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BSA’s Summit Bechtel Reserve’s Summit Experience

This is a wrap up of the seven part feature I wrote about a recent, week-long visit to Boy Scouts of America’s Bechtel Summit Reservation. To learn more from BSA, visit www.summitbsa.org/programs/national-high-adventure-base/summit-experience.

Day One

A few years ago, the Boy Scouts of America opened the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve, a 14,000 acre high adventure camp near Buckley, West Virginia thanks to a donation of $50 million from the Stephen D Bechtel, Jr Foundation.

So far, the Summit Bechtel Reserve (SBR) has been used for two National Scout Jamborees as well the Centennial celebration of the Order of the Arrow. When such events aren’t under way, it serves as the Paul R Christen High Adventure Base, joining the other three bases currently in operation.

This summer, I’m attending SBR along with my youngest son and other members of our Scout Troop. SSD has quite a few readers who were either Scouts growing up, or still participate in the Scouting movement. I thought it would be worthwhile to chronicle our experience.

When I was a Scout I attended the 1981 National Scout Jamboree at Fort AP Hill, Virginia, as well as Philmont Scout Reservation in New Mexico. During the last two Jamborees, I visited my sons at SBR and I was very impressed with the facility.

SBR boasts multiple distinct program areas: The Park (skateboarding), The Trax (BMX), The Pools (scuba and swimming), The Cloud (popular science & robotics), The Bows (archery sports), The Barrels (shooting sports), The Ropes (challenge courses in the trees), The Rocks (climbing, bouldering and rappelling), The Zip (zipline), Low & High Gear (mountain bike headquarters locations connecting over 36 miles of downhill and cross country mountain bike trails), The Canopy (canopy tours). Additional activities include ATV riding along with white water rafting and climbing in the nearby countryside.

The high adventure base offers several focused programs, concentrating on activities in the various program areas such as the Marksman which includes shooting sports and archery. We selected the Summit Experience, as it gives a taste of each of the areas.

In true Scouting fashion, just as we drove up to the JW and Hazel Ruby Welcome Center, it started pouring. Fortunately, check in was inside.

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We had a few hiccups with paperwork, but overall, the experience was slow, but painless.

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We were assigned to Camp B which is close to the CONSOL Energy Bridge making main camp, known formerly as Lonnie Poole Gateway Village, quite convenient. Although our tents were already set up, we had to swap one out due to a broken zipper and holes. Shower and restroom facilities are located close by.

Dinner was tasty and consisted of turkey and mashed potatoes with carrots and rolls with pumpkin pie for dessert. Drinks were water, lemonade, Powerade and fruit punch.

It is a seven-day program and today was essentially devoted to in processing. Over the next few days we’ll tell you about our impressions of the program.

Day Two

We had a great day today. It started out early with breakfast kicking off at 0630, followed by a quick meeting to discuss the day’s schedule which would include a service project in the morning and white water rafting after lunch. Next was flags, with the requisite pledge of allegiance as well as Scout oath and law.

We organized into a larger group with another crew from Ozark, Missouri and were bussed to a nearby football field, located at a local closed high school, to help revitalize it for use by youth sports leagues. We were joined by a couple of local volunteers wielding chainsaws in order to clear small trees. We got quite a bit done and others will continue the job until it is complete. Service to the local community is a big part of what SBR does. Completion of this project also helps our Scouts earn a sustainability award while at camp.

After being bussed back to SBR, we ate a quick lunch and prepared for a white water rafting trip. Although it is an add-on with additional cost, it was worth it. The excursion is conducted by an offsite vendor, in the New River Gorge. We spent about two hours on the water, first learning how to control the boat as a team, and then negotiating multiple rapids during our journey. Although our boat crew was an ad hoc team comprised of Scouts and leaders from various locations, we had the opportunity to sit in different positions on the boat, giving us new perspectives of how the boat behaves on the river. If you’re looking for a great guide, ask for Chas who is a wealth of knowledge. Unfortunately, I was unable to bring a camera on the white water rafting trip.

