Rafters ready for flood of Scouts; retailers hoping to capitalize
GLEN JEAN, W.Va. -- Participants at the national Scout Jamboree have settled into their tents, and now area businesses are expecting an onslaught of customers.
John Cameron, a board member at the private Hammerstone Scout Museum in Lillington, N.C., has attended previous Jamborees and said area roads are typically jammed with thousands of visitors who'll shop, eat and take in tourist attractions.
The 10-day Jamboree is the first in Southern West Virginia after being held for nearly three decades before that at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia.
Cameron said the Virginia military base saw daily traffic jams during the Jamboree. In West Virginia, visitors will park at a designated area off U.S. 19 in Bradley before being taken by bus to the nearby Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve.
"John Q. Public is going to pull off of this highway -- thousands of cars," Cameron said.
Next to the parking area, Cameron set up a tent filled with baskets of thousands of colorful badges from Scout troops and from previous Jamborees. He said his oldest Scout badge goes back to World War I and sells for a few hundred dollars. He's offering to sell or trade badges for this year's badges.
"We have a blast doing it," he said.
After Monday's initial wave of Scouts whose buses stopped at a check-in site before heading directly to the Jamboree, managers at area shops and restaurants were hopeful that predictions of sales as torrid as the weather will come true.
Sheetz store manager Johnny Lewis in Bradley said several extra workers have been called in. And at the Cold Spot across from the Jamboree's entrance in Glen Jean, manager Crystal Salisbury won't mind having to restock supplies constantly.
"I'm hoping it gets so slammed that we get rid of it every day," she said.
Businesses that could see a big boost are along a 16-mile stretch of U.S. 19 from Bradley to Fayetteville as well as in nearby Beckley. Hotels were booked to near-capacity.
One of the biggest attractions will be the New River. Adventures on the Gorge alone will take 5,000 Scouts on whitewater rafting trips over a five-day period starting Wednesday. That's about a 40 percent increase from normal rafting trips in July.
Managing partner Dave Arnold said Scouts would be handled in waves with rafting guides working multiple trips. They'll start in Prince. Buses will then drop off Scouts at Thayer and, at the same time, pick up rafters arriving from Prince. The same thing will happen in Thurmond and Cunard.
"Our guides are doing long, long days," Arnold said. "That's how we're pulling it off."
The company did the same thing last summer during a rehearsal for the Jamboree. Guides already on the river were able to pick up new rafters within about five minutes of buses arriving, Arnold said.
Despite the number of Scouts rafting, "the river is not too crowded because we're spread out," Arnold said. "There's a section we don't even touch."
That leaves plenty of room for visitors looking for fishing or sightseeing trips along the river.
One of the few new businesses at the Jamboree is Eagles Nest campground. Operator Ronny Ipson had rented motor homes for the final three Jamborees at Fort A.P. Hill. When the Jamboree pulled out, Ipson got the idea to set up shop in West Virginia.
Ipson and a partner invested $750,000 to build a 12-acre campground in Glen Jean. He's supplying trailers for Jamboree workers and also has seven open acres for tent camping aimed at Scouts who aren't staying at the Summit.
He plans to stay open beyond the Jamboree, offering camping for Bridge Day in October, as well as the 2017 and 2021 national Jamborees and the Scout World Jamboree in 2019.
In other small towns such as Mount Hope, shop owners not visible from the highway were hoping to see some traffic, too.
"I would say they [should] come through at least once to see what it is like," said 82-year-old Phyllis Bonifacio, who runs the Bon Bon Hardware and Confectionery store in Mount Hope that her mother-in-law opened in 1912.
Temperatures are expected to be in the 90s all week for the Jamboree. That wasn't great news for a herd of Chick-Fil-A cow mascots sent out to try to lure in customers to local stores.
"I choose to be out here for hours because I'm just stubborn," said a costumed Justin Lambert.
Co-worker Bethany Czapor had bottled water handy just in case.
"I'm dying, so I know he has to be dying," Czapor said.