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The Boy Scouts of America has mortgaged Philmont Scout Ranch, one of the BSA’s largest and most valuable properties, according to documents obtained by MinistryWatch.com.
The Boy Scouts filed the mortgage in Colfax County, N.M., where Philmont is located, on March 21, 2019. The filing was recorded on April 3, 2019. The document places a mortgage on the entire Philmont property—which covers more than 140,000 acres, or about 220 square miles—in northeastern New Mexico. The mortgage also includes “all improvements” to the land.
Some have called Philmont the “crown jewel” of Scouting. More than 1 million Scouts and their leaders have attended Philmont since its founding. A typical year has about 22,000 campers and about 5,000 adults and their families attending the training center. Philmont is also home of the National Scouting Museum, visited by thousands of tourists each year.
JP Morgan Chase Bank holds the mortgage. The terms of the deal are complex and depend on a number of factors, but the filing states that “the lien secured by this Mortgage shall not at any one time exceed $450,000,000.”
The Boy Scouts have been beset by financial and legal problems for the past few years. A 2013 decision to allow homosexual boys to participate in the program contributed to a drop in membership that had already been underway. That drop continued when the Scouts took the next step and began allowing gay adult leaders, in 2015. (The BSA began accepting transgender youth in 2017.)
A MinistryWatch review of the BSA’s annual reports from 2012 to 2017 (the last year available) reveals that membership has fallen 16 percent in that time. In October, the Scouts announced an 80 percent increase in membership fees, from $33 to $60. The Scouts said the cost of insurance was a key reason. Liability insurance for the BSA has increased dramatically in recent years in part because of sexual abuse cases.
In August, a group called Abused in Scouting filed a lawsuit in Philadelphia on behalf of a former Scout who claims he was abused by a Scout leader. The BSA has long kept a list of “ineligible volunteer files” which could include as many as 7,800 names. Various lawsuits have pressured the Scouts to release the list, but the BSA has resisted, saying that to release a list of suspected abusers would violate their civil liberties and their rights to due process. But victims’ advocates say the BSA is reluctant for the public to know the extent of abuse within the organization. The Philadelphia lawsuit says, “It is apparent that the Boy Scouts defendants continue to hide the true nature of their cover-up and the extent of the pedophilia epidemic within their organization.”
Even before the Philadelphia lawsuit was filed, the BSA said it was considering bankruptcy protection. The loss in membership, combined with the potential liability created by the Philadelphia lawsuit, plus lawsuits filed in at least six other states, has placed enormous strains on the finances of the century-old BSA. Another drain on the organization has been the cost of developing a massive property in West Virginia, called Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve. Cost overruns have plagued the project.
Many in the Scouting movement will likely see mortgaging Philmont as a desperate and unwelcome development. Philmont has a rich history in Scouting, a history that goes back nearly to the organization’s founding. Oil and real estate magnate Waite Phillips carved out 35,857 acres from his massive New Mexico ranch for the then young Boy Scouts of America in 1938. When he saw how the Scouts used the property, he gave more land—91,538 more acres—to the BSA in 1942. Other property was added later, bringing the total to about 140,000 acres. The mortgage specifically identifies both the 1938 and 1942 gifts by Phillips to the Boy Scouts as being covered by the lien.
MinistryWatch repeatedly reached out to the Boy Scouts for comment on this story. Late Friday a spokesperson for the BSA sent the following statement: “Earlier this year, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) renewed and revised certain credit facilities through a process approved by our National Executive Board.” The spokesperson also said, “We will not be providing additional commentary.”