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International city of 43,000 pops up in West Virginia
By Tom Adkinson

summit bechtel reserve west va
Flags of approximately 160 nations parade through more than 40,000 Scouts at the opening ceremony of World Scout Jamboree 2019; image by Tom Adkinson.

SUMMIT BECHTEL RESERVE, West Virginia – It happened almost overnight. All of a sudden, West Virginia had a new city with a population of 43,000 people, making it second in size only to Charleston, the state capital. It will disappear almost as quickly.

The city with the short shelf life is the World Scout Jamboree, a gathering of Scouts, leaders and volunteers from approximately 160 countries. In one sense, it’s like assembling the staffs of all countries in the United Nations and taking them on a two-week camping trip.

tents world scout jamboree
Field after tent-covered field is covered by tents housing participants at the World Scout Jamboree; image by Tom Adkinson.

The Jamboree occupies a portion of the 14,000-acre Summit Bechtel Reserve (SBR), a permanent wilderness property for camping, training and high adventure owned by the Boy Scouts of America. It is adjacent to the 70,000-acre New River Gorge National River, a unit of the National Park Service, making the SBR rank with other Boy Scout high adventure locations such as the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico.

Most of the World Scout Jamboree population is younger than 20, and while English is widely spoken (or at least slightly understood), there is not one language everyone speaks. Smiles, however, are a universal language.

The World Scout Jamboree continues through Aug. 2, and day passes are available if you want to get a sense of this sprawling cultural event. Everyone is welcome to tour what amounts to the town square, 100 acres that are the heart of Jamboree activity.

The Summit Bechtel Reserve has one of the longest ziplines in the U.S.; image by Tom Adkinson
climbing wall
There are two major rock climbing walls at the Summit Bechtel Reserve; image by Tom Adkinson.

You can dine in 10 international cuisine pop-up restaurants (Germany, Portugal, Italy and Chile among them), learn how Scouting is done around the world and watch people fly overhead on a zipline 3,000 feet long. The Sustainability Treehouse is a permanent attraction. The 125-foot-tall steel treehouse is a vertical classroom that teaches lessons about ecology, the environment, solar energy, water usage and other topics.

summit bechtel reserve
Patch trading is a passion for Scouts around the world, and a World Scout Jamboree is a two-week trading session; image by Tom Adkinson


The United States, Canada and Mexico are joint hosts for this quadrennial event that has not been in the U.S. since 1967. It was in Canada in 1983. About 9,000 volunteers gradually arrived at the SBR earlier in July, and then approximately 9,000 American Scouts arrived in one day. Finally, more than 23,000 international Scouts arrived in one day. Almost all of them will depart the first weekend of August.

The SBR does not go quiet, however. Preparations will begin almost immediately for the next Boy Scout National Jamboree in 2021. Look for between 30,000 and 40,000 for that event.

The World Organization of the Scout Movement sponsors the World Scout Jamboree, and the Boy Scouts of America are a member of that international organization.

Trip-planning resources:, and

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published July 26, 2019

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