This column originally appeared on the Seattle Times website on February 9, 2010.
The Pacific Northwest was a great place to be a Boy Scout. It meant summer camp on the Olympic Peninsula, ocean camp at Ocean Shores, treks through the North Cascades, Olympic National Park and the Wonderland Trail.
We had annual outings to Millsylvania State Park near Olympia for canoeing, and Meeker Lakes in the Cascades for junior Scouts to learn how to hike. We also made occasional trips to places like Yellowstone, the Tetons and Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico for variety, but we could have gotten by just fine sticking around home. The scenery and terrain around here are sufficient for a lifetime of adventures.
Any kid who thought “Scouts” was showing up at 7:30 on Monday night for the weekly meeting of 6-square and rank advancement was missing out. Most of what we did in Puyallup’s Troop 174 was only indirectly related to moving through the ranks (Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life and Eagle). The substance of Scouting was to be found out in the woods. That’s where we had most of our fun, developed close friendships, made mistakes, witnessed some beautiful sights, and learned a few things about what it would take to be men.
It was at Camp Hahobas on Hood Canal that I learned to be a confident swimmer, to handle fire, and to be away from home for an entire week. A few years later, as my troop’s co-senior patrol leader at Hahobas, I learned to lead by delegation. And it was during a snow-caving expedition to Mount Rainier that the Scout motto of “be prepared” first sank in for me. Let’s just say I figured out the importance of having extra warm and dry clothing.
The Boy Scouts of America turns 100 years old this week, and the organization deserves a lot of credit for making this region a better place to live. Boy Scouts and Eagle Scouts have contributed hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours improving Washington’s forest trails and city parks, installing picnic tables and church pews, painting public buildings and cleaning up environmental hazards. In response to current state and local budget shortfalls, government officials might consider turning to Eagle Scouts for free labor when projects need to get done.
Among our state’s luminaries who have attained the distinguished Eagle Scout rank are former Govs. Gary Locke and Dan Evans, Attorney General Rob McKenna, former U.S. House Speaker Tom Foley, business leaders Howard Lincoln, John Creighton and Jimmy Collins, and civic leader William Gates Sr.
Washington state is also distinguished for having the longest-operating Boy Scout camp west of the Mississippi, the 440-acre Camp Parsons on Hood Canal (since 1919).
Through its various programs — Cub Scouts, Venturing, Explorers, Scoutreach, Learning for Life, and traditional Boy Scouts for boys under 18 years old — scouting teaches the values that make our communities strong.
Anybody who wants to live a decent life would do well to repeat the Scout Oath every day. “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country, and to obey the Scout Law, to help other people at all times, to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” Contained within that statement are all the basics for governing ourselves in a free society. Personal responsibility — the foundation for our freedoms — is unmistakably contained in the Scout Oath.
Will Rogers remarked that the problem with the Boy Scouts is that there aren’t enough of them. I have talked to a number of people who regret not having been Boy Scouts. I always tell them that it’s not too late: The Scouts need adult leaders. And even if one didn’t participate in scouting as a child, moms and dads can get as much out of the program as their kids.
As always, the Boy Scouts of our community needs members and financial supporters. What better way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of scouting than to contact your local Scout unit or council and find out how you can give back to Scouting?