Some Burrillville Residents Want to ‘Getaway’ from Proposed Glamping Site on Former Boy Scout Land
February 20, 2023
BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — Getaway House, known for its Instagrammable glamping experiences in dozens of locations across the country, wants to bring their tiny houses to the tiniest state.
The company has proposed building a 65-cabin outpost at Cub World, a site off Buck Hill Road on land the Narragansett Council of the Boy Scouts of America is selling.
While the plan is in early stages — it has gone before the Planning Board, which voted to move the project along to the Zoning Board of Review — the proposed campsite has drawn criticism and frustration from some locals who are worried about the environmental impact and future projects that may be allowed.
At a packed Feb. 6 Planning Board meeting, representatives of Getaway laid out their plans for the property and claimed it will have little impact on nature and neighboring residents.
Getaway hopes to build on the infrastructure that already exists on the former Boy Scout camp, including heated buildings, paved and gravel roads, and septic systems.
Scott Levit, senior manager of real estate entitlement at Getaway, said the company would likely tear down some existing structures and reforest the areas where they once stood.
The company plans to bring in prefabricated cabins made in Massachusetts, which will limit disruptions on the property, according to Levit.
If the permitting and construction processes move forward, Levit said the cabins would be scheduled to open in 2024.
The sale of the property hasn’t been completely unexpected. Locals had speculated that land the Boy Scouts owned in Burrillville might be vulnerable in the national organization’s efforts to sell assets and settle its debts after it recently filed for bankruptcy and settled a national sexual abuse case.
But according to Scout executive and CEO of the Narragansett Council of Boy Scouts of America, Tim McCandless, the decision to sell came before the bankruptcy filing.
A few years ago, the organization completed an analysis of local Boy Scout properties and decided which locations were “core” to its mission and which served more minor roles in operations, McCandless said.
Following a merger between the Narragansett Council and the Annawon Council of Southeastern Massachusetts, the local chapter moved its summer operation from Cub World to Norse Camp in Kingston, Mass. Since then, the Burrillville property has only been used on weekends by smaller groups.
“Locally, the Scouts own seven properties in the area, a number which is unprecedented among Boy Scout councils,” McCandless said.
The Cub World parcel is about 200 acres, and the organization also owns more than 1,000 acres nearby.
Levitt said at the Planning Board meeting that Cub World wouldn’t be the first Boy Scout property that Getaway has purchased.
Although the new operations at the site would still be considered camping, several residents at the Planning Board meeting raised concerns that the Getaway project would be more disruptive and use more resources than Cub World has.
The current occupancy at Cub world is about 300 people, according to McCandless, “although that would be at the high end, and it’s been a while since we’ve had that many.”
Getaway’s camp will have a maximum occupancy of less than 200 people, but will be open year-round, Levit said.
To limit visitor traffic, Levit said checkout times are during off-peak travel hours.
Individual cabins have 5-gallon water heaters. “I assure you people are not going to be taking long showers” using up local water, he added.
There aren’t any common areas on the property for guests to gather and no outdoor amplifiers are allowed on the grounds.
At 10 p.m., staff would make rounds on the site to enforce quiet hours and quench fire pits. During no burn advisories, Getaway does not provide firewood to customers. Getaway never allows outside wood into their camps to prevent the spread of invasive species, Levit said.
Jason Malo, president of the Wakefield Pond Association, told ecoRI News that his members are worried about how the camp site may impact the lake.
Wakefield Pond sits downgradient from Cedar Swamp Pond, which partially sits on the former Cub World site. Beavers and other animals live in the wetlands on the property.
Getaway will have to comply with state wetlands laws and has decided not to advertise the pond frontage in its marketing materials for the Burrillville site, Levit said at the meeting.
The company also won’t rent any water sports equipment to their guests, but would allow customers who bring their own paddle boards to use them on the lake. Motorized boats and trailers are prohibited, however.
On top of those restrictions, the association is also asking the company to pay a fee to help pay for regular pond removals of invasive species. The association fee is voluntary for residents in the neighborhood around the pond. The company and association haven’t come to an official agreement, but Levit signaled at the meeting that the company is willing to pay the fee.
In addition to its proximity to wetlands and ponds, the proposed Getaway site also sits between two large conserved open spaces, the Buck Hill and George Washington Wildlife Management areas.
This makes the parcel particularly valuable from an environmental perspective, according to Paul Roselli, president of the Burrillville Land Trust.
