The LDS effect: Utah’s Boy Scout councils will merge as their numbers slide

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Boy Scout Troop 1332 from Murray leads the Memorial March from Fort Douglas Museum on the University of Utah campus to Fort Douglas Cemetery as the Association of the United States Army - AUSA - Utah Chapter, hosts a Memorial Day Ceremony on Monday, May 27, 2019.

Utah’s three Boy Scout councils will merge into a single organization beginning April 2, officials announced Tuesday, as the fallout from the LDS Church’s sweeping exit continues to ripple through the storied youth group.

The new Crossroads of the West Council will blend Scouts from the Great Salt Lake Council in Salt Lake City, the Trapper Trails Council in Ogden and the Utah National Parks Council in Orem, said new council President Russ Hunsaker.

Each of those three councils at one time boasted tens of thousands of young people. Now, the state’s overall number of registered Scouts has plunged to about 7,000.

“Scouting has enjoyed a long and rich history in Utah," he said in a news release, "and we look forward to an exciting new chapter in Utah Scouting as we work to increase outreach to diversified youth groups.”

The merger should have no effect on individual Scouts.

“Nothing changes for troops and packs,” Hunsaker said in an interview. “They will still show up to schools and community centers for meetings and to earn awards and advancements.”

The new combined council will, at least initially, use the Ogden office, at 1200 E. 5400 South, as its headquarters.

Leaders eventually want to build a new headquarters on property the Great Salt Lake Council owned in West Valley City, Hunsaker said. “We will be looking to raise the assets to make that happen."

The council owns the Ogden building outright. The National Parks Council recently sold its building in Orem to the state. And, in mid-January, the Great Salt Lake Council left its longtime home on Foothill Drive near the University of Utah and moved into a leased space at 8389 S. 700 West, in Sandy, next to the South Valley Scout Shop.

All the camps and other properties currently owned by the three councils will be owned and operated by the new Crossroads of the West Council.

Merging the councils gives the Boy Scouts in Utah an opportunity to become more efficient and streamlined, but it will likely result in fewer employees.

“We have not made any determination on staff size," Hunsaker said. “We still need to look at the way we are going to be structured.”

But , he added, the Orem and Ogden councils have been slowly reducing their staffs through retirement and attrition. The Salt Lake council laid off nearly two dozen employees last year.

Consolidation is a predictable move for the Utah Boy Scouts after its largest sponsor — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — decided to sever centurylong ties to the organization and create its own youth program. More than 400,000 young people from the Salt Lake City-based faith dropped out of the Scouting program nationally when it became official Jan. 1.

The new Utah council expects its numbers to grow from the current 7,000, Hunsaker said, as “individuals that have a strong tradition in Scouting return.”

Some families have been “part of Scouting for generations,” he explained, “and we want them to know they can continue. We have many troops they can join or we can help them start their own units.”

More information is available at https://beascout.scouting.org/ or by calling 801-479-5460.

“Many factors have gone into the decision to realign councils, with the most important consideration being ... delivering the highest quality Scouting opportunities to youth in all Utah communities,” Hunsaker said in the release. “With our priorities continuously focused on providing the strongest Scouting program possible, we all understand that this can be accomplished by focusing resources into one council."

The Utah council consolidation is not tied to the recent Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing from the national Boy Scouts organization.

“Our local councils, which provide programming, financial, facility and administrative support to Scouting units in our community, have not filed for bankruptcy,” the release said. “We are legally separate, distinct and financially independent from the national organization.”

Besides Hunsaker, from Salt Lake City, the new council’s leadership team includes Chris Daniel Killpack, Orem, president-elect; Allan Karras, Sunset, council commissioner; and Allen M. Endicott, Huntsville, Scout executive.