A new partnership between WVDNR and the Buckskin Council of the Boy Scouts of America is opening opportunities for young people in the state parks. 

This story was originally published in the March 2024 issue of Wonderful West Virginia. To subscribe, visit wonderfulwv.com.

Written by Dawn Nolan

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed in the summer of 2023, with similar agreements following soon after.
Photo Courtesy of Larry Wunderly.

Outdoor adventure is a key component of the Scouting experience. It offers the opportunity for those involved to achieve the Boy Scouts of America’s Aims of Scouting—character development, citizenship, personal fitness, and leadership—and to make responsible, ethical decisions as conservationists.

Similarly, the promotion of conservation and the offering of outdoor recreational opportunities are central to the mission of the West Virginia State Parks system.

So when the Buckskin Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which serves 40 counties across Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia, approached the West Virginia Division of National Resources (WVDNR) about a potential partnership that would allow Scout packs, troops, and crews to utilize West Virginia state parks for camping and recreation, the response was obvious.

“Of course we were interested,” says Paul Redford, deputy chief of park operations. “These kids are our future, and if we can make them fans of our state parks, then they’ll continue to visit. And as adults, they’ll bring their families. That’s imperative to us, so this really was a win-win situation.”

After some discussion, Governor Jim Justice championed and announced a mutually beneficial Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Buckskin Council and the WVDNR, which was signed in July 2023. “Basically, the Scouts would have the opportunity to go and camp—at no charge to them—and learn life and outdoor survival skills. And they’d be able to participate in recreational activities that could earn them merit badges—canoeing or kayaking, archery or orienteering—those are the types of things that state parks are perfect for,” explains Redford. “What we ask them to do in return is to perform some sort of service project that is age- and skill-appropriate.”

Pipestem Resort and North Bend

The first two state parks designated in the agreement are Pipestem Resort, located in Mercer and Summers counties, and North Bend, located in Ritchie County. “The Scouts wanted parks that were geographically situated so that districts of the Buckskin Council toward the northern end of the state had a home base as well as those on the southern end,” Redford says.

Pipestem’s size—over 4,000 acres of fields and forests—along with its recreational activities, educational programs, and special events, make it an ideal venue, according to Pipestem Superintendent Michael Hager. “We have the facilities needed to support these Scouts, and we are really excited that they will be able to utilize them,” says Hager.

Pipestem Resort State Park.
Photo Courtesy of West Virginia Department Of Commerce.

Two Scout groups already stayed at the park last summer, he says, and a Klondike Derby was scheduled for February 9–11 as part of the Buckskin Council’s Winter Camporee. “Those summer groups were smaller, about 10 Scouts each. They set up campsites and were working on some projects for their merit badges,” says Hager. The winter camp-out was planned around activities like sled-pulling and survival techniques like how to build a shelter and how to start a fire, as well as time with the park naturalist and at the Pipestem Nature Center.

“We decided that, if there were some fee-based activities that the Scouts were interested in, such as swimming or canoeing or kayaking or miniature golf, we could work out arrangements with them at a reduced cost,” says Redford. “And if it’s through one of our concession operators, like ziplining or the Adventure Lake, then we would work with our concessionaires to try to accommodate them to the best of our ability. We have a good relationship with them, and they work hard on making memories for our visitors.”

The Boy Scouts of America has a long history of service in the state, and its partnership with WVDNR and State Parks gives it a new way to continue the legacy.
Photo Courtesy of Larry Wunderly

As for the service projects, Scouts will be required to complete volunteer agreements and obtain project approval from WVDNR. The type of project can range from basic trail maintenance to minor construction to landscaping. “It could be anything from helping to restore some of our historic log cabins or the apple orchards to working in the fields with hand tools removing non-indigenous plants to assisting with outdoor activities during special events,” Hager says.

Word about the partnership has spread, and similar agreements with other organizations are already in place. “After we signed the MOU with the Buckskin Council, I reached out to the Black Diamond Council and asked if the Girl Scouts would be interested,” Redford recalls. Similar to the Buckskin Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the Black Diamond Council is a branch of the Girl Scouts of the USA, serving more than 5,000 girls in parts of Maryland, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia, with headquarters in Charleston.

It wouldn’t be the first instance of Girl Scouts getting involved with their local state parks. Since 2019, the national Girl Scouts Love State Parks weekend has introduced young girls to the great outdoors and all that the parks have to offer. In past years, West Virginia Girl Scouts and their families have enjoyed excursions at parks like North Bend and Cacapon. So the answer to Redford’s inquiry was a resounding “yes,” and an MOU was signed with the Black Diamond Council in November 2023, again with the support of Governor Justice. Redford is expecting the warmer months of 2024 to bring opportunities for Girl Scout troops to take advantage of the new partnership.

While the service projects would seem to be the most obvious benefit to the parks, it’s actually the Scouts’ exposure that is most valuable. “The intrinsic value of this is not something that you can put a dollar amount on. We are exposing these kids to our beautiful state park system, and that is very important,” says Redford. “Some of these kids might not get the opportunity to travel and visit very often—you can’t put a price tag on that, and it’s an experience that they will remember. Whether they decide to stay here in West Virginia or move away, they will always have that memory. And, you never know, some might even discover a passion for the field and make a career out of it.”