Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 1:46 PM
In West Virginia, an Appalachian mountain is being transformed into a vast Boy Scout camp. It's more than 10,000 acres, and will border the New River George. The $400 million construction budget and future events at the site are expected to aid an economically depressed area.
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 build 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 the camp will host the 2019 World Jamboree. The Boy Scouts announced on Thursday that they received $85 million in new gifts to help the effort.
The best way to view progress on the construction is to see it from above ground, which is a mostly wooded and mountainous site being converted into what looks like golf courses — but it's a boy scout camp carved out, 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 Boy Scouts have 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, 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 Boy Scouts hired a local company called Weld — for social media marketing — to create videos and the blogs. George Rogers of Weld says their 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 — geo-tagging 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 Mt. Hope, which was busy back in the coal mining days.
Kirk Harman, who runs a antiques and collectibles store, Mountain State What-Nots, 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 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 Mt. 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 Corporation, 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 eight to nine thousand volunteers.
The unemployment rate here reaches close to ten percent, and this project brings welcome jobs.
There are 285 full-time employees building the Summit camp eighty percent of them are West Virginians.
Gary Hartley, director of community and government relations for the Summit, said he can imagine it finished. He said 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. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]
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