By John Raby
THE SUMMIT —
Tired but filled with fresh memories from an experience they’ll likely always remember, thousands of Boy Scouts are heading home after spending 10 days at their National Jamboree in southern West Virginia.
Chartered buses were expected to begin moving out early Wednesday for about 30,000 Scouts and their leaders who had attended concerts, watched fireworks, traded patches and participated in dozens of challenging activities at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve.
Scout David Garnett, 15, wasn’t looking forward to sleeping in an upright position on the bus trip back to Edmond, Okla. But at least he had plenty to think about to help pass the time.
He spent his last full day going whitewater rafting with his contingent Tuesday on the New River. During the Jamboree, he also enjoyed mountain biking, rappelling, rock climbing and negotiating a series of elevated platforms on a “challenge course.” He stayed so busy that he wasn’t sure he could fit in a trip down the Summit’s miles of ziplines.
Leaving all that is bittersweet.
Garnett couldn’t wait to see his family and dogs, he said, “but if we had another week here, I’d totally stay.”
“It’s been a blast. It’s been the coolest thing that’s happened to me forever.”
The best part may have been getting to know some Scouts from other countries, he said.
The worst part? Some of the meals, particularly the pancakes.
Boy Scouts chief executive Wayne Brock said he hoped that when Scouts get settled back home, they’ll tell their friends about the great time they had, “and that will help us grow our movement.”
It was billed as the most physically demanding Jamboree and may have been its most scrutinized.
For the first time, hundreds of girls who are members of Scout Venturing crews attended the Jamboree. But morbidly obese Scouts weren’t allowed due to stricter health requirements for the Jamboree because the hilly Summit terrain and dozens of venues tested participants’ physical skills and fitness.
The Jamboree came two months after the Boy Scouts of America’s National Council ended months of divisive debate by voting to allow gay boys to participate in Scouting while maintaining a ban on gay adults. The new rules don’t take effect until January.
One thing Scouts didn’t get to see this year was a speech from President Barack Obama, who serves as honorary president of the BSA.
Presidents dating back to George H.W. Bush traveled to the Jamboree when it was previously held at a military base at Fort A.P. Hill, Va. Obama, who opposed the Scouts’ ban on gays, had been invited again this year but didn’t take the Scouts up on their offer. He addressed the Jamboree in a video message in 2010.
“The president is always invited and welcome to come,” said BSA national spokesman Deron Smith. “We understand his schedule sometimes prevents that.”
White House spokesman Keith Maley said Obama “has long believed that the Scouts is a valuable organization that has helped educate and build character in American boys for more than a century. He will continue to look for opportunities to work with the Boy Scouts.”
Politics aside, Scouting officials delivered on their promise to give what BSA national board member Jack Furst called an “unbelievable” outdoors experience.
“The beauty of the Jamboree when they leave is that it hits you about a month later as to just how cool it was,” Furst said. “That a young person from New York met somebody from Texas, and somebody from Texas met somebody from Alaska, and somebody from Montana met somebody from Baltimore. It really knits a movement together where kids look at them and they have shared common experiences.”
“So my hope is that three months from now, they sit down and they go ‘holy mackerel, it takes a village to throw a jamboree. And by gosh, it was thrown.”’
For Jamboree officials, it will take months to break down tents, cots and other supplies and store them at an on-site warehouse.
The Summit won’t stay idle for long. It will host a high-adventure Scouts camp next year. The Jamboree, held every four years, returns in 2017.