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Loss of Rye’s Durland Center Part of Boy Scout Investigation by Hearst Media

In 2007, Rye lost the 44 year old Durland Scout Center (see: Rye to Scouts: Go Pitch a Tent), a remarkable piece of waterfront property on Stuyvesant Avenue on Milton Point, when the Boy Scouts sold the property to a developer who plans to bulldoze the community resource and erect two McMansions.

The Durland story is a shameful loss to our community. It stunning given the massive talent and resources of our community and the general ethic most residents seem to embrace around our recreation and conservation areas.

Now, as part of a Hearst Media investigation of the Boy Scouts of America (BOA) called "Scouts Dishonor", the Durland Center is the centerpiece of a report by Albany Times-Union Reporter Nadja Drost on how the Scouts are violating their own conservation ethic by selling off and clear cutting land under their stewardship.

Tell us what you think about the loss of Durland, or about what Durland meant to you, by posting a comment below.

Here is the excerpt covering Durland:

"RYE, N.Y. — Agatha Durland loved the Boy Scouts of America. She wrote poems about them. When she died in 1963, she left the Scouts her waterfront mansion on Long Island Sound and it became the Durland Center, also used by the community of Rye , N.Y., for education and recreation.

In 2007, the 2-acre plot was sold for $6.2 million for future development with two luxury homes. Lovers of Durland Center were heartbroken. “The Scouts shouldn’t be all about the dollars, it should be a little bit about cooperating,” said Ward Urban, a Rye resident. “So now we’ve lost the center to two mega mansions.”

The fate of Durland’s bequest could befall many precious properties the Boy Scouts own — through donation or purchase — across New York . As more scout councils find themselves struggling with financial shortfalls, declining membership and fall-out from mergers with other councils, they sometimes turn to selling off reservations that have kept preserved some of the state’s most pristine landscape…

Westchester Putnam Council — 10,000 members strong — was plagued with deficits averaging more than $300,000 annually between 2000 and 2006. In 2000, the United Way withdrew its annual support, which had reached $130,000.

Selling the Durland Center meant its value could be invested elsewhere, the council in Hawthorne , Westchester County , said. “It was underutilized,” said John Coughlin, a board member.

Still, selling Durland was inconceivable to many scout volunteers, who recalled how sale of their beloved Camp Siwanoy in the late 1980s had triggered volunteer revolt.  Controversy arose again in the early 1990s – the New York Times reported that decades after an environmentalist had sold 1400 acres north of Peekskill at a reduced price to the Scouts on their honor it would remain wild, the Scouts wanted to sell it to a developer planning a golf course and conference center. But the sale never happened and Clear Lake Reservation was saved.

The decision to sell the Durland Center coincided with the entry of a new council executive, Jack Sears. His not-subtle message “Raise more money!” filled six of 13 lines on a to-do list he sent to staff.

Selling Durland would do just that — but at too great a cost, many argued.

Scout volunteers and residents argued the Durland sale violated the intent of Durland’s will. The council successfully argued in court that it satisfied a requirement in the Durland’s will that any sale be used to establish a new or “similar” Camp Durland elsewhere. It would do so by investing the profits into the already-existing camp, Clear Lake , and rename it the Durland Scout Reservation.

Disturbed scout volunteers and residents minced no words in letters to a judge imploring him to protect the poet’s estate: “Morally wrong.” “An irreplaceable property.” “The money won’t be safeguarded.”

“I’m sure [Durland] did not mean [the trust] to be a temporary bailout for poor fiscal management,” wrote a scout volunteer.

The community of Rye also didn’t want to lose a center that was home to swimming and sailing programs, and an alternative high school.

The Rye City School District, together with the City of Rye, made an informal $3 million offer, according to Ed Shine, Superintendent of Schools. Scout council board member Coughlin said the council knew it could get a far higher price.

That disappointed Urban, the resident who mobilized residents.

“It’s really the leadership that made these decisions and seemed to me very uninterested in collaborating with the city,” he said.

This summer, a boat rack with ‘ Durland Center ’ etched into a wooden sign is empty. Wheelbarrows and trailers are strewn about the property. Where Agatha Durland’s beautiful home once was, two luxury homes will someday stand instead — but void of any scouts."

26 COMMENTS

  1. Another sacrifice on the altar of diversity. One consequence of the ’90s lawsuit brought by the ACLU against the Boy Scouts for not allowing gays, atheists, agnostics or girls(!) was that major corporations that had supported the BSA for years suddenly stopped funding them once they became “controversial”. Additionally, local governments started to review and reverse longstanding agreements with the scouts on the use of local public lands. All this because the organization wanted to continue promoting the same standards and ethics they have since they were founded.
    The resultant financial squeeze forced the BSA to take stock of their assets and liquify (sell) those that were not being used for scouting activities enough to justify retaining them.
    So don’t blame the BSA for struggling to stay solvent, blame the corporate fatcats and politicos who are spineless in the face of a hostile and very vocal minority special interest group.

