IDAHO FALLS — One of the largest Boy Scout councils in the United States is expecting to lose up to 80 percent of its membership – around 20,000 scouts – at the end of the year.
On Dec. 31, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will officially cut ties with the Boy Scouts of America and move on to its own youth program. Around 80% of the youth in the Grand Teton Council are members of the church. But some locals don’t believe this is the end of Scouting in eastern Idaho.
Clarke Farrer, the executive director of the Grand Teton Council, said originally he was comparing their situation to that of the Titanic, and he and his staff can see they are headed for the iceberg.
“Just recently, I had a few Scouters complain to me that I’m being too negative, so I did a little thinking and research,” Farrer said.
Now he’s comparing the situation to that of the first ship that arrived to rescue the survivors of the sinking ship.
“The Grand Teton Council, as we’ve always known it, is definitely going to hit the iceberg and sink,” he said. “But not everyone goes down with the ship. Thirty-three percent of the passengers and crew on the Titanic actually survived.”
He explained that losing the LDS Church’s support is detrimental, but the council is preparing to take care of those Scouts who will remain, including church members who wish to continue in Scouting.
“We’ve got up to 20 percent of our membership that are not members of the LDS Church. The assumption is they are going to want to continue their Scouting,” Farrer said. “We know that not all of the LDS families or boys are going to leave Scouting.”
Farrer, himself a Latter-day Saint, says there are “legacy Scouting families” that have been involved for generations and want to continue with the tradition.
“My grandfather was an Eagle Scout. My father was an Eagle Scout. I’m an Eagle Scout. I’ve got three sons. They’re Eagle Scouts. I’ve got, right now, eight grandsons that I expect to be Eagle Scouts,” he said.
Boone Braithwaite’s family is one of those Latter-day Saint families that want to continue Scouting. Braithwaite called the church’s departure from the BSA bittersweet.
“I grew up with Scouting in the church. But because I did a lot of Scout camps, as a young kid, I knew a lot of non-LDS Scouters,” he said.
Since the church’s announcement of breaking ties with the BSA, Braithwaite said about half of the Scouters in his LDS troop have stopped being active in the program.
“Lots in our troop have already checked out. Those boys who stayed active this last year are going to remain active,” he said.
Those who decide to be active in Scouting have community troops to transition into.
“Across the council, we’ve probably got 50 Cub Scout packs and Boy Scout troops that are not affiliated or not chartered to LDS units,” Farrer said.
The Grand Teton Council covers eastern Idaho and western Wyoming. Farrer said those 50 community packs and troops won’t be able to take all of the new Scouts transitioning from the LDS packs and troops, so more will need to be created.
He believes Scouting will take a huge loss in enrollment over the next year but that Latter-day Saints will start to return to Scouting when they realize that the church’s new youth program is different from Scouting.
“They’re going to see that the new program is nothing like Scouting. It has a completely different focus — a completely different purpose. And they’re going to recognize that they want the values and principles that are taught by Scouting. They’re going to still want that for their children,” Farrer said.
In the meantime, the Grand Teton Council will have to make significant adjustments to the way it operates.
“Because we’re in such a significant transition … we will no longer be able to do business the way we always have,” Farrer said. “We’ll be looking at everything.”
Farrer said one of the areas that the council is looking at is the Scout camps it operates.
The land that Little Lemhi and Treasure Mountain Scout camps are on is leased to the council from the Forest Service.
“The future of those camps is very much in question, simply because we don’t own them, and we won’t have the membership to sustain them in terms of filling them with Scouts,” Farrer said.
Treasure Mountain closed last year due to a lease agreement issue between the council and Forest Service. Farrer said losing the LDS Church’s support encouraged the council to close Treasure Mountain for good.
The council also closed the Portneuf Springs day camp in Pocatello due to unrelated issues.
Krupp Scout Hollow, near Rigby, is owned by the council and will remain open this next year. Little Lemhi will also remain open.
“Little Lemhi will be open this next summer, but not as a traditional Scout camp. We’re going to make it available as what I’m calling a smorgasbord. We’ll have things available there that they can choose from but it’s a kind of pay as you go for whatever programs or activities you want,” he said.
Island Park Scout Camp will continue to operate as a traditional Scout camp, but Farrer said the council will cut back on the amount of time the camp will be open.
Despite the cutbacks and enrollment losses, Farrer believes Scouting will survive.
“We’ll definitely bounce back. There’s no question about that,” he said.
Braithwaite said he has even seen the new community troop in Idaho Falls created by a local businessman and a group of Scouts, including Braithwaite’s two sons, grow instead of shrink over that last year.
“We’re just trying to keep the kids going,” Braithwaite said. “The more we do, the more kids keep coming.”
Farrer said anyone interested in joining the BSA can find local troops by going to beascout.scouting.org. The “Find Scouting Near You” tool includes community troops only.
“We are here. Our doors are open, and we not only hope to retain as many of the LDS kids that we can, but we also hope that other families recognize that any kid can be in Scouting. And all kids can benefit from Scouting,” Farrer said.