Tens of thousands of boy scouts are making their way to southern West Virginia Wednesday for the start of their national jamboree, but preparations began long before a single scout sets foot on site.
Planning for the 2017 Boy Scouts of America National Jamboree began almost four years ago, immediately following the first jamboree held at the Summit Bechtel National Reserve.
The reserve is situated on 14,000 acres in Fayette County between Oak Hill and Mt. Hope, next to the New River Gorge National River.
Tuesday, hundreds of volunteers were already in place, constructing the main stage at the amphitheater, setting up supply tents and learning their roles for the 10-day event. Those volunteers include military men and women from almost every branch, and members of the West Virginia National Guard.
Sgt. Zoe Morris said 600 guard members are using the event as a replacement for their annual training days, working with the Department of Defense and state and local officials on the National Jamboree Joint Task Force.
“It builds our experience so that if anything happened like the flood or the water crisis, we already have experience working with those other agencies,” Morris said.
While on site, the estimated 30,000 boy scouts will participate in a variety of activities, including hiking, ziplining and whitewater rafting. They’ll set up their own tents, cook their own meals, and learn some valuable lessons.
"I come from Los Angeles, but for even some kids that are going to come out of south L.A. that have never been to a camp before or never really spent 10 days in a tent, I mean they are life changing experiences,” Glenn Ault, who leads the national administrative group as a volunteer, said.
Jamboree Director Mike Myers says scouts will spend their time doing more than just mountain biking and fishing. They will volunteer some 100,000 hours of community service in 9 West Virginia counties during their time in the state.
“This is part of who we are and in our DNA, so to speak, is to do a good turn daily and help other people,” Myers said.
The Governor’s Office estimates those volunteer projects will generate some $7 million of economic impact for the state.
The Summit Bechtel Reserve itself hasn’t been without controversy, though. Reuters reported that the initially budgeted $176 million project quickly blossomed to $439 million in 2015, causing some financial strain on the national nonprofit.
The year before, West Virginia voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing the scouts to maintain their nonprofit, tax exempt status while renting out the facility. A representative of the site says so far, the Girl Scouts have also used the reserve for their own camps.
Editor's Note: This story originally placed the Summit Bechtel Reserve between Oak Hill and Fayetteville, but has been updated to reflect that it is in the Mt. Hope area.