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Scouts got a lot right by building in W.Va.

Jul. 27, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

MOUNT HOPE, W.Va. -- The Boy Scouts got it right by picking West Virginia as the new home for its National Jamborees and for investing heavily to build the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in Mount Hope.

It's nearly 11,000 acres on top of a mountain that used to be a strip mine site, but it doesn't take but a few steps past the welcome sign to know this place is world class.

Reading about what's there doesn't do it justice, but try to digest what the Boy Scouts built:

The Rocks: The largest man-made outdoor climbing facility in the world, consisting of 125 climbing stations, 100 bouldering stations and 42 rappelling stations.

The Ropes: A network of zip lines, balance beams, cargo nets and other challenges, all suspended 25 feet above the ground.

The Zip: With 5.45 miles of zip lines, the Summit ranks first in the world for total mileage.

Low Gear and High Gear: These two mountain biking adventure areas provide more than 36 miles of varied mountain biking trails.

The Park: With more than 100,000 square feet of skate park, it is the second largest outdoor skateboarding facility in the world.

The Trax: The Summit has the second-largest BMX facility in the world, with more than 273,000 square feet.

That's just some of the biggest stuff there. There also are hundreds of shooting and archery stations, a canopy course with 60 zip lines that ranks at the top worldwide for mileage, and four Olympic-sized temporary pools and several manmade lakes used for scuba diving, kayaking and a water obstacle course.

There's also an enormous emphasis on sustainability. A 126-foot-tall tree house was built from the timber that was on the property and a permanent visitor center is currently under construction using timber for the structure and crushed stone for concrete, both from the site.

Walking through the roughly 100 acres that was open to visitors left most, if not all, in awe. It was on their faces and they were quick to express it. Truly, it seemed the Boy Scouts thought of everything -- even a weather alert system that plays over a loud speaker when lightning is detected within 12 miles of the site.

During the drive back to Huntington on the evening of July 18, The Herald-Dispatch photographer and I really tried to come up with something that could be targeted as deficient or sub par, but we simply couldn't identify anything.

It wasn't until the next day, as that question persisted in our minds, that it occurred to me there was something the Boy Scouts do need to fix. They need to re-evaluate making people pay to come and work as volunteers. Those we spoke with didn't seem to mind shelling out hundreds of dollars ($425 for youth volunteers and $850 for adults; Scouts and leaders paid $1,250 each) mainly because they once were Scouts who attended jamborees and saw its value.

But on more than one occasion, a volunteer said there simply wasn't enough people to fully staff the 10-day event. That seemed hard to believe because there were volunteers everywhere -- 7,000, according to the Boy Scouts of America.

Leith Wilson from Alabama worked four hours a day in the Legacy area but we caught up with him at the nearby zip lines, where he was spending some of his free time helping them keep up with long lines.

There also was talk that some of the adventure sites specifically for Scouts were operating at half capacity because there weren't enough volunteers.

Michael Ramsey, the director of marketing for the Boy Scouts of America, confirmed they didn't have as many volunteers as they would have liked. He said officials thought it was more a symptom of people being unable to take two weeks off work. But he acknowledged that cost can be a hindrance as well.

The organization has a few years to address the issue, and it should be called an issue. More than one Scout alumni said there is an unofficial saying when it comes to Boy Scout volunteers. "When you are paid to work, you're an employee; when you work for free, you're a volunteer; when you pay to work, you're a Scout."

Perhaps Summit Bechtel Reserve is so beautiful that more volunteers will pay to come in 2017. But perhaps the Boy Scouts shouldn't assume that the Summit's beauty alone will bring more volunteers.

Bill Rosenberger is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch.



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