The Boy Scouts of America had a problem. Fort A. P. Hill in Virginia had for nearly two decades been home to the Scouts’ national jamboree, which draws 45,000 boys and up to 300,000 friends and family from across the country. But throwing up the temporary infrastructure needed for each quadrennial jamboree cost the Scouts as much as $16 million every time, and the Scouting leadership realized that they needed a more permanent fix.
That solution came in the form of a 10,600-acre site in the rugged Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia, near the deep and wild New River Gorge. (The gorge is cut by the only river that rises east of the Appalachians yet manages to find a slot through the mountains and reach the Ohio River Valley.) The location was perfect: 70 percent of Scouts would be within a 10-hour drive of the site, and it would provide not only a jamboree location but also an eastern “high adventure” base to supplement Scouting’s famous Philmont ranch in the west. The site is surrounded by more than 70,000 acres of federal recreation land that Scouts may explore.
The BSA has long relied on generous giving (see Philanthropy, Fall 2010), but acquiring and developing the West Virginia property was an extraordinary philanthropic lift. Starting in 2009, a long string of individual donors plus some corporations lined up with more than $300 million of quiet gifts. Stephen Bechtel donated $50 million. Walter Scott gave $25 million. Mike Goodrich funded creation of a man-made lake. Consol Energy offered $15 million.
A major amount of “terraforming” was needed to create useable sites on the rugged topography. Camping areas and a high-adventure base had to be built. The large lake was created. A 9,000-square-foot warehouse was needed on the grounds. A landmark “wingtip” pedestrian bridge was designed to cross the gorge dividing the eastern and western halves of the property. Bike trails had to be built.
In addition to hosting jamborees, this spectacular facility, known as the Summit, will allow 88,000 Scouts each year to enjoy whitewater rafting, hiking, mountain biking, climbing and rappelling, swimming, fishing, and shooting sports. The Summit is projected to host 1.5 million Scouts within its first decade; by comparison, Philmont took 70 years to reach 1 million visitors.
Most of the lead donors to the Summit are Eagle Scouts. “We want to have donors who have honorably lived the Scout Oath for long periods of time,” says the BSA’s Perry Cochell. Together, these men have created a remarkable place that will thrill boys for generations in the future. And they have solved Scouting’s national jamboree problem. When 45,000 Scouts arrive at the Summit this summer for its first jamboree, they will find themselves at a pinnacle of American philanthropy.
This article originally appeared in the summer 2013 issue of Philanthropy magazine.