Charlotte’s Girl Scout council hit the philanthropic jackpot Thursday, when a plan to seek a $7,000 grant from the Dale Earnhardt Foundation ballooned into a $2 million donation.
The money, to be given over five years, is intended to help the Hornets’ Nest Council develop its 700-acre Oak Springs property in Iredell County, starting with the construction of a dam that will create a 25-acre lake.
In gratitude for the gift, the council will rename the site’s campus The Dale Earnhardt Environmental Leadership Campus. The site’s features include a skeet shooting range that was a longtime favorite of Earnhardt, a seven-time Winston Cup champ and member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Hornets’ Nest CEO Sally Daley said the council wanted to apply for one of the foundation’s Legend Leadership Awards, which amount to $7,000. But she said foundation board members shocked her by suggesting something much bigger during a visit to the camp.
“At the end of the tour, they said they’d like to donate $1 million,” said Daley. “I was speechless. I almost fell out of the Jeep.”
Gift doubles: $1M to $2M
The gift doubled to $2 million when the foundation decided it wanted naming rights for the campus, which will serve 23,000 Girl Scouts and adult leaders from an eight-county region of the Carolinas.
“We’re so appreciative, because we’ve been building out this property at a time when people are focused on critical needs of food, shelter and clothing, due to the economy,” Daley said. “Building infrastructure for a camp hasn’t been a priority for donors.”
Teresa Earnhardt, head of the foundation, said in a statement that the gift makes sense because her late husband was an avid outdoorsman. The 10-year-old foundation’s primary focus is on children, education and wildlife/environmental preservation.
“Whether it was spending time at the Earnhardt Farm or traveling across the country on a hunt, he loved outdoor adventure,” Teresa Earnhardt said.
“We are proud to put Dale’s name on a campus like this. … The activities there will enable our children to make informed choices, teaching them to care deeply about our environment and prepare them to be good stewards.”
Heavily forested area
The 700 acres of rolling terrain is heavily forested and had little infrastructure when purchased in three parcels by the council in 2007-08. It eventually will host challenge courses, nature trails, an archery range, camping areas and cabins, Daley said.
“This grant is going to put roofs over heads,” she said, “and help build permanent structures with flush toilets. They (the Scouts) like their flush toilets.”
Daley noted the site will consolidate activities that previously took place at three other sites, which have been put up for sale. So far, only the 187-acre Camp Occoneechee has been sold.
Several projects already have been completed on the new site, including an outdoor amphitheater surrounding the original homestead and a shelter for the advanced challenge course.
The vast majority of the property will remain forested, in partnership with the Catawba Lands Conservancy, integrating hiking trails, challenge courses and an environmental education center, officials said.
It also will incorporate activities along the South Yadkin River, which runs adjacent to the property, along with a portion of the Carolina Thread Trail, a multicounty series of greenways and trails.