GLEN JEAN, W.Va. -- Make room, guys. The girls are coming to the Boy Scouts of America's National Jamboree.
Hundreds of female participants will be among the more than 40,000 Scouts and leaders attending the national gathering that occurs every four years. The Jamboree runs July 15 to 24 at the Summit outdoor adventure site in southern West Virginia.
The girls are part of the Scouts' youth development program called Venturing. It started in 1998 and involves members of both sexes ages 14 to 20. Many of their activities involve physical challenges and travel, making it especially attractive to older teens.
While girls attended past jamborees in limited numbers, organizers say this year is the first time they've widely allowed female Venturers. About 2,000 Venturers are signed up this year, and National Jamboree director Larry Pritchard estimates about half of them are females.
"Yes, it's a big deal," said John R. McGhee Jr., a Charleston attorney and board member of the Boy Scouts' local Buckskin Council. "It speaks well for the future of scouting. It brings a whole new segment of the population into the program."
Letting them participate was "just the right thing for us to do," Pritchard said. "This was just the next logical step for us to take, to give those members of our program an opportunity to enjoy what we have here as well, to drink the Kool-Aid and spread the word to the others who are in Venturing, to both young men and young women."
The Jamboree approaches as Boy Scouts of America faces turmoil after its move to accept openly gay boys as Scouts. The BSA's National Council voted in May to allow gays after years of pressure to be more inclusive. However, the vote prompted a backlash from some conservatives, and at least a few churches around the country have said they will no longer host Boy Scout troops.
The Boy Scouts of America's youth membership declined from 3.3 million in 2002 to about 2.6 million last year.
Jenny Welles, 18, saw her brother head off to the 2010 Jamboree while she was unable to go. This time she'll be attending with a group of Venturers from Appleton, Wis. She spent a week in West Virginia last summer during a scaled-down dress rehearsal for the Jamboree.
"I just think it will be a good experience for everybody," she said. "It will give Venturing more publicity and we can probably get more participants."
According to the BSA, Venturers' membership has declined more than 10 percent since peaking at 260,000 in 2008.
Twins Virginia and Perry McGhee formed their own Venturing crew two years ago. Their father and grandfather were Eagle Scouts, and their brother was a Boy Scout.