In West Virginia, an Appalachian mountain is being transformed into a vast Boy Scout camp. It’s more than 10,000 acres and will cost the Boy Scouts of America more than $400 million to be turned into The Summit Bechtel Reserve, also known simply as the Summit.
The year-round high-adventure camp will soon be the permanent home of the National Scout Jamboree — the next one is in 2013 — and will host the 2019 World Jamboree. The BSA announced Thursday that it has received $85 million in new gifts to help the effort.
The best way to view progress on the construction is to see it from aboveground: a mostly wooded and mountainous site being converted into what looks like golf courses. But it’s a carved-out Boy Scout camp, waiting for grass to seed.
“It took us about six minutes here to make a circle all the way around here and we’re doing about 80 miles an hour; it’s really something,” Chris Kappler said from his open cockpit biplane. Kappler is a pilot and owner of the Wild Blue Adventure company, which provides aerial tours of the area.
The BSA has other adventure camps, but this is the big new idea. In addition to the jamborees, the scout troops can come here year-round for whitewater rafting, mountain climbing and winter camping.
The scouts looked at 80 possible locations before settling on West Virginia. A day’s drive from a lot of cities, the site had a large tract of mountain land with a for sale sign on it.
“It’s awfully hard to find a place as virgin as this,” Jim Small, a local kayaker said. “The area here is one of the best-kept secrets in the country.”
The New River runs through a deep gorge, protected by the National Park Service, and tourism is the driving industry. In the town of Fayetteville, Maura Kistler is the co-owner of Water Stone, a store that sells sleeping bags and climbing gear. She’s hoping for a Boy Scout cash register effect.
“We’ve been in business 17, 18 years — [and] we had our best month ever in July,” Kistler said. “All I know is we’re beefing up our Boy Scout section.”
The 2013 Jamboree is already almost happening on the Internet. Daily blogs keep Boy Scouts all over the country in touch and excited about the new site. The BSA hired Weld, a local social media marketing company, to create videos and the blogs. Weld’s George Rogers says the company’s hypothetical core customer is the digital Boy Scout.
“Our 13-year-old scout has been a digital native his entire life; he’s used to acquiring photos with his phone — even acquiring videos — geotagging those photos and even sharing his precise location at any given time. In the social media landscape is really where the conversation is going to happen with the core customer,” Rogers said.
In this part of southern West Virginia people know the new Boy Scout land as Garden Ground Mountain. It rises high over the town of Mount Hope, which was busy back in the coal mining days.
Kirk Harman, who runs Mountain State What-Nots, an antiques and collectibles store, said the Boy Scouts have already had an impact.
“It’s a quiet little town. We got new sidewalks and I guess that’s the result of some of the Boy Scouts, new lights,” Harman said. “And we got one fast-food restaurant and that’s across the street. If you have about an hour and a half you can probably get served if it’s rush hour.”
The rush hour is at lunchtime in Mount Hope. And more customers will show up when the state starts on some Summit-related highway projects, including an access road to the main gate. West Virginia will spend $10 million on roads, most of it federal money. The Summit also gets state funds to clean up some abandoned coal mines on the property.
Initial funding of $50 million for The Summit Bechtel Reserve came from former Eagle Scout Stephen Bechtel of the Bechtel Corp., an engineering and construction firm.
Mike Patrick, the chief operating officer of The Summit Bechtel Reserve, says the Summit will become the second-largest city in the state of West Virginia for a few weeks during the Jamboree in July 2013. He said the scouts are building facilities to accommodate 40,000 scouts and 8,000 to 9,000 volunteers.
The unemployment rate here reaches close to 10 percent, and this project brings welcome jobs. There are 285 full-time employees building the Summit camp; 80 percent of them are West Virginians.
Gary Hartley, director of community and government relations for the Summit, says he can imagine it finished. He says he sees all the tent villages, the shower houses, the lake for canoes and kayaks, the zip lines, the mountain bike course, the BMX-ers, the rock climbers, the skateboarders, the arena designed for ceremonies and music and 80,000 people, on July 15, 2013.