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.

About Bryan Wendell 3282 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.