By Andrea B. Bond
In July 2013, The Summit Bechtel National Family Scout Reserve will welcome more than 40,000 Boy Scouts and their leaders from all across the country to their 10-day-long National Jamboree. It’s a momentous occasion for the grand opening of the 10,600-acre scout camp in Fayette County, and one that’s the talk of West Virginia.
The camp’s construction has produced an economic impact of $50 million in wages and materials alone, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said. After the camp opens, area hotels, restaurants, state parks and recreational facilities are expected to experience a surge in visitors from the scouts and their families, both in the area and en route.
“Millions of dollars associated with materials, labor and tourism have boosted the local economy, with millions more to come when the Summit opens in 2013,” Tomblin said. “Together, we are building a sustainable future for the region, our beautiful state, and the tens of thousands of scouts from West Virginia and across the globe who will enjoy the reserve for years to come.”
In 2007, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) decided to move the National Jamboree from its former location on a Virginia military base to a permanent facility that the organization would own. West Virginia competed in a nationwide search to become the new host to the Scout camp. Proposals were submitted for 82 sites in 28 states.
Candidate sites were required to be at least 5,000 acres, within 25 miles of interstate highways, near adequate medical facilities, and lastly, have spectacular scenery as a backdrop for recreational activities. In West Virginia, then-Gov. Joe Manchin assembled a team of state Development Office professionals, government officials and private volunteers to identify the best site and market it to the BSA. Called the West Virginia Project Arrow Task Force, the group was headed by Charleston attorney Steven McGowan, who also is an Eagle Scout and Scout volunteer.
“The Summit will offer an unprecedented opportunity for the nation and the world to see and experience the entire state and its hospitality,” McGowan concluded in his economic impact statement.
In 2009 the BSA selected a 10,600-acre site in the New River Gorge near the towns of Mount Hope and Glen Jean. The site lies adjacent to more than 70,000 acres of the New River Gorge National River area, providing the Scouts easy access to activities such as whitewater rafting, hiking, bicycling and rock climbing.
Gary Hartley, spokesman for the BSA, said that two deciding factors in the scouts choosing the Fayette County location were its access to outdoor recreation and its location to population centers on the East Coast.
“We used to hold the Jamboree on the coast of Virginia. We drew a circle representing what the scout leaders could drive in a day – a 500-mile radius – and half of that circle was in the ocean. Now, in West Virginia, within a one-day’s drive we’re still close to the East Coast but we’ve picked up cities in the Midwest. The Summit is within a one-day’s drive of 60 to 70 percent of the U.S. population.”
Once the site was selected, a donation of $50 million from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation and the Stephen Bechtel Fun – the largest gift in the history of the BSA – provided the financial seed to initiate the project. Additional major donors include the Suzanne and Walter Scott Foundation ($25 million) and Consol Energy ($15 million).
Hartley said he was appreciative of all the assistance the BSA has received from West Virginia.
“The people – city, county, state and the feds, too– have all been really cooperative.”
In preparation for the camp’s opening, the BSA is working with numerous state agencies and privately owned businesses.
The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources’ Law Enforcement, Wildlife Resources and Parks and Recreation sections are set to provide technical support to the Summit and during the Jamboree, said Curtis Taylor, DNR Chief of the Wildlife Resources.
“Some state parks in the BSA-targeted nine-county area may be sites for service projects during the Summit,” Taylor said. “Parks with overnight accommodations in the area will recognize an increase in reservation interest at what is an already busy time of the year.”
During the Jamboree, DNR will have an exhibit in the Conservation Trail area which is located in Walter Scott, Jr. Conservation Valley. The Conservation Trail is an area established by the Summit which will feature interactive displays from natural resource-based state and federal agencies. In addition, the Law Enforcement’s Laser Shot trailer, which was very popular at the last National Scout Jamboree, will be an integral part of the 2013 event.
Upon learning that the BSA will equip each scout with a smart phone, DNR decided to reinforce the smart phone technology by featuring QR codes and web addresses at their display.
“Familiarizing the scouts with our websites and QR codes will instill an appreciation for West Virginia’s natural resources, including fishing and hunting opportunities and our wonderful state park system, plus will allow the sharing of our web-based information with family members and friends,” Taylor said.
He added that, on a short-term basis, the DNR hopes to educate the scouts about fishing, hunting and other outdoor recreational opportunities, including state parks, forests and wildlife management areas.
“On a long-term basis we hope that the scouts will be ambassadors for these activities -- encouraging others to visit West Virginia, buy fishing licenses and perhaps hunting licenses, as well as stay at our wonderful state parks and forests -- thus improving the state’s positive image.”
The West Virginia Development Office has stayed in touch with Summit officials to provide assistance when needed, said Moses Zeeger, trade shows manager for Business and Industrial Development. When then-Gov. Manchin first met with the scouts, he committed to $10 million to assist with road improvements, and the city of Mount Hope was provided with $3 million for improvements for the water system to serve the Summit.
“The team members that located the Summit Bechtel Scout camp to West Virginia are ecstatic with the development of this facility,” Zeeger said. “It will be a facility of extreme utilization and be able to serve more people and scouts than any other facility in the scouting world.”
The Summit will be incorporated and based on successful modern business models to be self-sustaining, he said. Preliminary plans call for the Jamboree, a summer camp, a high-adventure center, a leadership center and perhaps a scouting museum.
The eventual investment total to construct the Summit is projected to be $450 million, Zeeger said. Reports indicate that $250 million of that goal had been reached as of October 2012.
On-site contractors have employed nearly 1,000 people, of which 80 percent were West Virginians. In addition, $16 million in materials have been purchased in West Virginia, more than $9 million of which from vendors in Fayette, Raleigh or Nicholas counties.
In preparation for the Summit’s opening, experts of recreational and sport activities have been on site planning and directing and construction of specialized venues such as zip lines, mountain bike trails, archery courts and a BMX/skate park.
“Likewise, numerous projects have been completed by experienced scouts as they provide labor to clear streams and build new paths through the New River Gorge National Park,” Zeeger said. “These programs, activities and approaches to outdoor recreation and environmental stewardship all foster influxes of great numbers of people to the area and the state as a whole.”
The Jamboree is scheduled for July 15-24, 2013. The public will be invited to some events, including live music and fireworks, for the Summit’s grand opening.
As if the 2013 Jamboree weren’t exciting enough, in 2019 the new National Center for Scouting Excellence in Fayette County will hosts scouts from more than 160 countries for the 24th World Scout Jamboree.
Construction crews and planners are working seven days a week to assure the Summit will be completed in time for its opening date. A test run of the camp last summer produced promising results, Hartley said.
“The Scouts were really excited about the Summit. They loved West Virginia – the mountains, the terrain – and also the types of programs that are being offered. We even made the cover of Scouting magazine. So it’s definitely the buzz.”
Likewise, West Virginia is excited to host the Boy Scouts, Zeeger said.
He cited a study that found that many of America’s greatest political and military leaders were participants in scouting during their youth.
“The Boy Scouts of America’s newest venture in our state means that many future U.S. leaders will spend some time during their developmental years in West Virginia,” he said.