GLEN JEAN – As the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve (SBR) continues to take shape near Beckley, bringing the very center of the universe for Scouting to West Virginia, it is important to realize this world-class facility likely wouldn’t have come to West Virginia had it not been for the land created there by former surface mining operations.
The SBR facility will encompass approximately 10,600 acres along the New River Gorge area. It will be the home of the National Scout Jamboree and the Summit High Adventure Base, as well as the National Center for Scouting Excellence. The site was formerly home to several old, abandoned mining facilities.
“This site clearly shows the role surface mining can play in creating new economic development opportunities for the state,” said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association. “Even old abandoned mine sites are being seen as a resource. Imagine how much could be accomplished with the industry, communities and development officials working together to create a future for our people. It just takes vision and cooperation … and the folks at the Boy Scouts of America have the vision.
The acquisition of this property and its construction was made possible through a donation from the Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation. The $50 million donation is the largest in the history of the BSA.
Development of The Summit is now in progress. Development of the infrastructure is moving forward in preparation for the 2013 National Scout Jamboree. The Summit is expected to inject $25.3 million into the local economy annually.
Plans for The Summit began in 2007 when BSA leadership began looking for a permanent location for the National Scout Jamboree, which had been held at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia since 1981 as well as seeking another high adventure base for the large number of Scouts who are wait-listed at the other three high adventure camps every year.
More than 80 sites in 28 states were visited over an 18-month span and inspected as possible locations for the new venue. The top fifteen sites were visited and in October 2008 the list was cut to three sites: Saline County, Arkansas; Goshen, Rockbridge County, Virginia; and the New River region of West Virginia. In February 2009 Arkansas was cut from the list, leaving Virginia and West Virginia. On November 18, 2009, the BSA announced that it had chosen the West Virginia site, known locally as the Garden Grounds property, as the future home of The Summit.
One of the primary reasons for choosing the West Virginia site was its adjacency to the New River Gorge National Park. More than 13 miles of the property borders the park, giving Scouts and Scouters access to more than 70,000 acres of managed wilderness beyond the Summit property.
The Summit property was once the site of extensive coal mining, an industry for which the state of West Virginia is known. The former surface mines on the property created wide flat areas that tier the terrain into a series of benches, effectively pre-grading and excavating the property, and allowing for many of the roads and infrastructure sites on the property to begin construction without extensive earth moving.
Sections of the property contain large flat areas engineered to accommodate regional camp headquarters and sub-camps. The sub-camp farthest from The Summit’s core area will be 1.3 miles, with an elevation gain of no more than 300 feet. Pedestrian pathways reduce walking times from regional camps to the core activity center to 12–15 minutes.
A permanent arena on the far side of the valley will seat 6000 to 8000 people, which will be built as a natural extension to the property’s lower bowl amphitheatre section, for a total arena area large enough for 80,000 people during the national Scout jamboree.
The partnership with the coal industry continues during the development of the site, with the building of a triple-walkway pedestrian suspension bridge sponsored by CONSOL Energy. The bridge will be just shy of 800 feet in length, and was made possible by the $15 million donation of CONSOL. The bridge will connect the western and eastern portions of the core areas of the property.