Girls welcomed to Jamboree for first time
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Hesper Bath, a 23-year-old woman from Salt Lake City, stood out in the sea of Boy Scouts at the organization's National Jamboree this week, but it didn't bother her.
"Being a girl here ... it's like you're a celebrity," she laughed. "But all of the guys here are such gentlemen."
This was the first time in history that members of the Boy Scouts' Venturing program, a co-ed youth development group centered on physical challenges, were allowed to attend the Jamboree.
Bath was one of an estimated 1,000 female Venturers among 40,000 Boy Scouts camped out at The Summit outdoor adventure site in Glen Jean for the national celebration.
The Jamboree, held every four years, kicked off July 15 and ends Wednesday.
"I can't express how amazing it's been for me. All of my life I've seen my brothers go to Boy Scout camp and was so jealous because they got to do all of the outdoor activities," Bath said. "Girls can't be Boy Scouts -- they never will be. And it's important for the boys to have that, but it's also very important for girls because we need to experience these kinds of things, too.
"I'll never forget it," she said.
Maggie Durand, an 18-year-old from Massachusetts, was working as a Scoutmaster at the event and has been a Venturer for years.
Durand, who got her start as a Girl Scout, said the co-ed program offers a more diverse and challenging experience for girls.
While the Venturing program has been around since 1998, "It's just now starting to get recognized," she said.
"In every other country, it's just Scouting. There's no Boy or Girl Scouts. It's just mixed in together," Durand said. "It has been weird to be the guinea pigs here, but the next time will be a lot better. I've had a great time."
Durand said that being the minority at the high-energy event is no problem, and she's used to it.
"For me, being 'the girl' is normal. It's always been like that," she said. "I've been living in a man's world."
The 10-day celebration, which was equipped with everything from zip lines and BMX courses to scuba diving, will end today, and Boy Scouts from across the globe will return home.
"I'm sad. There's all this activity, it's so alive and abuzz, and then it's quiet," National Boy Scout Jamboree Director Larry Pritchard said Tuesday.
Now, the next step is to clean up the 10,000-acre site, which could extend through the end of August, according to Pritchard.
"A really pleasant thing is we've seen Scouts are taking care of themselves," he said. "There's not a lot of litter, and our recycling plan at campsites has worked well."
Pritchard said his team will be "laying the groundwork" for the 2017 Jamboree as soon as he receives feedback from "reaction reports" that were widely distributed to Scouts, unit leaders, volunteers, sponsors and exhibitors.
Plans for a "high-adventure program" at the Summit site are already in the works for next summer.
Among the successful changes he's seen at this year's event is the new camping layout, Pritchard said.
"We were intentional with how we had them camp. In the past, whole groups from certain areas stayed together. This year we mixed everybody up so that one troop from New York was next to a troop from Missouri," he said. "I hope those relationships were an important thing to take away."
Pritchard said that while he's awaiting more feedback, he's confident that the much-anticipated event lived up to the hype.
"I think that we'll hear that expectations were exceeded. They knew about our physical plan, but you have to see it to believe it. You don't know what a 100-yard skateboard park looks like until you're there," he said. "I hope they go back home and tell their stories, and bring friends back with them the next time."
Reach Mackenzie Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4814.