Sustainability is a way of life at the Summit Bechtel Reserve

Scouts explore the Sustainability Treehouse
The Sustainability Treehouse at the Summit Bechtel Reserve features an exhibit on tree roots and soil. Photo by Bruce Levitt

Everybody knows about the zip lines, the whitewater rafting, the rock climbing and, of course, the 2023 National Jamboree. What’s perhaps a little lesser known are the sustainability initiatives at the heart of everything that happens at the Summit Bechtel Reserve.

The four core values of SBR are adventure, service, sustainability and leadership. And they definitely take the sustainability part seriously.

“Sustainability can be thought of as having three main focus areas: economics, environment, and people,” says Dan McCarthy, the former SBR general manager who was instrumental in turning it into what it is today. “We are working to embrace this triple bottom line perspective of sustainability. That means we are constantly focused on achieving the right balance of our responsibility to the environment, people and financial success.”

Sustainability has always been front and center in the development of the Summit.

Why? So that future participants are able to experience what the rest of us can experience today.

The Sustainability Treehouse
The Sustainability Treehouse. Photo by Bruce Levitt

The Sustainability Treehouse

There are lots of things to do at SBR.

No matter which program you choose, you’ll have the opportunity to educate yourself in one way or another about sustainability.

At the center of it all is the Sustainability Treehouse, a living education center for SBR visitors.

The structure was built with locally sourced timber and was designed to mimic the layers of the surrounding forest. It features a series of interactive exhibits designed to educate visitors on the sustainable technologies all around them, such as solar panels, wind turbines and the water treatment system (more on that below).

At just more than 3,200 square feet, the Sustainability Treehouse is a dynamic space to explore the ecosystems of the ground, tree canopy and sky.

Maybe you’ve been in a treehouse before, but chances are, you’ve never experienced one like this.

Water use

Responsible use of water isn’t limited to the Treehouse. It’s all over the SBR property.

A water harvesting system provides around thousands of gallons of water to SBR visitors each year.

Low-flow shower fixtures mean visitors use about half the water they would normally use for a shower.

Greywater systems allow water from showers and sinks to be reused to flush toilets and urinals. Water from the showers and sinks is run through a filtration system, including fabric, biological and UV filters, before being used to flush the toilets. Then “black” water from toilets is sent to our onsite water treatment plant that is used to irrigate forest lands.

On average, SBR can treat around 3.5 million gallons of water onsite. During a jamboree, there could be an additional 3 million gallons of water that is recycled, reused and or treated and then put back into the forest.

And that doesn’t even include the hydrations systems across the property that encourage the use of reusable water bottles — no plastic required.

Stairs to the Sustainability Treehouse
Photo by Bruce Levitt

Moving forward

SBR participants can take a Leave No Trace Master Educators course that will enable them to teach other people how to become Leave No Trace trainers. Outdoor Ethics courses are available before starting a trek.

Visitors can always check out the McAllister Family Sustainability Challenge Trail.

And, of course, none of these sustainability efforts will be affected by the upcoming National Jamboree, when tens of thousands of Scouts, parents, leaders and visitors will descend on the SBR property for nine days of fun and adventure.

When they arrive, they’ll be arriving to a 10,600-acre site that includes 1,745 acres dedicated to ongoing conservation efforts. And since many of the buildings at the Summit Bechtel Reserve are designed to use less energy than conventional structures, they’ll be doing it all in the most environmentally conscious way possible.

“The Summit will be home to Scouts for at least the next 100 years,” says McCarthy. “Who knows what the world will look like a century from now? What we do know is that our actions today and tomorrow will shape that world, and what we do at the Summit can help set the example for the BSA’s sustainability practices in the next century.”


About Aaron Derr 454 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.