Coal People Magazine....
THE SUMMIT BECHTEL FAMILY NATIONAL SCOUT RESERVE
The Boy Scouts Are Coming to Coal Country!
Quite simply, there's never been a reclamation project like the one that's taking place in West Virginia right now. The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in southern West Virginia is certainly huge--10,600 acres that's adjacent to 70,000-plus protected acres of the New River Gorge National River region. And The Summit will welcome huge numbers of visitors-including about 35,000 Boy Scouts and an expected 8,000 volunteers and 20,000 day visitors for The Summit's coming out party...the National Scout Jamboree on July 15, 2013.
This massive 21st century reclamation project involving land that was mined during much of the 20th century was a long time in the making. The National Scout Jamboree had been held at Virginia's Fort A.P. Hill for many years, but, starting in 2007, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) looked at 80-plus sites in more than two dozen states before finally announcing West Virginia was the big-time winner in 2009.
"This facility will highlight the best of wild and Wonderful West Virginia and provide us an unprecedented opportunity to showcase our state's beauty and heritage," said then-West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin in his 2009 "State of the State" address that announced the Boy Scouts were coming to the state. "When completed, this project will draw thousands of Scouts and outdoor enthusiasts-both young and old-from across the nation and around the world for years to come."
Headquartered in Irving, Texas, and having celebrated its 100th anniversary back in 2010, there are now more than 300 BSA councils in the United States and its territories. Around 2.7 million youths ages seven to 20 are active in the BSA on an annual basis. Chief Scout Executive Robert "Bob" Mazzuca says Fayette County's natural beauty and water sealed the deal for the BSA, adding The Summit will also ease national high adventure base wait-listing issues and add new programs.
When it opens in 2013, The Summit will join the BSA's three other "high adventure" base camps in the Sunshine State (Florida Sea Base), Minnesota (Northern Tier), and New Mexico (Philmont Scout Ranch). However, this coal country BSA base camp is destined to be different.
One of the unique things about the reclamation of The Summit is actually how much land is being left undeveloped and completely undisturbed. This is thanks to the coal mining infrastructure of roads and trails that is allowing easier development of The Summit's offerings (including numerous campsites) to Boy Scouts and others.
These offerings will mean more than six miles of ziplines, 25 miles of backcountry trails, 37-plus miles of mild to wild biking, 13 acres of shooting sports, and so much more. The laundry list of actions sports includes: mountain biking; skateboarding; ziplining; a canopy tour; scuba diving and swimming; rock climbing; shooting sports; archery; and varied whitewater rafting and paddling possibilities. The Boy Scouts were built on the outdoors and The Summit is obviously being built on epic adventure!
In addition to these adventures, Scouts will head out into the surrounding area for a "Day of Giving Back," pursuing the various service projects that are part of the Scout mission and experience. Back at The Summit, daily paid visitors will also have the opportunity to enjoy an action-packed glimpse into the world of Scouting through varied offerings.
The Summit will be the new permanent home of the National Scout Jamboree, but it can and will be even more. After the 2013 National Scout Jamboree, there will be four more through 2021. And, there's also the 2019 World Scout Jamboree.
Major donors to the undertaking have included: the Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation; Jim Justice; the Suzanne and Walter Scott Foundation; the T. Michael and Gillian Goodrich Foundation; and CONSOL Energy. There have been many other named and anonymous donors, with total funds raised more than $200 million and counting! Various pieces of The Summit puzzle (from buildings to bridges) will be named for these and other donors.
The Bechtel Foundation donated $50 million to help purchase and develop the land for The Summit and it was the largest charitable donation in the history of the Boy Scouts of America. Stephen Bechtel, Jr. earned Eagle Scout status in 1940 and has received the BSA's Silver Buffalo Award and other accolades. His uncle, Kenneth Bechtel, was national president of the BSA from 1956 to 1959.
West Virginia's Jim Justice donated $25 million, which will establish the James C. Justice National Scout Camp. Justice is president and CEO of Justice Companies, Inc., which includes West Virginia's iconic Greenbrier Resort. Of his contribution, Justice said, "It is rare to be presented with an opportunity to impact so many lives. The Summit will bring youth and families from all over the country-even to the world-to West Virginia for a meaningful experience and incredible adventure."
The foundation of Eagle Scout Walter Scott, Jr. donated $25 million to The Summit, resulting in the Scott Scouting Valley, destined to become a main landscape feature of the project. After helping create the Comer Scout Reservation in Alabama, the Goodriches wanted to do more-and their generous contribution to The Summit means the main lake will be named Goodrich Lake.
America's largest energy company donated $15 million to help create the CONSOL Energy Wing Tip Bridge, a truly unique pedestrian bridge that connects to major sections of The Summit. The eagle-wing design features three walkways-with two bending above and below the main span.
Summit officials are working closely with state and federal agencies like the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to ensure reclamation and use of the land is completed in an environmentally responsible way. The CONSOL Energy Wing Tip Bridge spanning pristine land below it is one of many examples, as does an early shower house built from timber harvested on the site, sawed at a local mill, and returned to the property as some of The Summit's first structures.
"I think history will look back at this being one of the most successful things the administration of Governor Joe Manchin did in the six years he was governor," says Dave Arnold, managing partner at Adventures on the Gorge, a multi-activity adventure company that will take Summit Scouts and others on rafting trips and more.
The iconic New River Gorge Bridge, the New River, and the entire New River Gorge National River region will serve as a wild and wonderful backdrop for The Summit. The history of the New River Gorge is most definitely tied to coal and the rich landscape, as well as the railroad system that carried the coal (several reclaimed lines now welcome bikers and hikers) and many former coal mining towns with fascinating history (and museums). Visiting scouts, volunteers, and others will have the opportunity to take advantage of the great outdoors and more beyond The Summit's boundaries.
Visit www.scouting.org and www.WVTourism.com for further information.
This is freelance journalist Lynn Seldon's fourth article for Coal People Magazine. The Virginia native grew up in Winchester near the West Virginia line in the Shenandoah Valley and has pursued many feature stories about the Mountain State. He loves West Virginia's varied adventures, many of which are on reclaimed coal country.