Although it rained off and on all day, it didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. The temperature remained cool, which was great for the service project and we were already wet from the river.

Evenings are capped off with a variety of activities. Unfortunately, I have to prepare stories for the website, so I am unable to participate. However, my son enjoyed some additional time out on the water.

Today’s meals consisted of do it yourself breakfast burritos in the morning, pulled pork sandwiches with fries and chicken fingers for lunch, and Hawaiian chicken with baked potatoes and corn for dinner. Granted, they weren’t the tastiest meals I had ever had, but they gave us the energy we needed for the day’s activities.

I’m looking forward to seeing what tomorrow brings.

Day Three

Day three kicked off with a breakfast of pancakes, eggs, cheesy eggs, tater tots and sausage patties. Right after our meal the colors were raised and we participated in our daily ritual of reciting the Pledge Of Allegiance, Scout Oath and Scout Law.

Our first event was Canopy. After a being issued harnesses and helmets, there was a brief training period. Then, we negotiated a course of ziplines back and forth across a valley. Staff members accompanied us through the course and set up our equipment on each obstacle.

In addition to ziplines, we also crossed two bridges and made two rappels.

Due to the distance between the events, we had lunch just we were diminishing up at Canopy. It consisted of breaded chicken strips with bread if you wanted to make a sandwich, chips, fruit and granola bars.

The afternoon was spent at Rocks which features is the largest manmade, outdoor climbing facility in the world. Constructed of concrete by Eldorado Climbing Walls, the formations were painted by a company which does work for Disney.

Summit Experience participants are provided with helmets, harnesses and shoes for the afternoon’s climbing. SBR uses Trublue self belay devices for safety and the facility offers routes with varying degrees of difficulty. The most challenging is the Black Mamba route.

There are also bouldering stations.

Participants in Rocks get the opportunity to rappel from a 40′ Tower.

Rocks was capped off with “a leap of faith” where participants are attached to a Trublue auto belay device and run out from a tower. The device gently lowers them to the ground. Fun was had by all and at the end of the day, we had 12 Scouts with a little confidence in themselves.

We hiked to the dining hall and ate a supper of Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, Beans, and Tater Tots.

One final note to potential attendees of the Summit Experience. Although not all of the shower facilities feature hot water, there are a few, scattered throughout the campground. While the weather has been cool and rainy, it was worth it to take warm shower last night and wash off the river after our white water rafting trip yesterday.

Tomorrow, it’s Barrels and Bows!

Day Four

Once again, we arose to another fun-filled day at SBR. After a breakfast of French toast sticks, eggs and sausage patties we raised the flags and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, Scout Oath and Scout Law. It’s quite an experience to hear hundreds of young people simultaneously pledge to lead good lives and restores some faith in mankind.

Today, our agenda included Barrels with its shooting sports focus and Bows, which features archery.

The hike to Barrels took quite awhile due to both distance and elevation changes along the route.

During our orientation, we went over the NRA’s three rules of firearms safety. Next, the instructor went over the principles of marksmanship, eye dominance and general range admin.

First up was shooting clays. The shotguns we used were MX5 12 ga Automatics by Turkish manufacturer Emperor Firearms.

Next, we transitioned to rifles. We fired .22 Savage Mk II rifles equipped with Weaver 4-9x or Bushnell 4-9x scopes at bullseye paper and various steel targets to gain confidence. Next we moved to a 100 yd Steel target range where we fired Savage Axis rifles in .223 and .308.

We ate lunch of cold cuts at Barrels due to its distance from the dining hall and then hiked to Bows.

After a brief introduction by the Bows team which included archery fundamentals and safety, we were issued 20 lbs Matthews Genesis compound bows and split into two groups. One group went to the 40/60 Range, engaging static targets at 40 and 60 meters respectively. The other group went to shoot at 3D animal targets in the woods from close although unknown, distances and angles. Can you see the 3D targets in this photo?

