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What I did on my Summit vacation

It’s one thing to read about the Summit or watch some of the jaw-dropping videos from the place.

It’s quite another to see it for yourself. Trust me.

I just got back from West Virginia for my first trip to the BSA’s fourth high-adventure base. There I attended the Jamboree Shakedown, a test run for the 2013 National Scout Jamboree.

My sound-byte review: This place is gonna be awesome. In fact, it already is.

Stay tuned for a complete report and great photos in the November-December 2012 issue of Scouting magazine.

In the meantime, I wanted to share some of my first impressions about the site.

This ain’t A.P. Hill — and that’s a good thing

Garth Dowling (Magazine photo director, left) and I set up our tent on the first day. (Photo by Michael Roytek.)

Folks, we’re not in Bowling Green, Va., anymore.

After attending or serving on staff at the past four jamborees, I had grown to love Fort A.P. Hill, the active Army base that hosted every jamboree since 1981. But this place blows A.P. Hill out of the water.

The picture above gives you a sense of the rolling hills packed with hemlocks that make the Summit truly special. Scouts and Scouters from places including California, New Jersey, and Ohio found several different ways to tell me the same thing: The Summit — well, all of West Virginia, really — is stunning.

Mornings at the Summit brought an ethereal quality that started as the fog descended and the sun peeked above the hills. And as a Texan, I can say the Summit’s sunsets rivaled those from back home.

It rained off and on during the weekend, but that didn’t slow down the Scouts or dampen anyone’s spirits. In fact, I started to welcome the refreshing rainshowers after a day of keeping up with these active Scouts.

Part of what’s great about the Summit, though, is what isn’t there.

Let’s face it. Having a jamboree on an active Army base meant that no permanent structures could be built, and that the jamboree had to fit the site, not the other way around.

I’m quite grateful for the Army’s thirty years of hospitality, of course, but they couldn’t be expected to redesign their massive base for the BSA every four years.

On the other hand, though the construction’s not yet finished, it’s clear the Summit was designed with Scouts in mind.

Showerhouses are placed in logical locations. Ditches and graded surfaces provide proper drainage when it rains. And the activity areas take advantage of the region’s unique outdoor offerings. Speaking of…

If your Scouts can’t find something fun to do here, I can’t help them

A skate park at a Scout camp? Wait till the Health and Safety guys hear about this!

But seriously, skateboarding represented one of many Shakedown successes.

Scouts — wearing helmets, elbow pads, and kneepads — dropped into the halfpipe, attempted to grind some rails, and did, uh, other things that skateboarders do.

OK, so my skateboarding lexicon is lacking, but even a novice could tell that this park wasn’t some Disney Jr. version meant to serve the lowest common denominator. This was the real deal, and the smiles on Scouts’ faces proved it.

That said, Scouts stepping onto a skateboard for the first time weren’t rolled directly to the halfpipe and told “good luck.” They gained confidence on an oval track meant to allow them to learn more about the board sport. Smart move.

Now I realize some people might find skateboarding and Scouting incongruous. But to me, if you can combine an activity teens are doing anyway with BSA values, why wouldn’t you? It’s another opportunity to recruit boys into the movement and — just as important — keep them here.

That same “let Scouts do what they want to do” thinking went into the killer BMX courses — complete with an electronic starting gate that drops when the light turns green — as well as the challenge course (a high COPE course on steroids), climbing wall, giant zip line, and whitewater rafting trip.

From tree to shining tree

Wanting to make sure Scouts got first dibs at everything, I only tried one activity myself: the canopy tour.

It’s like this: You start at a platform 10 feet off the ground, zip-line to the next one, then the next one, then the next one.

Along the way, you’re treated to incredible treetop views of the Summit as you sit back and enjoy the ride. The longest platform-to-platform zip at the Summit goes 700 feet, one of the instructors told me. Now that’s a trip!

