- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2005

BOWLING GREEN, Va. — Acres of land that just days earlier were filled with more than 40,000 Boy Scouts, leaders and volunteers from around the world lay empty, bearing only marks of dead grass outlining where tents once stood.

The tent city that houses the National Scout Jamboree about every four years at Fort A.P. Hill vanished overnight as the event came to a close yesterday.

“As amazing as it is to see an empty field nine days previous all of a sudden become a whole city, it is almost as amazing to see that whole city go away in about two hours,” said Jamboree spokeswoman Renee Fairrer. “It’s a little bittersweet.”

The 10-day event made headlines when four Scout leaders from Alaska were killed in an electrical accident July 25, the event’s opening day. The tragedy was followed by days of intense heat that sickened more than 300 Scouts and visitors.

A scheduled visit by President Bush was postponed twice because of weather.

Justin Jansen, 16, braved the heat throughout the week, spending his days canoeing, fishing and scuba diving.

“Besides the fact that it was really hot, it was a really good time,” said Justin, of Oak Harbor, Wash. “There were some times in the middle of the day where we couldn’t do anything because it was so hot.”

Some Scouts make their trip to the Jamboree a multiple-week vacation, giving some who paid more than $2,000 for the trek the opportunity to see other parts of the country. Justin and the rest of the Mount Baker Council will spend another week on the East Coast, touring the District and Philadelphia.

“This is a very big trip,” Justin said as he huddled around the pay phones with three of his troop members. “Eighteen days away from home and all the way on the other side of the country, but I’m hoping to come back to the next one.”

The next Jamboree will take place in 2010, an event that coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Scouting organization.

The Boy Scouts of America has used the military base 70 miles south of the District to hold its summer event since 1981.

Government and military support of the Scouts is in jeopardy as Congress and federal courts battle over a lawsuit in which the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois claims that the Defense Department’s sponsorship violates the First Amendment because the Scouts require members to swear an oath of duty to God.

The Senate voted on July 26 to allow U.S. military bases to continue to host the Jamboree.

One month earlier, U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning had ruled in the ACLU’s favor.

Questions also have been raised about whether the location and time of year of the event are the right combination for the Scout’s convention.

Miss Fairrer said there are no plans to change the location for the next event, but organizers will pay “special attention” to reduce the risk to health and safety.

Wayne Marley, 63, a staff volunteer from Lewiston, Maine, said in a city of more than 40,000, accidents are all but inevitable.

“It’s certainly tragic what happened to the Alaskan Scouts, but things happen in a city of this size,” he said.

The accident occurred when four men were trying to pitch a tent. They lost control of the center pole and it fell into nearby power lines. Killed were: Michael J. Shibe, 49, Mike Lacroix, 42, Ronald H. Bitzer, 58, and Scott Edward Powell, 57.

Despite the challenges, Miss Fairrer said, the event’s success came from “being able to give Scouts a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

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