This photo depicts the types of targets the archers engaged. The dinosaurs were only in the 40/60 Range.

At the static range they engaged targets at 10m while playing ‘bake the cake’ which is a competition where an archer has five arrows and must hit white (flours), blue (water), red (heat) and yellow (eggs), but not black which burns the cake. In the event an archer burns his cake, he can burn others by shooting into an opponent’s black ring.

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Action archery consisted of thrown targets similar to sporting clays, with all of the archers attempting to hit the target. Can you see the target and arrows in this photo?

Whether first timers or old hands, skills were learned or improved and fun was had by all.

We wrapped up the day with a hike back to base camp for a dinner of Slaw Dogs, Chicken and Dumplings with cornbread and green beans.

Tomorrow is Mountain Biking and the Big Zip!

Day Five

This is the fifth day of our trip to BSA’s Summit Experience. We’ve combined with a contingent from a Boy Scout Troop in Yorktown, Virginia, which is just across the water from our home of Chesapeake. So far, we’ve had an amazing experience, meeting people from all over America and learning new skills. Today, we attended Low Gear, Ropes and Big Zip.

This morning’s breakfast was chicken and waffles, along with scrambled eggs. Afterward, the camp conducted a flag ceremony and we recited the Pledge of Allegiance, Scout Oath and Scout Law.

We hiked to Low Gear, a mountain Biking activity. We were issued helmets and bikes and then given instruction on how to ride on the trail. Everyone participated in a group ride of about three miles which included down and uphill including switchbacks, mud holes and jumps. After that, smaller groups negotiated various other trails. In all, SBR boasts 32 miles of dedicated mountain bike trails.

We ate a lunch onsite, consisting of cold cuts for sandwiches, sunflower seeds and cookies.

Every training site features water for the participants, often in the form of water buffalos.

The hike to our next event was very short. Ropes is SBR’s version of a COPE (Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience) Course where various elevated rope and cable obstacles must be surmounted in order to progress further in the course.

Built by Bonsai Design, it has a common entry point with several choices of obstacles to negotiate to get to the end. From above, it resembles a spiderweb. As you can see, it exists right in the trees, with very little was cut back to accommodate the course. The finale is an assisted rappel from a platform about 30 feet in the air.

The hike to our last event of the day, the Big Zip, takes about 45 minutes up a winding mountain trail. But the opportunity to go in excess of 50 mph down this 3,000 ft long zip line, makes it worthwhile.

Dinner was cheese tortellini or a sausage and chicken gumbo with green beans and garlic bread.

Tomorrow is The Trax and The Park.

Day Six

Today’s schedule for our Summit Experience included the Park and Trax. We had eggs, pancakes, tater tots and ham. While it wasn’t bacon, ham comes in a close second on the pig edibles scale.

Next, we lined up by activity for flags. After the requisite Pledge, Oath and Law, instructors from the various areas led crews to their facilities.

First up was the Park, a skateboarding experience. Scouts were issued Helmets along with Elbow and Knee Pads. The Skateboards were passed out based on shoe size. Next, they given very extensive instruction in how to safely ride a skateboard. Apparently it paid off, because no one was hurt.

There is plenty of space to skateboard.

The Crew had wraps for lunch and then hiked to Trax. Once again, they were issued Helmets along with Elbow and Knee Pads. Since they take such a beating, the bikes were very simple, with a rear brake.

There are three progressively more difficult dirt tracks. They include bumps, jumps and turns. After establishing the fundamentals, the Scouts moved on to the next course. The final track is set up for racing, and race they did.

Day Seven

Well, this is it. Our week at the Summit has come to a close.

Last night we had a closing ceremony where we received our participation patches and said our goodbyes to the staff.

We woke up and quickly packed up our camp. Next, we hiked to a breakfast of french toast sticks, breakfast potatoes, eggs and cheesy eggs. We completed the day with a drive back to the Tidewater of Virginia.

