By Julia Sendor
For The Register-Herald
MOUNT HOPE —
Although the Boy Scouts of America National Jamboree won’t officially arrive at the Summit Bechtel Reserve until 2013, the Boy Scouts (BSA) have already begun to invest in the community with one of the largest youth service projects in National Park Service history.
During July, nearly 1,700 volunteers and staff from the Order of the Arrow BSA national honor society will build and restore trails on public land at the New River Gorge National River, in collaboration with the National Park Service.
“I think it shows the community the commitment that the Boy Scouts have made to our area, and it’s an indication of what’s to come,” said Bill Baker, leader of Reaching the Summit 2013: The Steering Committee.
“They bought into our community, and they’re demonstrating that by giving back to our community.”
The program, called SummitCorps 2011, kicks off Sunday. Each week of July, a new group of 250 to 400 Scouts from across the nation will arrive to devote 32 hours of work to the park. Over the course of the month, the Scouts will complete an estimated 25 to 30 miles of “first-class” hiking and mountain biking trails, as well as restore 12 miles of ATV trails and remove invasive plants from 4 acres of park land.
“It’s the perfect fit for the park to have this happen … it’s really a win-win for both the Boy Scouts and the park,” said Robin Snyder, chief of Interpretation and Visitor Services for the New River Gorge National River.
“We have a golden opportunity … to form these partnerships and begin to establish that long-term relationship.”
The trails will run near the 10,600-acre Bechtel Summit Reserve in Glen Jean, which will host the BSA 2013 National Jamboree in 2013 and the 2019 World Scout Jamboree, as well as serve as a permanent high-adventure base.
However, Snyder emphasized that the multi-use trails will all be public — meaning that the community and nation as a whole stand to benefit.
In just one month, Snyder explained, the SummitCorps 2011 project will complete work that would cost the park significant funds and take 10 years to complete with staff alone. She estimates the volunteer trail work will save taxpayers over $1 million.
“(The Boy Scouts’) underlying theme is cheerful service, and that’s what they’re trying to do,” said Snyder. “These are kids who are paying their way to come here and volunteer for free,” said Snyder.
The project also falls right in line with the park’s own goals.
“What they’re doing here connects very well to the National Park Service mission: to preserve and protect our resources, but also to enjoy them,” Snyder pointed out.
“It’s the stewardship, too. We want people not only to come to recreate, we want them to take care of it.”
The BSA intends for every Scout who attends an event at The Summit in years to come to dedicate six hours of volunteer work to the park or local communities.
“This (project) is sort of an introduction to that — and it’s a big one,” said Snyder. “This is going to be one of their new homes … I think for them to develop a relationship with the community is very important.”
“I think it’s important for them to know and understand the value systems of the people who grew up here.”
Gary Hartley, director of Community and Government Relations with The Summit, described how the local community is reaching out, in turn, to the Scouts. Many groups and business have even donated supplies to the project.
“We’ve seen really a great reception and great partnerships and a great outpouring of community support,” he said.
The Scout volunteers will also get a chance to learn more about the community. Each Monday, the group will be treated to a two-hour “taste of Appalachia.” Local historians, musicians and artisans will introduce the Scouts to the rich heritage of their new jamboree and high-adventure home.
“I hope they see how wonderful West Virginia is, how warm and welcoming the people are, and how beautiful the natural resources are,” said Hartley.
During the week, the crews will work on the Kaymoor Top Trail in Fayetteville, as well as on one bordering The Summit. The National Park Service contracted with the International Mountain Biking Association to design the multi-use trails.
To ensure a smooth transition into the work, a team of Order of the Arrow members (Arrowmen), ages 18 and older, will serve as instructors for the entire month. These Arrowmen staff have already been training at the park for two weeks to prepare for the project.
To manage logistics, the project coordinators will follow the Incident Command Structure — a national strategy for personnel and procedures, and resources, designed to handle everything from wildfires to major events like Bridge Day. The Scouts will camp at the National Guard Armory in Glen Jean. A local rafting company will provide transportation, and the park service will supply tools, safety supervision and overall guidance.
“We’ll also be the boots on the ground, providing oversight of the operation,” said Snyder.
As an added perk, roving park interpreters will teach the Scouts about local history and wildlife throughout the week.
“We’re going to do everything we can to make this successful, because we’re really going to benefit from this,” Snyder said.
Hartley explained that the New River Gorge National has supported the Summit Bechtel Reserve since a team first formed to recruit the 2013 Jamboree to West Virginia.
“The park service was one of the key players in that team,” he said.
The project is prompting the park service to discuss new questions with the Summit Steering Committee and the BSA, according to Snyder.
“How can we do more to promote scouting in this area and make local Scouts more involved? ... How can we work more closely with local youth and local groups?” she said.
Snyder said she also believes that the SummitCorps project should inspire the community as a whole. She described how local groups and businesses stand to benefit not only from the economic boost of the Bechtel Summit Reserve, but from the Scouts’ eagerness to volunteer for community projects.
“I hope that (local residents) will see the potential of really forming a good partnership,” she said. “I hope that this will introduce a good partnership — not just between the park and the Boy Scouts, but between the community, the park and the Boy Scouts.”