A recent decision by Boy Scout leaders to sell the Rum River Scout Camp in Ramsey has been met with sadness and anger by area Scouts.

The camp sale, estimated to fetch $8 million or more, won't happen for three to five years and is part of a long-range plan, said John Andrews, top executive at the Northern Star Council office in St. Paul. The metro area council's board of directors in August approved the plan, which includes improvements to most of the council's six more heavily used scout camps.

"I feel terrible" about the decision, said former Scout Steve Schmidt, an Anoka businessman active in the community. "I am concerned it will decimate local support for the scouting effort up here."

Similar sentiments were shared by other area Scout leaders and former Scouts, including Anoka City Council Member Jeff Weaver, who hinted at starting a protest effort. His father, John Weaver, and Schmidt's great-uncle, Harlan Thurston, were among donors who helped buy the camp, which opened in 1947, Scout officials said.

Developers have long been interested in the 167-acre, wooded camp on the Rum River. The prime piece of real estate is surrounded by many upscale homes. It was almost sold in 2004 for $8 million by the former Viking Council, Andrews said. A year later, the Viking Council of Minneapolis merged with St. Paul's Indianhead Council to form the Northern Star.

Andrews said Viking leaders deferred the sale until three conditions were met: a capital campaign was started to gauge future facility needs; a decision was made on whether an urban scouting center was feasible, and additional camping facilities were arranged to replace Rum River's, which can hold about 600 Scouts.

The first two conditions have been met. A $24 million capital campaign has raised about $15.5 million so far, and the council is buying an old hangar near Fort Snelling to provide a base camp for training and other activities that are more convenient for urban Scout troops, Andrews said. He said leaders think replacement camp sites can be found before Rum River is sold.

Rum River, a year-round camp 4 miles north of Anoka, had about 5,900 Scout visits last year, the lowest usage of the council's camps, said Kent York, Northern Star's communications director. Its 167 acres feature wooded campsites, three enclosed activity buildings, a sliding hill, an orienteering course and a nature trail. It also accommodates cross-county skiing and snow-shoeing.

The council approached the Anoka County Parks department last spring about buying the site. But the county declined the purchase because it has four other regional parks within 6 miles, said parks director John VanDeLinde. He said Scout leaders asked about helping develop camping sites in the northern, undeveloped half of the Rum River Central Regional Park, a few miles up river from the camp.

"There were very preliminary discussions," VanDeLinde said. "The Scouts made no offer," but will tour the northern park area this month.

The park has no camping (except for overnight canoe camping) and its master plan would have to be changed to allow tenting, which would require restrooms, roads and parking, he noted. And, he added, a camping area would have to be open to the general public.

Andrews said the sale is needed because the planned improvements will require more than the $24 million sought in the capital campaign.

He said selling an established camp is emotional for many: "People are going to feel they have been hurt. But when you are trying to keep the organization strong, you have to look at everybody."

The council still hopes it can find a buyer who will keep the camp as open space.

One possible buyer is the city of Ramsey, which has had initial discussions with the Scouts, said city parks supervisor Mark Riverblood. He said City Council input would be needed, but the city park trust fund has a few million dollars that could be used, possibly in partnership with another nonprofit, such as the Trust for Public Land.

City Council Member David Elvig, a former Scout leader, said he hopes the camp can stay unspoiled. But he said he trusted that council leaders have "the best interests of the overall organization in mind."

Weaver, a former Anoka-area district Scout chairman, is an Eagle Scout who grew up camping at Rum River. "It's irreplaceable," he said. He and Mike King, an assistant scoutmaster in Anoka, said they are considering organizing a protest march if a sale proposal is made.

Weaver added: "It's a sad day when somebody proposes eliminating such a valuable resource as the Rum River Camp has been for all these years."

Jim Adams • 612-673-7658