    PS – You should all expect a post shortly from HealtheHarbor about how its really all part of a plot to keep Hen Island polluted, and another from Wry Record blaming Otis, Shew, Plunkett and the Police.

  2. Two great responses. Past generations of Boy Scouts were able to enjoy the Durland Center and all that it offered.

    Because the Boy Scouts have been unfairly vilified in the name of political correctness, future generations of Boy Scouts are forced to suffer the loss.

    A very sad situation.

  3. Perhaps I’m missing something here. Are there really people who feel that an organization that portrays itself as a place where children go to build character, but continues to systematically and openly discriminate against gay people, as well as people who don’t necessarily subscribe to some community approved religious beliefs, should still be considered an organization in good standing in The United States of America? I thought we were living in more enlightened times. The mission statement of the Boy Scouts of America reads: “The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.” This is an organization whose archaic teachings and rules are neither “ethical nor moral”. The message that the Boy Scouts of America sends to young people is that as long as you walk a little old lady across the street, and promise to discriminate against gay people, and people who may question the existence of your god, we’ll hand you a shiny new merit badge. Let organizations like this go the way of water fountains with a sign over them that read “white only”. Don’t cloak the immorality of the Boy Scouts in a nice dressing of “good deeds’ only for those we feel deserving. It’s the 21st century, and it’s time we evolve. Wouldn’t it be great if one of the two “McMansions” became home to a Gay couple, and the other…now hold on… ATHEISTS. Perish the thought.

  4. RyeRes –
    The fact that certain people wish to associate themselves with others of similar thoughts and feelings is human nature. It’s why there’s gay bars, private clubs, sports associations, religions, hobby clubs and thousands of other organizations. It is also a Constitutional right – in fact, it’s the very first amendment in the Bill of Rights. I, for one, am sick and tired of the gays, athiests and agnostics trying to force change in an organization that has done so much to instill character in so many young men. If any gay wants to start a similar organization to promote their own beliefs, there’s no law against it.
    Furthermore, there is nothing in the BSA that asks its members to promise to discriminate against gay people. Before mouthing off such inaccurate statements, please, educate yourself on the organization you disparage, read the Bill of Rights, and try not to hate others so much.
    Lastly, I see nothing wrong with having the two McMansions become homes to a gay couple or atheists. But I also fail to see what would be so great about it – would it help you feel better about yourself if you could tell others you live in a town with gays and atheists? Why?

  5. Durland was an important part of my childhood in Rye. I remember being a scout there in its first year of operation. How beautiful the facility was, clean, bright, spacious and filled with all manner of gear for water sports.

    I later took SCUBA lessons there as a teenager under the direction of Buster Crabbe – Rye’s own Hollywood movie action adventure hero. “The Flash,” as we used to call him, would teach class at the bottom of the pool without using an air tank (he said it was for sissies). We sissies would sit around him on the bottom, puffing away heavily on our regulators as he demonstrated mask clearing and buddy breathing – all without his own air supply. He would occasionally take a breath from someone’s regulator but mostly he just used what air he could fill his lungs with at the surface and then hold that breath for impossibly long periods.

    I remember Mrs. Durland had provided a large endowment of cash to ensure the center could be maintained at a very high level and everyone who enjoyed the facilities hoped that some idiot would never run it and squander that endowment and put the place in jeopardy. And for several decades everything worked just the way she wanted it.

    It’s a disgrace that non-profits get to renege on important promises like this but in Rye it’s not the first or only instance. Many out there will remember how the Methodist Council promised the last private owners of the Jay Estate that they would keep the house and grounds in perpetuity – they were so honored to receive them as a gift – and then they sold them under an economic hardship pretext to a local developer (just like the Boy Scouts did here). We all owe a lot to the people who fought all the vested interests surrounding that sale and persevered to reclaim the Jay property for the use it fulfills today. What a crime we couldn’t defend Durland in the same way.

  6. I was a cubscout master for 10 years and assisted in a boy scout troop.
    What a joy it was to encourage those kids to learn and contribute to their community.
    Both boys and involved adults were enriched.
    Durland was an asset to both Rye and Westchester county. It is a loss, however times change and whatever happens to the property is fine as long as it is put to productive use.

  7. The Rye School District receives a lot of tuition money from other school districts to send their kids to the Rye School of Leadership. The City of Rye needs more space for their summer camp. There will never be another water front property available for the City of Rye to purchase.

    I believe that given all these variables it was a real shame that this property was not purchased by the City of Rye and the Rye School District.

    The school district moved the School of Leadership to the former administration building next to Midland School. They moved the administrative offices to Theodroe Fremd Avenue where they are leasing office space.

