After LDS Church exit, Boy Scouts shrink in northern Utah from 7,200 to 110 troops

A new year means a new home — and more than 7,000 fewer troops — for the Boy Scouts in northern Utah.

On Saturday, the Boy Scouts of America’s Great Salt Lake Council finished cleaning out its longtime home on Foothill Drive near the University of Utah. The headquarters are now in Sandy, 8389 S. 700 West, next to the South Valley Scout Shop.

The smaller digs with limited hours — it’s open Monday through Friday from 1 to 5:30 p.m. — coincide with the council’s smaller membership and staff, Kent Downing, area director for the Boy Scouts’ Western region, said in an email.

“We are expecting a notable drop in membership in 2020," he wrote, "as a result of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints separating from the BSA as a chartered partner — decreasing from 7,200 to 110 troops.”

The council laid off nearly two dozen employees late last year in anticipation of the church’s departure, which took effect Dec. 31.

For decades, the church was the largest participant in American Scouting, with approximately 425,000 Latter-day Saint youths in Cub and Boy Scout programs. Latter-day Saints accounted for about 19% of BSA’s 2.2 million membership, according to the Boy Scouts. Scouting was even bigger in Utah, with more than 90% of its participants belonging to church-sponsored units.

While the end of the century-old alliance stings, the Great Salt Lake Council — which includes Salt Lake, Tooele and Summit counties, along with the southern portion of Davis County — carries on.

The Boy Scouts provided no information on troop or staff reductions in Utah’s two other councils — Trapper Trails in Ogden and Utah National Parks in Orem.

“While we hope that some families that have been a part of Scouting in the church will continue their Scouting journey," Downing wrote. "We also recognize that more than half of the Salt Lake City metropolitan area is not associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we welcome the opportunity to bring the benefit of Scouting to these families in our area.”

The LDS Church has created a new program to help their young people grow intellectually, spiritually, socially and physically. It also weaves in camping and other outdoor activities.

While the two organizations once were on the same page, their paths began to diverge in May 2013, when the Boy Scouts of America’s governing body voted to end its longstanding ban on gay members, opening Scouting to all boys, regardless of sexual orientation.

Three years later, the organization dropped its prohibition of gay adult leaders. In 2017, the organization announced that girls would be able to participate in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.

The following year, the LDS Church announced its planned separation from Scouting.

M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the faith’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said recently the Utah-based church severed its ties with the Boy Scouts partly because the organization made changes that pushed it away.

“We didn’t really leave them; they kind of left us,” Ballard told The Associated Press. “The direction they were going was not consistent to what we feel our youth need to have ... to survive in the world that lies ahead for them.”