In her 12 years as a ranger in Zion, Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Cape Hatteras national parks, Andrea Lankford says one thing always scared her.
"Whenever I saw a [Boy] Scout troop hiking down the trail, I’d cringe and say to myself, ‘Oh boy, here comes trouble,’ " said the former ranger, author of the book "Ranger Confidential: Living, Working and Dying in the National Parks."
By the numbers: Boy Scouts in Utah
In Utah’s three Boy Scout councils combined:
Number of youths served » 182,431
Total number of units » 15,400
Percent who are LDS » “More than 90 percent.”
Sources: Great Salt Lake, Trapper Trails and Utah National Parks councils
What about Girl Scouts?
The Girl Scouts in Utah have not had a death or serious injury accident since 1964, when a girl slipped on a rock, hit her head and died, said Utah Girl Scout CEO Cathleen Sparrow.
Girl Scouts in Utah have 8,440 Scouts and 3,500 volunteers statewide — far fewer than the Boy Scouts.
Sparrow said Girl Scout leaders must pass background and reference checks. They must attend a variety of training sessions about Girl Scout programs and safety. They have a 234-page “safety checkpoints” guide, with checklists they are to complete before various types of activities, supplemented by 220 pages of “volunteer essentials.”
Before any field trips, troops must file papers and receive permission from the council.
“We do that because we want to make sure we have the right amount of volunteers going with them,” Sparrow said, “and also that troop leaders passed background checks and that [they] have an understanding of what is in the safety activity checkpoints. The focus is on safety.”
Before troops can go camping overnight, they first must do daytime activities, day camps and night camps at a home before they can go to national parks or camps. Sparrow said Girl Scouts also stress “Leave No Trace.”
"Park rangers have witnessed many appalling instances of misbehavior by Scouts," she told The Salt Lake Tribune. "But the worst of all is when the lack of proper leadership turns a Boy Scout outing into a tragedy. If parents knew what rangers knew, they would hesitate to let their boys go on extended Scout outings into wilderness areas with leaders who haven’t demonstrated real outdoor experience."
Boy Scout training and rules again drew scrutiny last week after the Utah National Parks Council removed two leaders for pushing over a red rock "goblin" in Goblin Valley State Park and posting the video online.
Earlier this year, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources was forced to kill a bear after Scouts ignored repeated warnings about safely storing food, drawing the bear into Hinckley Scout Ranch in the northern slope of the Uinta Mountains. Weeks earlier, the camp director had shot and killed a bear that had wandered into camp and was eating a bag of candy bars left on a picnic table.
High-profile gaffes from past years include a Scout-caused fire in 2002 that burned 14,000 acres in the Uintas and ended up costing the Boy Scouts of America $6.5 million, and the Scouts in 2001 who chiseled out petrified dinosaur footprints at Red Fleet State Park and tossed them in the lake.
Numerous Scouts have become lost in Utah; some have died on outings.
But the case of the destroyed dinosaur tracks shows the flip side, as well — the three Boy Scouts who did the damage probably used a trail constructed as an Eagle Scout project.
While they agree that Scout groups can cause trouble or put themselves at risk, federal and state land managers recognize the muscle and sweat the young men put into making outdoor adventures more pleasant for others.
"Scout groups can be great or not so great. A lot of it depends on the leaders," said Goblin Valley State Park Manager Sarah Siefken. "We just had Scouts build a bridge on the trail, and they help us with other things, like invasive plant removal and searching for endangered cactus in the park."
Boy Scouts contributed about 25,000 hours — the typical annual average — of work at Utah State Parks in 2012, said Robin Watson, volunteer coordinator for the parks.
Seeking adventures outdoors » Utah’s three Scout councils contend extreme misbehavior is rare and goes against training. They note that nearly 200,000 Scouts in Utah spend about a half-million nights camping a year.
The councils say their Scouts are taught how to treat the environment and note that, so far this year, Eagle Scout projects have provided about 150,000 service hours to benefit the outdoors.
"Outdoor adventure is an important part of the Scouting experience," the councils said in a joint written response to questions from The Salt Lake Tribune. "To prepare both our youth and adult members for outdoor activities, we teach and follow the principles of ‘Leave No Trace.’ "
The statements adds, "Our councils offer extensive training opportunities each year for our adult members."
While such goals and training are in all handbooks and offered regularly, including at monthly round tables, the training is not necessarily required to register and participate.
In contrast, training to protect youths from abuse is mandatory, as are criminal-background checks.
Last May, the Boy Scouts started issuing new cards aimed at helping leaders and Scouts analyze safety risks, using the acronym PAUSE — Pause before you start, Assess possible hazards, Understand how to proceed safely, Share your plan with others, Execute the activity safely.
Heeding that protocol may have avoided toppling the "goblin." The councils’ statement said the Goblin Valley incident "does not in any way represent our members in Utah or beyond."
Kathy Jo Pollock, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service in Utah, said her agency accommodates requests by Boy Scout troops and other groups for presentations on how to properly enjoy natural resources but added the requests are not as common as they probably should be.Next Page >
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