    I wonder if the cost of the new lease and the tuition paid from outside school districts would have been better spent on the City of Rye getting a very beautiful and very useable waterfront property at very little cost to Rye taxpayers.

  8. Shine should reoffer the money for the center and let’s use the building for rye rec summer camp, varsity sailing, swimming and crew as well as the alternative school. Once the mcmansions are built you won’t get the water access back. Its priceless.

  9. Also if they have to close the Rye Marina in 5 to 10 years because they can’t afford to dredge it again, I believe Durland is outside of the dredging area and could possibly be utilized as a marina.

    Where is Otis on this?

  10. Please don’t give Otis any ideas. Our taxes are already too high, and the city will not get the property “at very little cost to the taxpayer”. Far from it. The site would need extensive repairs and upgrades, and the city would need to hire permanent staff to maintain and run any new facilities.
    In theory, it’s a great idea to have public waterfront access, but the reality is, the public didn’t use the Durland site enough to generate income for the BSA – exactly how would government do any better?

  11. You are right Scooter but I think more options should have been explored by both the City of Rye and the Rye City School District to purchase this property.

  12. I don’t have children but I think it’s a shame that this facility BSA would be converted to 2 McMansions. Uh. .. don’t we already have enough of those in Rye? along with too many banks and country clubs.

    if I had my choice I’d figure out a culture/educational center for kids, especially teenagers. I see teenagers especially walking the streets late at night with no place to go. I see them drinking beer and even leaving the empty beer cans on our property. We chased off a couple young men literally peeing in our yard for god sake! Obviously the McMansions aren’t the place where the youngsters want to hang out…. the skating rink isn’t the place either.

    I think this land should be converted to a place for young people of all races, religions and sexual orientations. it would be interesting to have a modern cyber center for young people – what video games and video stores use to be to us as a kid. Kids can learn more about Macs or technology, or play video games etc.

    my two cents.

  13. JE, I couldn’t disagree more with your recommendation for a “cyber center”. In my opinion, kids today spend far too much time in a “cyber world” and not enough time in the real world. Almost all kids are fully computer literate by the age of 8 or 9 and have their fill of video games at home. Teenagers cannot live without their cellphone/pda/blackberry/text devices. They need less technology, not more.

    A site like Durland would be great for a cultural center, but the emphasis should be on recreation and outdoor activities (swimming, boating, sailing, etc.) and interpersonal social interaction (dances, parties, community involvement, etc.) not burying there noses in computers.

  14. I’m just making a recommendation on a center for kids to go to – it’s obvious the teenagers of Rye have no place to go and no place to hang out and I’d prefer for them not to be roaming the streets.
    Some type of educational center or learning center would be perfect.

  15. As a new resident to rye and former cubmstr and sctmstr with other districts I am not surprised with the sequence of events leading to the selling off the property..as far as I have observed rye no longer has a strong scouting program.. cubs is non existent at milton school.. and the district council did not return several calls to me when I was enquiring about local units..Durland would have been still a scout property if the residents of rye would have maintain a strong program.

  16. JE great idea.

    However, when you have a carpet bag Police Commissioner, a carpet bag City Manager and a head in the sand Rye City Council wanting to enforce an unconstitutional and illegal loitering law against the youth of Rye, you get the feeling that they would rather arrest kids than give them a place to go.

  17. Westchester-Putnam Council Board Members caved too easily to a Scout Executive (Jack Sears) who was ONLY concerned about increasing membership numbers and increasing money in the bank.

    Durland was ‘underused’ ONLY because BSA deliberately LIMITED access hours. Truth is that Durland should have MADE money for BSA. It had a trust fund for maintenance and upkeep (which were routinely deferred to justify the closing of Durland) – the Council wanted that money for use elsewhere. BSA collected fees from others using Durland – and even from BSA units using it. But then ‘cooking the books’ to justify property sales is routine now in BSA.

    Jack Sears was determined to close Durland from the first day he saw it. This is a too common ploy by BSA professionals to make their financials look better. It’s easy to sell off property – especially when you’ve so alienated your volunteers that they refuse to give ANY money to support Council operations.

    I’m from a family that has been in Scouting in Westchester for decades. MILLIONS of dollars in property have been sold off (often with major questions about those sales remaining unanswered – Siwanoy was sold for less than expected to someone with connections to the Scout Executive at the time – before Jack Sears arrived). These sales REDUCE the number of places boys can go and alienating those that might otherwise support Scouting. Summer Camp now means Camp Read – four hours away. Old Camp Waubeeka and Siwanoy were under two hours – and perfect for younger Scouts. Read is a real ‘roughing it’ camp.

    These sales work AGAINST long term financial support. It’s hard to get money from someone appealing to their youthful memories when you’ve sold off all of the places a person remembers.