Speaking of, the staff did a stellar job making sure everyone made it through the course safely and with a huge grin on their face. Not lost on me was the fact that these adult volunteer staff members weren’t paid to be out there and work a physically exhausting job for a week. In fact, it’s just the opposite. They paid to be there! A big tip of my hat to them.

But wait — there’s more!

At the Shakedown, the Summit was full of kinetic energy — Scouts climbing, riding, soaring, rafting — but I was equally impressed by the Summit’s potential energy.

Next year’s jamboree will bring all these great activities and many more. I’m looking forward to archery, patch trading, SCUBA, fishing, stadium shows, Technology Quest, and meeting lots of interesting people.

Essentially, I see the Shakedown as a delicious appetizer for next year’s main course. I’ll be there hungry for more — will you?

Click here to register.

What do you think?

Whether you attended the Shakedown or not, share your Summit thoughts by leaving a comment below.

20 Comments on What I did on my Summit vacation

  1. Joe Harrington // July 18, 2012 at 10:25 pm // Reply

    I was there!!!!!

  2. I loved having the opportunity to also be apart if the summit shakedown. great article!

  3. I was on the Subcamp staff at the Shakedown and I cannot stop talking about what a great time we had watching the youth Get Big. Get Wild… and what an incredible time we’re all going to have next year. I am so grateful for everyone who is making the Summit a reality – donors, volunteers, construction workers, the great citizens of West Virginia. This is going to be fabulous. I can hardly wait for 2013!

  4. Great summary, Bryan. We have loved hearing all the feedback about the Summit and have enjoyed all the photos rolling in on the Facebook page as well. Even our Twitter feed is full of folks telling us they had a terrific time — both leaders and Scouts alike.

    Thanks for writing this and for helping to make the Shakedown experience such a great one. :)

    • Thanks! All the feedback I got while onsite was very positive. Can’t wait to go back, already!

  5. Thanks for a great article. In addition to the adult volunteer staff, there was a very small contingent of youth staff. My son was part of this group and had a great time helping out and meeting all the scouts from different parts of the country. He told us a lot about Summit and Shakedown and took some pics but this is a great article and helps me get a better feeling for all that was going on.

  6. Ken Badgett // July 19, 2012 at 12:03 pm // Reply

    Bryan, did you sleep in a tent on the site? Volunteers from my council said that activity areas were closed before “shakedown” participants had a chance to participate – and our participants were then asked to help “takedown” the activity area in which they could not participate. Also, registration problems nixed a full day of activities for our Scouts! Of course, most of our Scouts enjoyed the trip in spite of the problems. Scouting is about maintaining good fellowship regardless of situations created by poorly prepared adults and “experts.”

    • Hey Ken,

      Yes, I was in a tent the entire time! I’ll upload a photo of the photographer (Garth) and I setting up our tent on the first day.

      To your second point, I didn’t hear of any of that happening. Not every Scout was able to try everything, but most participated in several different activities. And everyone got to go whitewater rafting!

      I was following the Scouts the whole time, and I didn’t see any Scouts get asked to help take down any program areas. In fact, the volunteer staff worked overtime to make sure equipment was properly cleaned and put away for next year.

      Once again, I was there at registration and didn’t see any problems, other than the heavy rain that prevented everyone from getting onsite for a couple of hours. But as you said, none of the Scouts complained — every Scout I talked to had a great time all weekend!

      If you have other questions, let me know!

      -Bryan

    • Ken,

      I stayed on site in a tent; I don’t know about taking down activity areas (I didn’t see that!) but I do know that the first day of activities were not canceled; only postponed and that was due to natural causes, not because of poor preparation. It had rained for 12+ hours straight the night before, causing the roads to become impassible in many areas. Crews worked hard to get things open for the Scouts, but there was some delay because of it. Other than that, I saw things running pretty smoothly.

