The countdown has started for many Utah County Boy Scouts to get their Eagle Scout award before The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-days Saints and the Boy Scouts of America go their separate ways.
For instance, LDS Boy Scouts who were not a Life Scout by the end of June, the rank preceding Eagle Scout, will not have enough of the required leadership time of six months to get an Eagle Award by Dec. 31.
Eagle Awards aren’t going away, but it appears many Latter-day Saint families are shifting their focus on what their church’s new program might be.
Of the troops attached to the Utah National Parks Council, about 98% are LDS. The council is based in Orem and is the largest council in the Scouting program. There are nearly 84,000 Scouts from Lehi to St. George and just over the borders into surrounding states.
“We are starting to see an influx of applications for Eagles,” said John Gailey, spokesman for Utah National Parks Council of the BSA.
Gaily said some LDS congregations have identified boys working toward their Eagle and are focusing on them. Other LDS wards and their youth leaders are not doing anything until the new church program starts.
“Youth want Eagles, but adults are saying no,” Gailey said. “Boys are calling us.”
Gailey said the greatest challenge is that boys need 20 nights of camping with a troop. The council provides a couple of weeks for solo campers in which the council provides the leadership, but that is still not enough time.
The National Parks Council owns 13 Scout camps — the two best-known to Utah County scouts are Camp Maple Dell in Payson Canyon and Camp Jeremiah Johnson in Hobble Creek Canyon.
Currently, more girls are using Jeremiah Johnson than boys for their LDS Church Activity Days programs, according to Gailey.
To keep money coming in, some of the camps are rented to other organizations such as the new Adventure for Youth program from Brigham Young University, LDS girls camps, family reunions and other groups.
“We provide the infrastructure and activities, they do the rest,” Gailey said. “A few are year-round camps.”
Gailey said a new camp was opened two years ago in Eagle Mountain and is doing well.
Just a couple miles outside of Blanding near the Four Corners area, the council has been running a summer camp for an LDS stake that has been bringing Scouters for years.
“They bring their families,” Gailey said. “They use it to help youth prepare for missions. The people who put on the camp are LDS members. Troops from all over go there, it’s a huge tradition.”
Gailey said the camp sells out, but the new church program could change that.
Utah is holding its own with successful camps and camp programs, but other areas of the country are reporting a down tick in camp usage already as a result of the upcoming LDS split.
On June 24, the Associated Press reported, “For the first time in 55 years, Camp Raymond 30 miles west of downtown Flagstaff will not be hosting its six-week scout summer camp, though it will continue to offer its other year-round programs.”
The summer camp was down by more than 3,400 participants from last year — an estimated $700,000 loss in revenue.
The Associated Press report noted that northern Arizona is experiencing a decline in BSA troops.
“The region is expected to lose more than 1,800 scouts who are church members unless they transfer to community troops, although fewer than 10% are expected to transfer,” the Associated Press reported.
About 70% of Boy Scout troops in Arizona are chartered by the church, while in northern Arizona, the percentage is higher, with 105 church troops and 22 community-chartered troops registered, according to the Associated Press.
Arizona has also seen a reduction in professional Scouters and closures of camp stores and other affiliated programs.
Gailey said the National Parks Council is hoping 20% of its registered Scouts will find new troops or that new troops will be organized.
Community caring in question
Those new troops may have to pick up the ball on the bigger programs and volunteer projects supported by Scouting.
Special community projects will likely be highly affected, particularly fundraising.
It’s all of the unknowns and unintended consequences of the church change that has the council concerned.
“We don’t know about how Friends of Scouting will do,” Gailey said. “The National Parks Council has their drive in the fall.”
Friends of Scouting is a fundraiser sponsored by the LDS Church on behalf of Scouting. That will come to an end with this fall’s final collection of donations.
Gailey said the council has been looking at restarting popcorn sales to raise money. Across the nation, omitting Utah, popcorn sales are big for Scouts, like cookies are for Girl Scouts.
“It is usually sold in the fall (opposite the Girl Scouts) for units and the council,” Gailey said.
And what about food and the annual Scouting for Food drive for the Community Action Services and Food Bank?
Dave Smith, food bank manager, is concerned about what is going to happen next spring when the Scouting for Food drive usually comes around.
“If I did not have the boys get fliers and bags out and on Saturday of the drive knock on doors, I’d get four or five times less than just having people remembering to put a bag of food out,” Smith said. “If we don’t have boots on the ground, kids ready to help the whole effort will fall flat and not be effective.”
The National Guard is ready to transport the food to the food bank, but the Scouts typically brought food to the LDS stake centers for transportation, Smith said.
“It’s a big concern. In our outlying communities like Coalville, Kamas and other small towns, the attitude is, ‘Hey its changing; we’re not even going to bother’,” Smith said.
The numbers of donation have been going down over the past few years as the transition trods on. According to Smith, the Scouting for Food drive has gone from 163,000 pounds of food in 2018 to 103,224 pounds garnered this spring.
“It’s anybody’s guess as to what will happen,” Smith said.
That’s about the same reaction of Adam Whitaker, executive director of the American Red Cross Central and Southern Utah Chapter.
“The Red Cross is the sole provider of blood for 40 of the 44 Utah hospitals,” Whitaker said. “There are thousands of blood drives every year and dozens of them are Eagle projects.”
Whitaker said that besides the blood drive he is concerned that boys will not engage as much in community service.
“We are hopeful there will be a requirement for community engagement,” Whitaker said in reference to the new LDS Church youth program.
Bill Hulterstrom, CEO and president of the United Way of Utah County, said Scouts are involved with volunteering for many non-profit organizations.
“We hope ‘love they neighbor’ will still continue,” Hulterstrom said.
Many Eagle Scout and merit badge projects focus on cleanup and renovation of parks and schools, which are already feeling the effects of the Scouting break-up.
According to Scott Henderson, director of Provo’s parks and recreation, in 2017 there were 11 Eagle Scout projects for parks. In 2018, there were nine projects. This year, there are only three that have been completed and two still being worked on.
“We’ve seen a tapering off of Eagle projects since the announcement by the church,” Henderson said. “All of them have been appreciated and it connects the parks to the community.”
In every case, those in leadership are saying they are waiting to see what the LDS Church is going to introduce as their new worldwide program for youth.
On May 8, 2018, the LDS Church announced that after more than a century, it would be ending its relationship with the Boy Scouts of America.
The worldwide growth of the church, and the fact that the church only uses the BSA program in the U.S. and Canada, was part of the provided explanation.
The church announced it intended to design its own youth program for children ages 8 to 17 to be adopted on a global level.
On May 17, the church sent out a letter letting local leaders know that on Sept. 29, the fifth Sunday of the month, a broadcast from President M. Russell Ballard, President of the Quorum of the Twelve, would be made available to all congregations.
In that meeting, for those 8 years of age and older, the program will be unveiled.
That will be followed by a devotional on Nov. 17 with Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve and the general presidencies of the Primary, Young Men and Young Women.
At that time, they will provide more information and hold a Q-and-A segment as part of the devotional.
Daily Herald reporter Genelle Pugmire can be contacted at email@example.com, (801) 344-2910, Twitter