- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 24, 2005

BOWLING GREEN, Va. — About an hour south of the District, a tent city has sprung up on an Army base to house more than 40,000 Boy Scouts, leaders and volunteers from around the world arriving for the 2005 National Scout Jamboree.

“It is extraordinary to see,” said Maj. Vince Mitchell, a military spokesman who traveled with the Atlanta-based 1st U.S. Army group for the Jamboree, which runs tomorrow through Aug. 3. “If this was a city in the commonwealth of Virginia, it would be the seventh-largest city.”

But the temporary village, created every four years at Fort A.P. Hill since 1981, is in jeopardy because a federal judge recently ruled that the Pentagon can no longer financially support the event.

If the ruling stands, the Boy Scouts of America would have to find another location for their next gathering.

A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois contends that the Defense Department’s sponsorship violates the First Amendment because the Scouts require members to swear an oath of duty to God. No other youth organization receives millions of dollars in government support, the lawsuit states.

In exchange for getting the use of the Army training base, the Scouts have spent about $20 million on base improvements that include road paving and plumbing upgrades. The Army uses the Jamboree as an opportunity to train its personnel in crowd control, communications and other logistical skills.

“It is our belief that what they do is not fund the Jamboree,” said Robert Bork Jr., a spokesman for the Irving, Texas-based BSA. “It is not as if the military is writing us a check.”

Still, an estimated $7.3 million in government money will be used to transport military personnel and goods to the base for this year’s event, which includes a scheduled visit from President Bush.

The Boy Scouts have funneled $26 million into the community for the 2005 Jamboree by hiring local businesses for preparation and maintenance, said Mr. Bork, the son of the one-time Supreme Court nominee.

Larry Johnson, a plumber from nearby Sparta, has been involved with the Jamboree since the Boy Scouts started using the 76,000-acre military base. When the event first came to the area, Mr. Johnson said, local entrepreneurs and business owners hoped to make customers out of the Scouts.

Mr. Johnson sold T-shirts for the event and even opened an old theater to show movies. But to his dismay, there wasn’t much business, because the Scouts mainly stayed on the base.

Since then, Mr. Johnson has been hired to help set up temporary bathrooms and shower facilities near the camp sites. He would hate to see the event move elsewhere.

“It’s been a real shot in my arm every four years,” Mr. Johnson said.

For what will be the largest single-site Jamboree since 1964, Scouts ages 12 to 18 will spend 10 days in activities that include archery, fishing and “geocaching,” a GPS-based scavenger hunt. Scouts from across the U.S. will be joined by more than 300 Scouts from 20 other countries.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” said Kurtis Fong, a 17-year-old Scout from Alameda, Calif. “There’s so much to do there. You get to see so many people from all around, and they have all sorts of activities.”

Kurtis first attended the Jamboree four years ago. “The first time, I was scared. This year, I am going to do as much as I can,” he said.

Jamboree director Donald Wilson, who attended his first Jamboree in 1953, and his military counterparts like Maj. Mitchell have been working on this year’s gathering for four years and have already begun planning for 2010 — the event will skip a year to coincide with the organization’s 100th anniversary.

The Boy Scouts have hosted the gathering since 1937.

Although the court ruling has thrown the location of the next Jamboree in doubt, Mr. Wilson is confident that federal officials will support keeping the event at Fort Hill.

“Our folks in Washington know this is a great organization and that our values are good values,” Mr. Wilson said. “And I think the president and other members of Congress think favorably of the organization.”

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