Post Script

The trip was fantastic. Personally, I’ve never packed so many varied experiences into a single week. It is also unique among the BSA High Adventure Bases as it offers individual choice in program selection as well as access to those with handicaps or special needs. I highly recommend it to fellow members of BSA.

Here are some admin notes about camp for those of you considering going.

The base camp is well laid out, designed to become a sizable city, every other year. There are power stations scattered throughout the camp.

Likewise, water stations are all over and allow the simultaneous filling of multiple bottles or reservoirs.

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Call it a blessing or a curse, the base camp has extensive Wi-Fi access thanks to an AT&T network leftover from the National Scout Jamboree. In fact, I used it to provide my coverage of the experience.

Finally, follow the packing list. I didn’t think I would need a jacket in June, but it got down into the low 60s. Also, you’ll do lots of hiking during the day. I found light hikers worked best as you are almost always on a path or road.

SBR provides tents and cots. Take care of them as best you can. They are used a lot and show signs of wear. We had to swap a few out due to tears.

There is a small trading post which has some items like sleeping bags, solar chargers, T-shirts, souvenirs and sundries. But, they don’t have major items.

If you participate in the White Water Rafting adventure add on, photos are available and can be viewed on Thursday and Friday at the trading post.

There is plenty to do, and quite a few things I didn’t cover during the daily summaries. For example, each evening from 6-8 PM, there are mini versions of most of the activities available right at Action Point which sits between our camping area and the dining hall/trading post. Participants can skate board, BMX, zip line, swim and climb, all accessible from a short walk. Additionally, the staff holds a skit night to entertain the attendees as well as a cultural festival.

10 Responses to “BSA’s Summit Bechtel Reserve’s Summit Experience”

  1. rnw says:

    Please stop referring to that organization as Boy Scouts of America.

    Boy Scouts of America no longer exists. It was replaced by Scouting BSA.

    Boy Scouts of America died on 10/11/17 when it was announced that it will accept girls.

    I predict that Scouting BSA will be gone within the next 10 years and this Eagle Scout and member of OA will not mourn it’s demise.

    • SSD says:

      Wrong! Boy Scouts of America is not changing its name. One of its many programs is changing its name. Do some basic research before commenting further.

    • P-T-M says:

      RM..there is nothing to see … Move along. BSA is the same as ever.

      :/

  2. Xiao says:

    BADASS! Thank you for the photos and descriptions SSD, got to live vicariously through them.

  3. LgonSoldierSystem says:

    WV resident, I’m glady you had a great time here. I truly believe WV is the ‘freest’ state this close to the east coast.

  4. Lee says:

    Thank you for providing these photos and daily reports. I, too, have enjoyed living vicariously through your experience. It’s good to see that the reported “demise” of the BSA has been overstated, and that the training of good men (people) good citizens is alive and well.

  5. Mooster says:

    Thanks for posting your pictures and descriptions. This year SBR offered an “adult adventure weekend” program for Scouters to use the camp’s facilities without Scouts around. (http://www.summitbsa.org/AAW) It was pretty reasonably priced but collided with my Troop’s activities this year. Perhaps I’ll be able to make it next year.

    Of interest, World Jamboree is still looking for Scouters with NRA certifications to help work some of their shooting sports programs that event.

    • SSD says:

      They will need over 330 instructors for World Jamboree.

      • HSR47 says:

        And I doubt that they’ll get them with the current pricing model.

        I’m damned near a perfect candidate (I already have the necessary BSA certs), but I’m a few years over 26 (no “scholarship” option to knock the price down), and I can’t afford the ~$3,000+ it would cost me to go (between the obscene price BSA expects me to pay, my travel costs, and the fact that I don’t have PTO).

        If/when they get realistic about what they expect to charge staff, I may consider taking two weeks off work, but the BSA fees would have to be in the Blue-Label Glock range, not the fancy AR range.