CURRIE — A nearly 25-acre parcel along the shores of Lake Shetek in Murray County will remain a pristine wooded area after being purchased at public auction by the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota.
The property, owned by the Boy Scouts of America Sioux Council for the past 79 years, garnered a sale price of $1.85 million. At least 75 bid numbers were issued for the auction, with a couple of online bidders participating as well. The closing is anticipated to be completed before the end of the year.
Brett Feldman, executive director of the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota, said the nonprofit organization hopes to work with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Parks and Trails division to fully incorporate the property into Lake Shetek State Park. The scout camp had always operated within the statutory boundaries of the park.
“We acquire and protect land for public use and benefit,” said Feldman, adding that the group was pleased to be able to purchase the last large tract of wooded shoreline on Lake Shetek and save it from development.
“You have 250-year-old oak trees on that land,” Feldman said. “We just know we did the right thing by protecting it.”
The land includes a large lodge, which was built in 1948, along with a shed, some cabins and a couple of latrines on the grounds. Over the years, thousands of scouts had used the site for Camporees, Klondike derbies, Junior Leader training, Akela camps, Cub Scout day camps and WoodBadge training.
Feldman said those scout members may have had their first outdoors experiences at that camp, and developed a significant appreciation for the land.
“The hope is it will become part of the (state) park and they will be able to visit,” he added. “It’s a very sacred place. We hope that everyone who visits will have an opportunity to see just how sacred it is.
“When you step on that land, you’ll feel the connection to the past. There’s not a lot of places that are in their natural state like that.”
Selling the property was not easy, but a necessary decision for the Sioux Council, according to Scout Executive Tom Smotherman.
“We have owned the camp since 1947, and it served us very well for about two decades as a summer camp,” Smotherman said. In the decades that followed, the camp hosted weekend adventures for scouts in the 61-county area that makes up the Sioux Council.
Smotherman said the youth organization outgrew the facility, and it wasn’t feasible for use as a long-term, seven-day summer camp site. Besides, when the Sioux Council expanded due to a merger of two councils, they found themselves the owners of four different scout camp properties — Camp Shetek in southwest Minnesota, and a trio of camps in South Dakota, including Camp Iyataka near Wilmot, Newton Hills Scout Camp near Canton and the Lewis and Clark Scouts BSA Camp near Tabor.
“It’s just unheard of for a council of our size to have that many properties,” Smotherman said.
Meanwhile, the national council is working to increase standards at scout camps across the country.
“It was a difficult decision — a sentimental decision — to say we can no longer maintain all of our properties,” Smotherman said. “There have been discussions since the 1960s on whether to retire Camp Shetek and put it on the market.”
Since the council is mandated to get a fair market value for any property it chooses to sell — and since the Lake Shetek property was so unique that there were no comparable sales to determine its value — the decision was made to offer the property at public auction. Smotherman said the council no idea what the property would sell for.
“Were we surprised? Absolutely,” he shared.
Proceeds from the sale will be used to improve the Sioux Council’s three remaining camps, bringing them up to Boy Scouts of America standards, and maintaining those properties for years to come.
“We have a wish list a mile long on our other properties of what we should do to bring them up to standards on what they should be,” Smotherman said. Those standards include the construction of restrooms with flush toilets, among other projects. At Camp Iyataka, plans are to construct a storm shelter — something the camp hasn’t had.
Smotherman also noted that the Sioux Council is currently trying to sell a portion of the land at Camp Iyataka, and is considering selling its Newton Hills property.
“That would leave us with two pieces of property that we would hope to maintain,” he said.
The Lewis & Clark BSA Camp is the council’s newest camp, purchased in 2015 when the council outgrew its Shetek Camp.
Smotherman said the council “couldn’t be happier” that the purchasers intend to make the former Scout camp part of Lake Shetek State Park.
Feldman said the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota has a long history of saving special places around the state, and he was glad they could make an impact on a property in southwest Minnesota.
“We know that we had to act quickly, we know that we did the right thing … and for that we’re quite proud,” he said.
As a nonprofit, the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota relies on donors to contribute to its fund to purchase lands such as the Scout camp when they become available.
“We’ve spent since 1954 building up our land fund. Each time we spend it, we lose our purchasing power,” Feldman said. Anyone interested in making a donation to the council may do so at parksandtrails.org.
With two camping areas already available to the public within Lake Shetek State Park, Feldman said the parcel may be used for additional trail development.
“The Casey Jones Trail comes very close to the land we just purchased” he said.
Mick Myers, president of the Friends of the Casey Jones Trail Association, said his group definitely supported preserving the property.
“I think it will be great for the outdoors,” Myers said, adding that he doesn’t yet know how the property could impact the trail, which already runs through the park.
“It’s going to be preserved — that’s why we support it,” he shared.
Lake Shetek State Park Manager Roseann Schauer is also pleased with the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota’s purchase of the property.
“We are very happy that the land is going to be protected,” she said. “There’s wonderful natural resources over there, and we look forward to continuing with the Boy Scouts’ legacy of protecting the property and ensuring those resources are there for years to come.”