      Remember, the purpose of Shakedown was to get things ready and iron out any kinks for the 2013 National Jamboree. I’m glad to hear the Scouts had a good time, and I’m sure the BSA/staff is grateful that they came to help them be prepared for next year. :)

    • Shelly Brower // July 19, 2012 at 7:53 pm // Reply

      I was there with my Venturing Crew. Unfortunately, the weather made the entrance road unsafe, creating a delay upon arrival while we waited a couple of hours for the roads w

      • Shelly Brower // July 19, 2012 at 8:00 pm // Reply

        ….the roads to be “reconstructed.” There were some people with registration problems…but they were the ones who didn’t have all their paperwork with them (each participant needed Med Forms A,B,C – plus several other forms required by the Whitewater rafting company and State of West Virginia). People without forms were required to call parents, have them fill out the forms, and have the forms faxed in to registration.

        Activity areas did not close until dark – when it was unsafe to run them. The workers stayed over to allow us to get in all that we could, even after the delay! Our group was one that missed an activity due to the delay getting to the site, but the workers were so apologetic….and, as we had been advised, this was a “test.”

        What we saw and experienced was only 5% of what will be there next year! I know that my son and I are excited to be going back in 2013!

  7. Bryan,

    Excellent written summary! As someone who was also there covering the event, I was excited to get a chance to partake in several of the activities. I can speak on the behalf of all the Patrol Z’ers who were there when I say we can’t wait until July of next year!

    Thanks for helping to share the great news of a wonderful time with everyone back home and beyond.

    I’ll see you come July!

    Zane N.

    • Zane! Great meeting you out there. You and the Patrol Z’ers did some great work.

      See ya next year!

      -Bryan

  8. Bryan – Enjoyed your article about SBR/Shakedown and after listening to my son and five of his troop members (attending with the Greater Cleveland Council provisional troop) talk about the Shakedown it had to be a great weekend. My son is looking forward to the 2013 Jamboree which should be awesome.

  9. Pat Kronenwetter // July 20, 2012 at 11:07 am // Reply

    I am deeply grateful to the planners and the staff who agreed to an impromptu Eagle Ceremony on Sunday morning at the Garden Ground for my son, Joe Kronenwetter, and to his Crew Advisor, Joe Harrington, for making it happen. It was a total surprise to Joe, and I hope the memory of being the first Scout ever to receive his Eagle Medal there will live with him forever. If, by chance, anyone who was there has photos or videos of the event, I would be pleased if you would contact me, as Joe’s Mom and I would be very eager to see them.

    • Pat,

      I heard about that ceremony while there and wished I had been there to see it myself. What a great honor. Congratulations to Joe!

      -Bryan

    • There is one on the Facebook Summit page, Pat: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=385049154882227&set=a.385048914882251.88051.101876803199465&type=3&theater

      There will be more there eventually, as I took a few as well.

  10. Pat Kronenwetter // July 20, 2012 at 11:42 am // Reply

    Thanks, Gina. The photo on FB is the one that Joe Harrington was kind enough to send me last week. I am a Neanderthal and do not Facebook, but my wife does and I will ask her to be on the lookout for any additional pictures.

  11. Bonnie Budde // July 20, 2012 at 11:48 pm // Reply

    I was there and camped in the venturing area. Bryan, your breakdown of the event was spot on…….I am truly excited about the Jamboree next year and am very glad that our Venture Crew from Chicago Area Council was able to test thing for that event. Thank you for your article……..

  12. Jerry Clark // July 21, 2012 at 8:03 am // Reply

    On Friday we were scheduled to operate from noon till 5 Instead we operated from 2 till dark. Staff was on site at Action point at 7 am . Can you say tired?If units failed to get to Action point on Friday it in most cases was due to leadership of those units. i also saw kids heading back to base camp to eat lunch on Saturday. Why? the lunches were made to take along and some leaders would not allow the kids to take them with them. What a waste of time. The climbing fin did close to 1000 climbs on 7 routes while we were open plus there was never more then a 5 to 10 minute wait. most times it was walk up and gear up.

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