries across the country. In November 2017, GSHPA formed a property committee to assess the status of its seven camps and rate them to be retired, reviewed or retained. After operating Golden Pond for nearly 10 years after the merger, GSHPA decided to close the camp, along with Camp Echo Trail in York County, and put the properties up for sale in 2018. It was then that Friends of Golden Pond, a grassroots volunteer group, formed to negotiate the purchase of the camp. 

Though Golden Pond was officially sold to a private buyer later that year after failed purchase negotiations occurred between GSHPA and Friends of Golden Pond, the volunteer group was able to successfully negotiate a lease agreement for the camp’s core 55 acres.

Dawn Wolfhope, a Friends of Golden Pond board member and reservation manager for the group, says the camp reopened for public rentals under the management of Friends of Golden Pond in March 2019, in accordance with the group’s lease.

Volunteers Wolfhope (left) and Bloom help manage the camp. (Photo by David Silber)

“Camp Golden Pond is a drive to go to in Huntingdon County, but the most efficient for groups in our area to travel to,” she says. “We felt that we needed to keep this resource at all costs.”

Bloom, who became involved with Golden Pond shortly after it was purchased by the Hemlock Girl Scout Council, says without the Friends of Golden Pond group, the camp would have been lost. The group’s efforts paid off in 2021 when it was able to secure a mortgage to purchase the 55-acre space—as long as it had the required down payment and business plan to show that the group could successfully operate the camp.

“During the time that we had leased the camp, many people gave donations that we put aside as much as we could to use to buy the camp,” Bloom says.

Wolfhope, who became involved with the camp fifteen years ago when her daughters began attending the camps that were run by service units (local groups of Girl Scout troops), says the down payment was gathered through these donations, numerous fundraisers and leftover funds from the group’s public rentals.

“This task was not an easy one,” says Wolfhope. “It took many hours of dedication and the wonderful hearts of our benefactors who donated the funds for the down payment of the mortgage.”

Now, as a camp owned and managed by the Friends of Golden Pond, Camp Golden Pond remains a Girl Scout resource but also serves many other local groups, such as the Boy Scouts of America, church groups, corporate groups, clubs, alumni groups and families.

One such family with a history at Golden Pond is Sara Mueller’s.

In 1999, Mueller was a Brownie Girl Scout at the camp. Her mother, Lisa Harrington, volunteered at a weekend camp that summer. The next summer, both Mueller and Harrington returned.

“After the first year, Mom started directing the camps,” Mueller says. “I see now that she developed a dynamite team of women who were creating experiences for us young women and leading by example.”

Golden Pond quickly became a staple in Mueller’s and Harrington’s lives, starting and ending their summers.

Camp Golden Pond offers a fleet of canoes and kayaks on its seven-acre lake. Photo by David Silber

“Golden Pond holds memories,” Harrington says. “It is a place where I watched Sara and hundreds of other young women grow confident in friendships, outdoor skills, public speaking and leadership. I was also a part of a phenomenal group of adults forming friendships, bonding and trying new things ourselves.”

By working to keep Golden Pond open, Friends of Golden Pond is providing the same opportunities Mueller and Harrington experienced to other Girl Scouts and community members. Wolfhope highlights how Friends of Golden Pond has partnered with groups like Trout Unlimited and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to provide enhanced experiences to those who visit the camp.

“Golden Pond itself is a very healthy and working ecosystem,” she says. “I think it is very important to teach today’s youth and adults how to coexist with wildlife, how to respect the natural beauty and how to coexist with a group without electronics. This site gives you a haven for you to interact with someone, do something out of your comfort zone and even learn a thing or two about the world around you.”

As a reimaged camp, Golden Pond offers seven lodging units of varying size, space for tent camping, a fleet of canoes and kayaks, archery equipment and range, traverse wall, gaga ball pit, picnic areas, two docks and educational workshops—all available to both Girl Scouts and community members. 

“Our mission is to provide an environment and programming at affordable costs to youth groups and organizations that promote and develop confident and courageous individuals who come to have a great appreciation and understanding of nature and the outdoors,” Bloom says. 

The large Legacy Lodge is one of several lodging units at Camp Golden Pond. Photo by David Silber.

Because of these amenities and the camp’s environment, Harrington says Golden Pond was always a front-runner when looking for a venue for Mueller’s September 3 wedding to Nathan Weyandt. 

“My fiancé and I are both in the natural resources field and have a strong connection to the outdoors,” says Mueller. “We wanted a place with water and woods, and my personal connection to the property made the location a must.” 

Wolfhope says it is experiences like Mueller’s, drawing her back to Golden Pond for her wedding, that keep the camp going. She encourages community members to visit the camp to experience its wonder. 

“We hope our future is long and bright,” Wolfhope says. “We could use the community’s help with visiting our camp, considering a rental, considering volunteering one day of your time or considering a donation. We are a very special group and work great together. There are very, very few groups that can organize and actually purchase a camp when put in the same situation. It really takes some special people. It takes some people who can put others first. It takes people who generally care about the community.”

To learn more about Golden Pond and its available resources, visit friendsofgoldenpond.orgT&G

Samantha Chavanic is a freelance writer for Town&Gown and a former Girl Scout. This story appears in the October 2022 issue of Town&Gown.