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Scouts bridge sustainability gap

Chris Dorst
Scouts and visitors to the National Scout Jamboree at Summit Bechtel Reserve near Beckley cross the Consol Energy Bridge to the Lakeside Amphitheater for Saturday's stadium show.
Chris Dorst The sustainability treehouse is a 216-foot interactive classroom for teaching Boy Scouts about how to do more with less.
Chris Dorst Next to the wind turbines atop the sustainability treehouse, Scouts sign tags with sustainability commitments. The tags blow in the wind.
Chris Dorst Patrick May, 16, of Crockett, Texas, watches his brother, Michael, 17, pedal a bike to produce kinetic energy. The two Eagle Scouts were demonstrating the amounts of energy it takes to power different light bulbs.
Chris Dorst Boy Scouts learn the importance of trees through this exhibit in the sustainability treehouse at the National Scout Jamboree.

GLEN JEAN, W.Va. -- In a treehouse 216 feet above the ground, Boy Scouts at the National Scout Jamboree are learning how to be better stewards of the Earth. The goal is simple: Do more with less.

From composting toilets that will provide fertilizer for the property to solar panels and wind turbines that provide energy while reducing costs, Scouts are learning how to reduce, reuse and recycle.

"What we are trying to do is help the boys and young ladies understand just exactly what it takes for the purpose of sustainability," said Frank McAllister from Salt Lake City, Utah, who serves as a tree guide and played an instrumental role in the sustainable treehouse's development.

McAllister said he sees the treehouse as hands-on learning that engages the youth with three natural resources of the world -- sunlight, wind and water. He even donated a 2,000-year-old piece of copper to call attention to the need for sustainability.

When the copper was new, there were just 200 million people on Earth, McAllister said. Now, there are 7 billion and counting. He hopes this will catch visitors' attention.

"Nature can get along just fine without us. We can't get along at all without nature," he said. "We want to minimize that material we have to take out of the Earth."

George Gundelach and Kevin O'Donnell, Scouts from Indiana, weren't sure what to expect as they traveled through the three learning levels of the treehouse.

"It runs on a lot of reusable resources," O'Donnell said. "More than I thought it would."

Warren Nooger, a sophomore at Virginia Tech and a volunteer at the Boy Scout Jamboree, said he always had sustainability awareness, from growing up in the Boy Scouts, but since working at the sustainability treehouse, he's learned more.

Upon entering the treehouse's second level, where Nooger is stationed, visitors see a tree in the middle of the exhibit with various types of bark and information branching out from it.

His hope is that visitors realize how important trees are to society.

"People take trees for granted," he said. "You can really understand more about them here."

On the third level, Timothy Allred helps Scouts recognize smart energy. Scouts jump on a stationary bike and pedal to provide kinetic energy to three types of light bulbs: incandescent, fluorescent and LED.

"That illustrates to the kids that it takes less effort and less energy for a smart light bulb," Allred said. "You can't teach kids in a classroom. That's why we have them on this bike and this exhibit."

The treehouse also includes an elevator completely powered by sustainable energy produced on-site. When exiting the treehouse, visitors receive a Jamboree sustainability merit badge.

Starting Jan. 1, the sustainability badge becomes a requirement for Eagle Scouts as an alternative for the environmental science badge.

"It [the sustainability badge] requires the boys to engage in measuring their [energy] output, basically at a home level, so they can see how much energy they're using," Allred said.

The hope is that Scouts become sustainable themselves. At the top of the treehouse, thousands of tiny tags blow in the wind. Each tag has a name etched on it of a Scout who signed a sustainability commitment.

Gundelach and O'Donnell signed their names and said they hope to bring more sustainable energy ideas home with them.

Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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