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Last embers die as Girl Scouts shutter Elizabeth Twp. facility

| Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, 3:56 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Kriss Svidro, a volunteer with the Girl Scouts, leads the closing ceremony at Camp Yough on Sunday afternoon. They went around the circle and used one word to best describe what camp meant to them.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Second-year cadettes from Mt. Vernon Troop 50186 ring the bell one last time after the closing ceremony at Camp Yough on Sunday afternoon.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Emily and Erin Carter of Junior Troop 51385 of Bethel Park and George and Ken Koncerak of North Huntingdon Township make trail mix at an activity station at Camp Yough during Sunday's closing Ceremony.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
As part of the opening ceremony, seniors and cadettes of Troop 51125 of North Versailles Township raise the flag over Camp Yough in Elizabeth Township.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Looking over the Friendship Hall for a final visit, from left, are Beth Janusek and Katrina Janusek of Troop 50148, Megan Janusek of Troop 55051 -- all of Bethel Park -- and Jonette Baptiste of Clairton Troop 50092.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Ruth Coddington of McKeesport, Maryann Hall of Elizabeth Township and Debbie Zeiler-Breskovic of Elizabeth Township reminisce about spending time in Camp Yough cabins, both as children and Scout leaders.

As six second-year Girl Scout Cadettes from Mount Vernon lowered the flag at Camp Yough for the final time on Sunday, only the faint sound of sniffles could be heard above the breeze.

About a hundred guests, including scouts past and present along with troop leaders, volunteers and neighbors from the nearly 75-year history of the camp gathered at the 32-acre site in Elizabeth Township to say goodbye.

The Girl Scouts of Western Pennsylvania have closed the last official Girl Scouts camp in Allegheny County to focus resources on larger camps with more amenities.

Joey-Linn Ulrich, the Girl Scouts'regional vice president of program, said a few uplifting words on a day filled with songs, hugs and tears.

“While we will cherish the memories we made here,” she said. “I look forward to more generations making new memories at new camps wherever your journeys take you next.”

For attendees such as troop leader Donna Lindsay of East McKeesport, that journey will take her daughter and other scouts to Camp Redwing in southern Butler County and other camps in the region.

“We've decided we're going to try to hit as many other Girl Scout camps as we can now,” said Lindsay, struggling to hold back tears. “That's our new goal.”

The Girl Scouts' chief administrative officer Jay Krunszyinsky said the decision to close Camp Yough was a result of a 2008 merger between five councils, leaving Western Pennsylvania scouts with 16 camps in need of prioritization.

“This camp is very nice and we do understand there's a lot of passion for all the camps the Girl Scouts ever owned,” he said. “But when we had to make decisions on which camps we could afford to keep and which we couldn't, we had to look at which camps had more to offer our girls.”

Krunszyinsky said a survey that year revealed that scouts wanted camps with more modern features such as swimming pools, horse programming and a broader range of activities. Camp Yough — situated on the wooded hillside behind residential Mohawk Drive — didn't have room for any of those things.

“A typical camp is probably 100 to 200 acres,” Krunszyinsky said. “Some have 800 acres. But the topography here really wasn't (conducive to) development.”

Ruth Coddington, 63, of McKeesport, believes the rustic nature of Camp Yough was part of its appeal. She began attending there at age 7 and returned as a troop leader for her daughter.

“I grew up during a time when people didn't go on a lot of vacations,” she said. “So this was the closest thing a lot of us kids got.

“I know they said the girls wanted more things, but you don't always get everything you want in life. You should be able to rough it once in a while, and that's something I learned right here.”

As Sunday's event came to a close, the ceremony shifted from the flagpole to the nearby campfire for the last singing of “Taps” and a few final words from longtime volunteer Kriss Svidro of Washington County.

“We loved Camp Yough and now we must say goodbye,” Svidro said. “We always will remember sleeping in tents, in bunks, in lodges and outside under the stars.”

Each of the girls were given a small bag of ashes from a campfire that burned during the summer that, as part of tradition, contained ashes from other closed camp sites over the years. When the fire was extinguished, Svidro asked that all in attendance walk away in silence.

“We've all spent some time here learning new things about nature and ourselves,” she said with a waver in her voice. “We will dearly miss it, but we will always carry our memories with us. In this way, Camp Yough will never truly cease to exist. It will live on in our hearts and our souls.”

Tim Karan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-664-9161 ext. 1970, or tkaran@tribweb.com.

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