I hosted Talkline from the World Scout Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel Reserve at Glen Jean Friday and, as is often said, you have to see it to believe it.
The first thing that strikes you is the vastness of the camp—over 10,000 acres on top of a mountain where an old surface and underground coal mine have been reclaimed. Millions of tons of dirt and rock have been moved to restore the site and grade the old highwalls. Ponds and lakes have been built.
Crews have built miles of roads, bridges, water and sewer lines. The Scouts put an emphasis on sustainability. For example, water used for showering is recycled for a second use in waste disposal. Scouts use water bottles they refill at stations around the camp. Plastic bottles are frowned upon.
The Jamboree is a medium size city with over 40,000 Scouts and leaders and another 9,000 Scout volunteers. The Jamboree is broken up into a series of huge camps for the Scouts and volunteers, all scattered around a central camp where the giant amphitheater and stage are located.
The camps housing the troops from more than 150 countries are intermingled so it’s easy for the Scouts to meet people from other countries. Each Scout carries a small device that allows them to exchange contact information just by pushing a button.
The outdoor adventure activities are incredible—zip lines, rock climbing, skateboard parks, mountain bike and BMX courses, water sports, rafting on the New River, rifle and archery ranges. Scouts are given plenty of free time to enjoy the activities they choose. An app on their phone tells them if there is a wait time (yes, there is a long wait for the giant zip line).
The Scouts I talked with Friday were enjoying those outdoor adventures but, to a person, they talked more about the one-in-a-lifetime opportunities to meet people from all over the world and build friendships.
One popular story making the rounds was how a Scout troop from Boone County came to the rescue of an Italian troop that arrived in the middle of the night during a driving rain. The West Virginia Scouts rolled out of their tents, helped the Italians set up and then fed them breakfast the following morning.
The Italians reciprocated by fixing the West Virginians dinner with pasta they brought from home. Not to be outdone, the Boone County Scouts arranged from some down-home BBQ to be brought in (it helped that the owner of the BBQ restaurant is an Eagle Scout!).
There was just such a positive vibe at the Jamboree. Granted, I was only there a short time, but everyone I saw was in a good mood, having fun and making friends. I didn’t hear any grousing or complaining. It clearly helped that after the rain at the start of the Jamboree, beautiful weather settled in over West Virginia.
There are many troubles in this world and the rise of nationalism in some countries has created additional frictions. However, it is reassuring to know that in the global village of the World Scout Jamboree there are tens of thousands of young people, many of them future leaders, who can show us that it is possible to not only get along, but thrive and be enriched by the experience.
And, as an added bonus, it’s happening right here in West Virginia.