By Brandi Underwood
MOUNT HOPE —
Situated adjacent to the New River Gorge National River in Fayette County, the 10,600-acre property comprising the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve (more commonly dubbed “the Summit”) has been exalted as a key player in ensuring that southern West Virginia’s economy moves forward.
So far, the Summit injected nearly $170 million into the local economy during the construction phase, and another $12 million was estimated as the 2013 national Jamboree’s economic impact. Those numbers included the estimated impact on local vendors and businesses, local labor and payroll and the five-day-long community service initiative.
However, after businesses experienced a significantly lower traveler turnout to the 2013 Jamboree than they anticipated, many local community members and business owners are wondering about the extent of the Summit’s economic impact in the region in coming years.
With the last official day of winter less than a month away, the arrival of warmer weather and summer activity is just around the corner, and with that comes the unbridled curiosity of locals wondering what activities are planned at the Summit.
With more than three years until the next Jamboree, Gary Hartley, the Summit’s director of community and government relations, ensures that the Summit will continue to thrive in the meantime.
“In 2014, we move into our first phase of additional programming: The Paul R. Christen High Adventure Base,” said Hartley.
As the first of many programs to be hosted at the Summit, the Paul R. Christen High Adventure Base will be one of four high adventure bases operated by the Boy Scouts of America across the country. The Summit’s adventure base opportunities will include mountain biking, rock climbing, shooting sports, ziplining, whitewater rafting and more.
Starting in June, the BSA plans to run an estimated 5,000 Scouts through the base each week over a 10-week period, Hartley said.
Those Scouts and Venturers will have the option to participate in varying specialized week-long programs, or the choice of a “Mountaineer Weekend,” a three-day weekend program which Hartley said will be a big draw for local troops wishing to take advantage of the Summit’s world-class adventure activities.
While the projected economic impact of the high adventure base is still unclear, Hartley stated that the best indicator of what’s to come can be gathered by looking at Philmont Scout Ranch, a 137,000-acre tract of wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico.
Backpacking expeditions and horseback riding may serve as the camp’s primary draws, but Hartley said that the employment opportunities of the Summit may hold similar to that required to staff Philmont.
With close to 1,000 seasonal employees and 80 permanent staff members at Philmont, Hartley said that those numbers seem like a reasonable projection for future staffing numbers at the Paul R. Christen High Adventure Base.
However, Hartley said that staff numbers will be among the only similarities between Philmont and the Summit’s high adventure base.
In its 75-year history, Philmont has served to supplement the waning economy of Cimarron, N.M., and many residents attribute the town’s current prosperity to the neighboring Scout base.
“Without them, we probably wouldn’t exist. They’re one of our biggest industries here.” Mindy Cahill, clerk administrator for the Village of Cimarron, told The Register-Herald in a previous interview.
Due to its remote location, Hartley said that families do not often accompany Scouts to Philmont (they instead arrive by some combinations of plane, rail and chartered bus with their troop). For that reason, the local economic boost in Cimarron is more often generated by special side trips organized by Scout leaders and local spending in restaurants and gift shops.
Hartley said that the Summit’s high adventure base will employ a different model. Scouts will not be required to come in crews, as they are at Philmont, and will instead have the option to come as individuals and be joined with “provisional crews” upon their arrival to the Summit.
“We’re trying to facilitate more attendance by offering to put those crews together here,” said Hartley.
Also, Hartley added, the BSA is seeking to reach a broader market with the different model that would bring more people into the area.
Due to the Summit’s proximity to major highways and being located within a day’s drive of more than 60 percent of the nation’s population, it will be more conducive for families to drive their Scouts to the Summit high adventure base, adding unique tourism and vacation opportunities to the area.
With the New River Gorge National River offering quite an allure as a summer pit stop, it seems reasonable to estimate that more families may choose to accompany their Scout on their southern West Virginia adventure.
Hartley said that the traffic migrating to the high adventure camp will differ greatly from the lump influx that characterized the Jamboree.
“For the Jamboree, we had buses departing for the Summit every 45 seconds or so,” Hartley said. “The high adventure camp will consist of more individual traffic over a longer period of time.”
By “individual traffic” Hartley means that Scouts can be arriving to the area in varying shapes and sizes, ranging from council units, singular troops or individual Scouts, either alone or accompanied by their families.
With a target enrollment of 50,000 participants spread out over 10 weeks of summer each year, Hartley said that the impact resulting from the Summit’s high adventure base will be “more sustainable” for the local economy compared to that of the Jamboree.
Adding to the Summit’s sustainability — beyond the National Jamboree site and Paul R. Christen High Adventure Base — will be the future programming, Hartley said.
Those programs include a National Scout Summer Camp in 2015 and a National Camp School and Training Center in 2016.
The BSA has never operated one permanent facility of this magnitude, so what it will truly mean for the region’s economy is still foggy, but time will make that all clearer, Hartley said.
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