By Mannix Porterfield
Three years ago, a steering committee laid the groundwork for what evolved into a temporary city on a spacious layout in Fayette County — a city of pup tents and Boy Scouts.
Monday, the planning came to fruition.
Upward of 40,000 visitors from coast to coast and all states in between arrived by the busloads, setting up camps for a 10-day festival.
“I’m excited, and a little nervous,” said Bill Baker, a former Raleigh County commissioner who headed up that committee, known as “Reaching for the Summit.”
Summit, as in the Summit Bechtel Family Scout Reserve.
“I’m excited for West Virginia,” Baker said.
“It’s going to give an awful lot of young men an opportunity to see how wonderful West Virginia really is. I think it’s exciting. I just hope everything we’ve done for the last three years to get ready for this will pay off. I guess we won’t know that until it’s all over.”
“I just hope that everything goes well, with the traffic, and that the kids get on site safely and have a great experience,” Baker said.
Once it was announced the Jamboree was coming to West Virginia, Baker said some local residents felt led to assume responsibility in “making sure that we do our best so that West Virginia will show its best to these people.”
“We concentrated mostly on making sure when the Boy Scouts and parents or family come to West Virginia for this Jamboree, they find West Virginia just as the Scouts say it is — Almost Heaven and Wild and Wonderful,” Baker said.
“We want to make sure things are clean, that people they meet are friendly people and leaving a lasting impression on these young men so that they come back and maybe bring businesses, or live here, but always come back and tour.”
Among those on the steering panel, besides Baker, were Doug Maddy, president and CEO of the Southern West Virginia Convention and Visitors Bureau, Judy Radford of the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority, Don Striker, then-superintendent of the New River Gorge National River for the National Park Service, and Fayette County Commission President Matt Wender.
“We got together and did a lot of planning and involved a lot of people,” Baker recalled.
Another item that puts Baker on edge to some degree is the community service sidelight of the 10-day camp, one that will see thousands of Scouts fanning out through a nine-county swath of southern West Virginia. Heading up this aspect of the event are Robert Martin and Jennifer Douglas of the Citizens Conservation Corps of West Virginia.
“We got the county commissions in nine counties to fund VISTA workers for three years,” Baker noted.
“We’ve done a lot of work. I just hope it pays off. We’re just sitting back and I think everything is in place. I hope everything goes well.”
Baker was a Scout himself but fell a handful of merit badges shy of being an Eagle Scout, missing that opportunity after his scoutmaster retired and left the McDowell County town of Bradshaw. His successor didn’t arrive until Baker was beyond the age limit to become an Eagle.
Perhaps, it was suggested, in jest, he might pick up those merit badges in the week ahead and become an Eagle.
“It would probably have to be honorary,” Baker said.
Predictably, traffic won’t move at the normal pace in the region, so Baker appealed to the local denizens to exercise patience.
“We want to make sure they understand we’re friendly and don’t get aggravated when we can’t get around in traffic or something like that,” he said.
“Just be a little patient.”
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