    The sale of Camp Siwanoy (a place close enough to be used on weekends as well as summers) was SUPPOSED to be the last sale of the many places we once owned. Durland was sold against the wishes of many volunteers and in violation of the terms of Agatha Durland’s will. She wanted to INCREASE the number of facilities available to Scouts. Sticking her name on a pile of rocks and stagnant lake (operating under a conservation easement for SWAMPLAND), a place ALREADY owned by BSA was in clear violation of the intent of her will (BSA’s attorneys are VERY GOOD at getting around words – no matter what the intent).

    BSA here and nationally, is NOT run for the benefit of the boys in it – or the volunteers that do all the work. There are too many like Jack Sears – who view BSA as a well paid sinecure. He made TWICE what his Girl Scout counterpart made (while overseeing HALF the membership).

    Jack Sears is now gone after making a mess of things here – duplicating his record elsewhere. He NEVER came close to the membership numbers he promised, lied about the small membership increases he claimed. A promised audit by a local volunteer NEVER HAPPENED and the BSA one that occurred NEVER examined numbers stating ONLY that “procedures were being followed”.

    Sears left Westchester-Putnam worse off than when he arrived – with FEWER acticve adult members and lower numbers of actively participating youth (repeating a history of mismanagement and volunteer alienation shown at his previous posting – Flint River GA).

    BSA is committing slow-motion suicide – led my paid management more concerned with preserving their high salaries than serving youth.

    Our Troop used Durland Monthly, and our Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts used it during the summer as well. There was NO EXCUSE for selling it and NO VALID REASON to do so.

    The Board of Westchester-Putnam BSA was NOT listening to its membership and literally ran out of meetings when HUNDREDS of volunteers showed up to protest. But you can’t win. Even when volunteers manage to vote out their Council Leaders, BSA intervenes and threatens to take over. For BSA it’s all about the $$$$ now.

    Volunteers routinely joke that the ONLY time we see paid staff is when they show up to ask for money. The largest expense is paid staff salaries – and note that camping fees cover expenses. Paid staff are expensive overhead. Volunteers are the ones running Troops and Packs.

    Well over a hundred volunteer leaders walked away from Council positions here – many of the posts they filled remain empty or filled in name only.

    The Board members like Coughlin were too willing to do as told by the paid staff that was supposed to serve THEM. You now have a bunch of old men or politicians or businessmen serving on Council Boards – handpicked by the paid staff. You do NOT have Scoutmasters and others that are active in serving youth every week, people that CARE about Scouting.

    It’s a shame.

  18. Having been involved in the Durland development, I know that both the City and the School Board were offered the opportunity to participate financially to keep Durland open to the public. The City refused to participate and the School Board’s financial offer was pitiful. They all knew the deal and didn’t step up to the plate.

  19. I went to Durland in the 70’s as a camper. I remember well the days of swimming, rowing and canoeing even trips to Candlewood Lake in Ct. I remember the Radio Shack and my brother even obtained one of the sail boats that were maned after the America Cup winners.

    I too met Buster Crabbe when I took SCUBA lessons there and saw him just about every weekend when I eventually gave back and helped to teach swimming and lifesaving.

    I also went on to Camp Siwanoy to teach at the waterfront the lessons I learned in swimming, lifesaving, rowing and canoeing under the name Harry the Hat that was given to me at Durland. I also remember the the saying that was posted on just about everything in the place; “Let good use justify what good will has provided”

    Gone all gone

  20. A travesty! Such a wealthy community as this should be ashamed to sell off properties that trusting a bequeather gave to the community, believing her gifts would be understood and honored, is despicable. Shame on all you!

  21. Oh please stop with the talk about Rye residents being supposed to buy it for the scouts . Who in their right mind would support a monster tax hike to do this when the town is bankrupt and has to issue bonds to do routine road paving and our schools are crumbling and overcrowded ? Wake up to bigger problems we have folks !

    Maybe some of you who mindlessly give to United Way because ‘ everybody does’ might return the next envelope with the above press release and thank them for helping put Boy Scouts in position they have to sell places like this and give them what they deserve …. NADA .

  22. @LDH Design (Lauren Hawkins) when the Boy Scouts decided to sell Durland, they disappointed many Rye residents. There were a few efforts to get different combinations of groups (centered as near as I can tell around the city or the school district) to buy the property from the Boy Scouts, nothing came together. Some will say it was because of the amount of money the Scouts were seeking. Others would say it was because there was not enough demand for the property from Rye residents. Given that Rye already owns a golf club, a “castle”, and a harbor/boat club PLUS the existence of multiple beach clubs, sailing clubs, golf clubs, and the Y, keeping Durland in “public” ownership was far from a no-brainer. It sure would be nice to still have it, but as a tax payer, it sure is nice to have the property on the tax roles.

    So, before you ‘tsk’ at Rye for having let Durland go, give a thought to all of the considerations that go into such an event.

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