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Scouts Lend A Helping Hand To National Park Service

Hard work, learning experiences and adventure sports — all the ingredients that make for a successful relationship between the National Park Service and the Boy Scouts of America’s national honor society, the Order of the Arrow.

Mountain biking in the New River Gorge
Scouts are hard at work building mountain biking trails in the New River Gorge (Photo by Andy_c/Flickr Creative Commons)

This year that relationship can be found at the 2011 SummitCorps: The New River Experience, a project in which more than 1,300 Scouts will travel to West Virginia’s New River Gorge (NRG) to build and rehabilitate nearly 30 miles of the best hiking and mountain biking trails in the world.

“This could be the single largest youth service project in the history of the National Park Service,” says Robin Snyder, NPS chief of interpretation and visitor services at the New River Gorge National River office. “This project alone will triple volunteer hours in the New River Gorge from 23,591 hours in 2010, to an estimated 87,600 hours in 2011.”

The OA will help to triple volunteer hours at the NRG in just a month’s time. Starting on July 3 and lasting through July 30, each week a new group of SummitCorps workers will arrive, ready and willing to get to work.

[pullquote]“This could be the single largest youth service project in the history of the National Park Service.” – Robin Snyder, NPS Chief of Interpretation and Visitor Services,  New River Gorge[/pullquote]

After their arrival on Sunday, NPS personnel will provide each new group of Scouts with an orientation on Monday morning to update and educate each member on the culture and ecological history of Appalachia, while also sharing information about the NRG and the natural resources that surround the area.

According to Snyder, the size and scope of the New River Experience is what sets this project apart from others.

“In our trail development plan, with the internal resources available to us, we were estimating more than a million dollars and 10 years to complete the trails,” Snyder states. “But with the Scouts now involved, we anticipate 30 miles of trails will already be completed by the end of July.”

In order to make sure all plans stay on track and the project goes well, an army of outdoor professionals and commercial companies have contributed help and instruction throughout the planning process. One of those organizations is the International Mountain Biking Association, which will be on scene during the month of July to ensure the Scouts learn how to craft quality, top-notch trails.

While educating the Scouts is a top priority, safety comes first throughout the entire SummitCorps project.

“[We are treating SummitCorps as an] incident, much like a wildfire or flood — an incident action plan that ensures that all of our park teams get involved: law enforcement, resource management, interpretation, administration and transportation — we all want to contribute to the experience,” Snyder adds.

As NPS river ranger Kathy Zerkle put it, “It’s all Park Service hands on deck for SummitCorps in the month of July.”


But all work and no play is not the theme of the SummitCorps project. At the end of their one week-long terms, each group of hard-working trail builders will be rewarded with a picnic and a day of high-adventure fun.

“We’ll be laying the foundation for the hiking and biking trail network, which will be adjacent to the new Boy Scout camp,” 2010 OA National Chief Brett Lichota says. “But there will be rock climbing walls, inflatables and water slides and things like that, and we’ll have a big pig roast at the end of the day to celebrate our hard work.”

Now, it’s time to start the work, and the fun.

So, what was the biggest service project you’ve ever worked on?

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