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Give the Girl Scouts your support

Camp Honi Hanta, the local Girl Scouts camp in East Manatee that serves a 10-county area, has a couple of observation towers. At one time they were part of single fire tower that was cut in two.

On Thursday, I had a chance to climb one of the towers with Sandi Stewart, who has served as CEO of the Girl Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida for the past 23 years.

Also climbing up the tower were Richard Gonnering, property director, and Scott Gearity, camp ranger.

The only one who expressed any trepidation about the tower was Sandi, who said she didn’t mind the ascent so much as the descent.

I don’t know about the other fellows, but I don’t like heights either, and I was probably dishonest somehow in failing to disclose that fact.

Even though the climb up the tower was only half as scary as a climb up a regular fire tower — after all it’s only half as tall — when we reached the top, it was up there: we were looking at tree-top level.

The tower offers a nice view, especially to the east where a meandering stretch of the Braden River helps keep some wetland areas wet. I enjoyed that view, but with a big clunky camera around my neck and a notepad in my hand, I was at a disadvantage in ascending and descending.

Fortunately for me, there were no missteps.

Which allowed me to concentrate on reporting a story about First Bank’s donation of 24 acres that had been in foreclosure to the Girl Scouts.

Typically, camps like Honi Hanta get ringed in by growth, and cannot expand. But the campground, which the Girl Scouts acquired in 1955 and which was only 60 acres as recently as 2004, has managed to get up to 114 acres this decade alone. In 2005, the Jewett family sold 30 acres of waterfront property to the Girl Scout Council for $1.5 million.

That leaves Honi Hanta in fine shape land-wise, and Stewart says the council has no plans to go elsewhere. But Stewart will be retiring in January for family reasons, and has few regrets, noting that she has had a great ride.

There is, however, the matter of a fine-looking, two-year-old swimming pool that won’t hold water. A lawsuit against the contractor is pending in court.

And the Girl Scouts are facing the challenges of what we all know too well: the horrendous economy. The council has had to freeze wages, cut pay and take other steps. That grand tradition, the Girl Scout cookie sale, has been down each of the past two years.

In part to deal with the economic downturn, the council is planning a Pearls and Denim fundraiser March 6 at Camp Honi Hanta. Stewart likens it to a black tie gala, except there will no black ties, and instead of a ballroom, there will be 114 acres of nature.

Then in January, the Girl Scouts will begin taking orders for cookies. Be sure to order a few boxes from your favorite Girl Scout.

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.

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