Getaway is relatively ecological friendly compared to what could be proposed for the land, something like a residential complex, Roselli said.
“We like projects like this,” Roselli told ecoRI News, because they have environmental and recreational components, and get people into the community. “What we don’t like about them, and this is a really good example, is that this property, probably in 20 years, will be sold for housing lots.”
“We have no intention to sell the land. We will be around for a long, long, long time,” Levit said at the meeting.
But Roselli said that wasn’t enough. To prevent development on the land in perpetuity, Roselli and the land trust would like to see a legal covenant or a conservation easement put into place that restricts future use of the property, even if Getaway sells it.
“So the property is never, ‘never’ with a big ‘N’, Never broken up into house lots and developed into single-family residences. Never,” he said. “They jump up and down and say how green we are. Well, if they’re saying that, then they should put their money where their mouth is and come up with a legal doctrine that says this property will never be developed.”
He brought up the suggestion at the recent meeting, but a lawyer for Getaway said it would be an unusual business practice for a company to agree to something like that.
“Probably for the same reason that Boy Scouts didn’t put any restrictions on [the land], we wouldn’t put any restrictions on future development,” Levit said.
This report is missing some highly pertinent facts.
The Rhode Island Wildlife Action Plan, a massive effort, revised every ten years, that inventories and categorizes our State’s wildlife and its habitats, and depicts this data graphically on its “Conservation Opportunity Areas” digital map, highlights two big issues of conservation concern regarding the Getaway/Cub World property. These did not receive the attention they warrant. They are displayed on the map by a symbol and a color.
First, a bright green cross placed over Cedar Swamp Pond on the southern-most of the two-lot property marks it as a particularly rare and sensitive habitat. The water, shoreline and associated wetlands of this “Coastal Plain Quagmire” are denoted as a “Critical/Uncommon Habitat.”
There are only nine of these in Providence County. One of them, the Croff Farm Brook area, is nearly adjacent to the Getaway/ Boy Scout property, beginning just across Wakefield Pond Road a quarter mile to the west. The Boy Scouts once owned that property, too, but sold it, appropriately, in 2012 to RI DEM for incorporation into the Buck Hill Wildlife Management Area. And it shares many species and habitat characteristics with the Getaway/Cub World property.
Moreover, Cedar Swamp Pond and environs is hardly valuable because it is home to the ubiquitous beaver. It hosts three “State-listed” species. Two “Of Concern” and one “State Endangered.” To allow paddle-boarding or any other regular and sustained human activity on or around or even near this “Critical Habitat” would be irresponsible for the Boy Scouts, Getaway, and the Town of Burrillville, all of whom profess and have acted in the past according to a body of sound conservation ethics.
Indeed, in DEM’s press release announcing the Croff Farm Brook purchase in 2012, John H. Mosby, Scout Executive/CEO, Narragansett Council Boy Scouts of America said, “We are pleased to collaborate with the Department of Environmental Management to preserve this important habitat and protect the many rare species living in this part of the state. The Boy Scouts of America has always been a leader in conservation, and has been teaching our Scouts about Leave No Trace camping since 1910, so it is only natural that we would work with the DEM to put those ideals into practice in Rhode Island.”
Next, there is a layer of beige on the C.O.A. map covering most of Cub World’s 180 acres-plus. This denotes a “Natural Heritage Area,” the habitat of competently documented “State-listed” species. This likely includes one or more State-listed species in addition to those living in and around Cedar Swamp Pond as those three have ranges limited by the pond’s habitat. The identities these additional species are not publicly accessible, but certainly accessible to Burrillville Town authorities who learned, in spades, how to access and interpret such data during the four year battle over the proposed “Clear River Energy Center” power plant. Let’s hope that the Town will be equally responsible today in the vetting of this current proposal.
“Glamping” as in glamorous camping? There is another more descriptive name for these- SHORT-TERM-RENTAL! That’s what they really are and it’s how they will be used.
Thank you for this information! I’m new to the area but have been learning a lot. I have been in contact with The Nature Conservancy but it appears that the Narragansett Boy Scouts can and did what they could with the land they own. Rest assured, RIDEM is just as involved as they are able. I have also been in touch with Senator Delacruz’ office. With all eyes on them, we stand a chance to protect the wildlife and land that surrounds this site. I’m grateful to learn of the Burrillville Land Trust as well. I’m sure that there are legal restrictions on this development in regards to protecting the wildlife and fauna going forward—and I hope that we will be informed along the way!