Bluefield Daily Telegraph
When my Mom heard the news, she told me she wasn’t going anywhere while they were in town. She had visions of huge traffic jams, and I didn’t blame her one bit. About 40,000 Boy Scouts were going to be camping out only a few minutes from her home. It’s not that Mom has any problems with Boy Scouts, but it was such a mind boggling number.
I first heard of the plans for a major Boy Scout facility in Fayette County only a couple of years ago. It sounded like a good idea, and even then I couldn’t grasp the vast number of Scouts coming to southern West Virginia. Many of our cities and towns don’t have 40,000 people.
The new park, dubbed the Summit Bechtel Reserve after a major donor, sounded big, but I didn’t realize how big until photographer Mel Grubb took some pictures of it from his airplane. I have always envisioned a “camp” being a few tents around a campfire. The images Mel took shot my vision down in flames.
What I was seeing was a city. Buildings and tents were lined up in neat rows. I heard the Summit has its own post office, about four Olympic-sized swimming pools, one of the biggest climbing walls in the world, and the place still isn’t quite finished.
I visited Mom and Dad last weekend with my sister Karen and my nephews A.J. and Alex. Mom had gone to the grocery store to pick up more supplies since A.J. was spending the week with her and Dad, and she said the traffic wasn’t too bad.
Huge tour buses chartered to bring the Scouts from all over the country were everywhere. One nearby shopping center’s parking lot was “jam packed” with tour buses, Mom said.
Despite the traffic, everything was moving pretty smoothly. When I got off Interstate 77 near the Crossroads Mall, I immediately saw big Department of Highways mobile signs informing Scout employees and visitors where to turn off so they could reach the Summit. One nearby vacant field awaiting development had been turned into a staging area for visitors and buses. West Virginia State Police were moving the traffic pretty briskly, and I even noticed some out-of-state troopers. I learned later that these troopers came to provide extra personnel for the big event. They were partnered with local troopers who knew the area.
I drove through this staging area with no trouble at all, so I have to say everything was well organized. Of course, this organization didn’t end up in Fayette County. The Scouts were required to perform some community service, and this service involved going to projects across southern West Virginia.
Dozens of service projects were slated for Mercer County and McDowell County. We couldn’t cover all of them, but the Scouts sent a list for projects we could attend. They didn’t want just anybody arriving, so we had to have press credentials to hang around our necks.
For one assignment, photographer Jon Bolt and I drove down to Vivian, a small community in McDowell County. We had to stop and ask for directions before we found the site, a small baseball field, but we arrived in time to see the Scouts at work.
The Scouts went to work as soon as they climbed off the school bus that brought them there. They were running wheelbarrows full of fresh sand to the site of a new volleyball court and tearing apart some decaying bleachers. Scouts were also cutting weeds — the Scout master and I couldn’t shake hands because he had been in poison ivy — and getting the ballfield’s old press box ready for painting.
This particular group of Scouts called Mississippi home. One Scout told me that he thought his state’s pine trees were tall until he saw the ones towering in West Virginia. Despite the muggy weather and the biting bugs, they were all hard at work.
One surprise was the sight of some volunteers wearing Asian rice hats, the conical headgear mostly associated with China and Southeast Asia. They turned out to be student volunteers from Vietnam. Jon and I also encountered Venture Scouts and AmeriCorps volunteers. As the old saying goes, everyone was getting into the act.
We then drove to Lotito Park in Bluefield where the Scouts and other volunteers were doing everything from picking up trash to resurfacing the park’s basketball courts. Both the day’s projects in Vivian and Bluefield were examples of what the Scouts were doing across the region. Each project would have cost hundreds of dollars in labor if the municipalities had to pay salaries.
The Scouts are now departing, but an International Boy Scout Jamboree scheduled to bring thousands more Scouts to the region will take place in a couple of years. I’m sure more projects will be ready for Scouts ready to do their good deed for the day.
Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at email@example.com.