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National Jamboree off to a good start

BECKLEY, W.Va. -- Good luck finding a hotel room in Beckley this week.

The influx of 40,000 Boy Scouts, their bus drivers, support staff and parents and visitors expected this week because of the National Boy Scout Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Glen Jean has tied up almost every room in several counties. At the Comfort Inn hotel on Harper Park Drive in Beckley on Monday, hotel staff were advising callers looking for rooms to try Beaver or Princeton.

Hotel manager Ellie Farley said Comfort Inn has carefully planned for the Jamboree. A group of Scouts and bus drivers stayed at the hotel Sunday.

"They were wonderful," Farley said.

Scouts, staff and bus drivers have rooms booked through today, and parents and visitors start arriving Wednesday. Farley said Comfort Inn has worked with local tour groups and tourism officials to provide tour packages, dinner packages and whitewater trips for anyone interested.

All over Fayette and Raleigh counties, businesses and government agencies have been gearing up for the Jamboree, which kicks off officially today and runs through July 24. The bulk of the Scouts began arriving Monday in a steady stream of tour buses carefully staggered to help minimize congestion.

"We're real satisfied with the way things are going," said state Homeland Security and Emergency Services Director Jimmy Gianato, stationed at the West Virginia National Guard Armory in Glen Jean, not far from the Summit campsite. "Traffic's flowing, and there aren't any backups anywhere."

At a bus staging area in Bradley, dozens of tour buses loaded with Scouts were being herded by uniformed soldiers armed with orange batons in a scene reminiscent of airliners landing at a major international airport.

Nearby, John Cameron, of the Hammerstone Scout Museum near Fayetteville, N.C., manned a Tradoree, a tent set up for the sole purpose of buying, selling and trading Boy Scout patches, badges and memorabilia.

Cameron has seen a lot of jamborees. So far, he said the planning for this one appears to have been top-notch.

"Wednesday's going to be the test," he said.

Back at the Glen Jean armory, soldiers, state and local police and other law enforcement and highways officials were milling around the Joint Interagency Task Force war room, a room crammed with dozens of laptops, computers and monitors that included everything from weather data to monitors displaying Division of Highways traffic cameras.

Maj. Jamie Humphries, an active duty Air Force officer from Colorado sent to help with the Jamboree, said active duty soldiers and soldiers from the West Virginia National Guard are on hand to provide security or any kind of emergency assistance the Jamboree needs. Gianato said plans have been going on for months.

"We have to prepare for any contingency," Gianato said. "We do that for everything, not just this event. You try to determine what would be a worst-case scenario, and then plan for that.

"We looked at everything from an active shooter to a hazmat incident," he said.

The National Guard and military even have their own public relations team in the area, a group of about 15 guard members and active-duty personnel whose job is to cover the Jamboree with video and still cameras and document the event.

The National Guard has set up camp at the University of Charleston Beckley campus, where state police from several states have also taken up residence. The extra police are helping with traffic control during the Jamboree.

"I've never seen so many police cars in my life," said Col. Melissa Shade, a full-time Air Force National Guard member helping out with the Jamboree.

Cindy Whitlock, marketing director for Tamarack, said the tourist plaza has added food and staff and tripled security for the Scouts and visitors expected to pass through the area during the Jamboree, and the staff at the information desks are well-versed in the ins and outs of the event.

But Whitlock said pre-planning groups have been coming through Tamarack for the past three weeks, using the facility's conference center. Last week, between 5,000 and 7,000 Jamboree leaders were in the area.

"The Scouts have been in here for three years planning this," she said.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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