Top Boy Scout leaders had their hands full Tuesday night as more than 100 Scouts and their leaders packed a knotty pine lodge and crammed its doorways at Rum River Scout Camp in Ramsey. They asked why top leaders planned to sell the beloved camp where they and their children have enjoyed tenting, canoeing, and the BB gun and archery range.

The board of directors of the North Star Council, which extends far beyond the Twin Cities, voted in August to sell the 167-acre wooded camp in the next three to five years. Selling the prime real estate would raise an estimated $8 million to help improve programs and facilities at the council's seven other camps. The board's long-range plan also says alternative camping facilities would be arranged in the Anoka County area to replace those at Rum River camp.

After listening to scouting leaders and parents question the three top leaders, Boy Scout Jerrod Lacy, 17, of Anoka, asked, "Instead of just talking to adults, why don't you ask us?"

North Star Scout Executive John Andrews replied that Scout input had been obtained, but he wasn't sure if the boys surveyed were from the Three Rivers District that includes Rum River camp. The year-round camp, about 4 miles north of Anoka, had about 5,900 Scout visits last year, a spokesman said.

Andrews told the boisterous crowd that the $24 million capital campaign underway is the largest in the country but wouldn't raise the $32 million needed for the council's long-range plan. The plan includes creating a $5 million urban base camp in an old plane hangar by the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Several Scout leaders said their Scouts and Cub Scouts wanted to be outdoors, not in an airport hangar. Asked one leader: "You are going to sell this camp to move us into a building?"

Andrews said that plans call for much more than the base camp, including building a dining hall and lodges for Cub Scouts at the Stearns Scout Camp west of Minneapolis. He said a council goal is to reach all children, and break "the stereotype that we are a white, middle-class organization." That drew grumbling from some in the crowd.

Some in the audience asked about any restrictions about selling the camp made by the families of Harlan Thurston and John Weaver, who donated funds to buy the camp in the 1940s.

Board member Scott Woolery said he was on the board of the former Viking Council in 2004 when Weaver, who has since died, said the sale had his blessing if it enhanced programs for all Scouts. Steve Schmidt, a Thurston family spokesman, was also contacted then, and said his step-grandmother, Gladys Thurston, who has since died, was supportive.

Weaver's son, Jeff Weaver, a member of the council's executive cabinet, said his father didn't completely agree with selling Rum River, where they both had camped. "Sure, he would always say do what's best for the kids. But at the end of the day, it was, 'Don't sell the camp,'" Weaver said. He said later it was in the kids' best interests not to sell it because it was pristine and close to many Scout troops in the metro area.

Also present at the three-hour meeting was Steve Schmidt, 63, another former Rum River Scout who said he donated money toward its campmaster building. He said his step-Grandma Thurston had no problem with a sale, but she hadn't experienced the camp.

"I feel differently. I have eaten pancakes in the dark with ashes in them at 10 below. This is a jewel, a unique experience in your entire council," Schmidt said. "Take it out of your funding plan and fix it up and let's go forward."

About $16 million of the $24 million goal by 2010 has been raised, leaders said.

Council board president Jon Theobald said it was the council's hope that the camp sale could be avoided by trying to raise the additional $8 million, although that is much more than a fundraising expert thought possible. He added:

"If we harness the energy in this room, I think we can do it."

Jim Adams • 612-673-7658