W.Va. Hosts Tens of Thousands of Scouts from Around the World

Aug 2, 2019

Trading badges at the World Scout Jamboree is serious business.
Credit Glynis Board / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Tens of thousands of young people from more than 150 countries are adventuring in West Virginia for the 24th World Scout Jamboree. Many people who have spent time at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in southern West Virginia say the 24th annual event is an inspiring scene of world peace. It’s the first time the World Scout Jamboree has been hosted in the U.S. since 1967.

Over the past two weeks, more than 41,000 high-school-aged scouts descended on a 10-thousand-acre surface coal mine in West Virginia that has been repurposed for outdoor adventure. They temporarily created the state’s second-largest city at the Summit, which has been operational for six years. The World Scout Jamboree is said to be the largest outdoor education event for youth in the world. 36,000 of the scouts come from troops across the world, including Randy Williams from Surinam, a small country in South America. 

Randy Williams, a 15-year-old scout from Suriname, knew very little about West Virginia before he arrived -- only that there was jungle and wild animals here. He says he would like to visit the state again one day.
Credit Tom Kraeutler

“It was my dream to take part in the jamboree,” Williams said with a thick accent. “Four years ago my neighbor-girl, she went to the jamboree in Japan. And I was interested so I began to go to scouting.”

Williams is one of more than 16,000 of scouts who attempted to climb 30-foot rock slabs that appear to be jutting out of the ground -- built to look just like the surrounding rock outcroppings.  

“I did it. I reached the top,” he said smiling and pointing to the top of the rock walls. “I climbed three times and I reached the top.”

Trading Badges

Typically, national scout jamborees give kids opportunities to collect individual merit badges; the World Scout Jamboree focuses instead on cultural exchanges. But trading badges is serious business. 

“Would you do those two for this German unit with the mouse patch which I think is really cute?” Kevin Peacock, a scout from Denver, asked a scout with a bundle of patches from her country. He eventually strikes a deal. “Thank you very much.”

Like many of his peers, Kevin Peacock, a scout from Denver, said he'll remember most getting to interact with so many people from different cultures at the World Scout Jamboree.
Credit Glynis Board / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Peacock is set with badges spread across a picnic table. The table is out in the middle of a landmark steel suspension bridge that crosses a huge ravine on the property. He has hundreds of patches but says he didn’t come with very many.

“It’s just knowing how to trade,” he said. “Being courteous get’s you a long way,” he added.

In addition to his burgeoning collection of badges, Peacock spoke about a new appreciation he found at the jamboree for scout values shared globally like kindness and trustworthiness. He’s honed those skills trading badges, but also by living alongside kids from other countries.

“We’re right next to a troop from the Netherlands. And we’ve really hit it off. We’ve had dinners together, we’ve shared a lot of music, and we’ve just hung out the two of us, so the friendship I have with this Dutch troop is probably going to be the thing I carry with me for the longest.”

Fun with Firearms

Moments shared camping alongside one another were commonly identified as favorite experiences among scouts. While Peacock might remember his Dutch friends the most, other scouts will remember their first, and for some of them, only opportunity to shoot firearms. The Summit is home to the second-largest shooting sports complex in the U.S.

Former FBI and director of the shooting sports program at the Summit, Dick Heft managed one of the most popular activities at the World Scout Jamboree.
Credit Tom Kraeutler

“Because of my extensive experience, I was able to pull together a  staff of 405 people for this jamboree,” Dick Heft said. He’s retired from the FBI and director of the shooting sports program at the Summit.

Heft said he spoke with many scouts who had never seen or held a firearm and likely would never again as it’s illegal in their countries. He even got an email from the government of Belgium indicating that their scouts should not be allowed to handle firearms. Heft responded matter-of-factly that his staff would not screen scouts.

“That’s not our job,” Heft said. “That’s a political issue, and this is not a political venue. We’re here to safely provide a fun activity. And that’s what we’re doing.”

In a single day, Heft saw more than 12,000 scouts go through the shooting sports, discharging up to 70,000 rounds of ammunition.

A Five-story Treehouse

When scouts aren’t shooting or trading badges, or biking 32 miles of trails, or learning to scuba dive in one of four above-ground olympic-sized pools, or dancing or whitewater rafting or ziplining across a lake, scouts explore educational exhibits like the Sustainability Treehouse. Repurposed materials, wind turbines and solar panels are featured in the five-story treehouse.

“It was very interesting to see that it would be so easy to change the world - we just don’t. I think it’s just a lack of effort,” Isobel Peel said. She’s been a scout in Wales for years. She’s among the roughly 40 percent of scouts at the jamboree who are young women. The Boy Scouts of America just opened their doors to young women this year, but many other countries have long had integrated souting programs.

“I think we should start integrating this into our usual lives,” Peel said. “This would be a good idea considering global warming and all that.”

The jamboree featured many educational moments, including an opportunity for scouts to converse with the International Space Station as it flew over:

Historic and Economic Impacts

A bronze, life-sized statue of the traditional Eagle Scout image. Sometimes small versions of it are given to a scout who reaches that rank, or an Eagle who is being recognized for having done something special. The actual scout is said to be modeled after a young Baden Powell (founder of Scouting).
Credit Glynis Board / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The 24th World Scout Jamboree is the largest scout gathering in the world since the scouting movement began in 1910. The U.S. scouts’ national director of outdoor adventures, Al Lambert, said the scene of world peace in West Virginia is inspiring and that the founder of the scout movement, Robert Baden-Powell, would be very pleased.

“It was the dream of Baden-Powell that if we could get kids from around the world talking to each other and sharing a common set of values, that when they grew up they could solve problems,” Lambert said. 

The next world jamboree will take place four years from now in South Korea.

The Director of Programming and Operations at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in southern West Virginia, Ken Miller, says the economic impact of the event in the surrounding region is significant. A report by West Virginia University’s School of Business indicates that the National Jamboree held at the Summit in 2017 saw $76 million economic impact and $1.2 million in generated state and local tax revenue. The local whitewater rafting industry saw about a $700,000 impact in 2017.

The National Scout Jamboree brought about 30,000 scouts to the region in 2017. Miller expects the World Jamboree’s economic impact to surpass the numbers from 2017.