Boy Scout Camp Emerges as a Model of Sustainability

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Toilets and showers at the Summit Bechtel Reserve promote the theme of sustainability, with low-flow water fixtures. Gray water from the showers is used to flush toilets and urinals. Photo: Gary Hartley

Toilets and showers at the Summit Bechtel Reserve promote the theme of sustainability, with low-flow water fixtures. Gray water from the showers is used to flush toilets and urinals. Photo: Gary Hartley

When the Boy Scouts of America decided to build its latest high-adventure base camp, the organization set out to create something that went beyond simply providing a permanent home for its National Scout Jamboree. And when their search team selected a 10,600-acre piece of property in Mount Hope, W.Va., they knew that they had an unprecedented opportunity to create a model for sustainability and environmental stewardship.

The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve, which opened just in time to host its first Jamboree in July 2013, provides an impressive example of balancing modern convenience and technology with a commitment to preserving the land.

At the time the Scouting organization found the land, it was badly in need of nurturing. Over the years, it had been strip-mined and depleted of its natural reserves of coal and timber before being all but abandoned. But its location adjacent to the New River Gorge National River, a 70,000-acre site that’s popular for whitewater rafting, mountain biking, rock-climbing and other tourism activities, made it a natural fit for the Boy Scouts’ camp.

Starting from Scratch

The property was selected in 2009 after a search that included reviewing more than 80 sites in 28 states. The BSA wanted the new facility to embody sustainability both in an economic sense and an environmental one. The Summit infused the struggling West Virginia economy with an estimated $50 million in construction wages and will continue to generate about $25 million annually in local income.

“We wanted to begin a new era of sustainability,” explains Jack Furst, who spearheaded the search for the property. “This project was about getting back to the universal basics that our organization was founded on. It’s about sustainability on a green level, on a financial level and on a physical level.”

While the site’s primary role is to host the Jamboree — Scouting’s biggest event and one that attracted some 50,000 Scouts and volunteers to the Summit this summer — it also serves as a high-adventure camp where Scouts can participate in outdoor programs and work toward merit badges. Although it is designed with Scouts in mind, non-Scouting visitors can get a taste of the adventure camp and enjoy activities like rock-climbing, zip-lining, rappelling, BMX riding, skateboarding, mountain biking and ropes challenge courses. The 60-acre Goodrich Lake offers water-based activities such as paddleboarding and kayaking — a calmer alternative to the river’s whitewater rafting and other rigorous water sports.

During a Jamboree, the Summit becomes the third largest city in West Virginia, so finding a way to make the camp eco-friendly was crucial. The first objective was to create a site that would be a “net zero energy” environment, which means it will produce as much energy as it uses.

Developers also used passive design strategies to help buildings stay cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter just through their shape, location and the direction the building faces. The passive design features include deep porches, which keep the hot sun out of the building in the summer, and wind-powered roof monitors that remove hot air from the building.

Buildings were designed to take advantage of natural daylight, further allowing them to reduce energy consumption. The installation of geothermal wells allows the Summit to access the free, clean energy in the ground to heat and cool buildings.

The Summit uses as little water as possible, and reuses that water whenever it can. Water used for the shower becomes gray water that is then used to flush toilets and urinals. Low-flow fixtures slash water consumption in half, while hydration stations allow visitors to refill containers rather than adding more plastic bottles to the landfill.

To further support the environment, wetlands bordering the lakes actively treat runoff from roads and campsites, and wastewater is passively treated in lagoons, then used to drip-irrigate the local forest.

Next page: Sustainability Treehouse

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