Boy Scout leadership needs higher standards

Do they fret too much about gays and not enough about some of their ill-trained youth leaders?

 

Boy Scout leaders Glenn Taylor and Dave Hall worked together to topple a delicate geological feature in Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park Oct. 11, an act of destruction that garnered considerable press attention and brought some unintended consequences to the pair. The men claimed that one of the “goblins” that gives the state park its name, a large boulder resting on an ancient pedestal of compressed mud, was loose and dangerous. They decided to take matters into their own hands.

The pair posted a video of the feat on Hall’s Facebook page -- Taylor pushes the boulder with his feet while his back is braced up against another goblin formation. Hall narrates the video, opening by singing the title phrase to the 1990 song “Wiggle It (Just a Little Bit)” as his Scout partner exerts himself to push the 2,000-pound boulder.

Once the boulder falls, the pair cheer; Taylor grunts and flexes his muscles. “We have now modified Goblin Valley!” Hall crows, flipping the camera to show his gleeful face. He closes the video by saying that “some little kid” would have walked under the boulder and been crushed to death. “It’s all about saving lives here in Goblin Valley,” he claims, “that’s what we’re about.”

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the incident is the identity of the third person in the video: Taylor’s young son, a member of the Scout troop, who watches as his father shoves the boulder over. He cheers and jumps around just as the full-grown men do, mimicking their delight in the destruction.

Hall removed the video from his Facebook profile too late: It had already gone viral (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYFD18BwmJ4), attracting outcry from all corners of the Internet. He says he has received “over 100 death threats on the Internet already.” And Fred Hayes, director of Utah State Parks, assures the media that a preliminary investigation has begun; the difficulty in pressing charges is determining the value of the formation that was destroyed, something Hayes claims is “almost impossible.” Hall and Taylor may face felony charges for their actions.

More than that may await Taylor, the man who pushed over the 2,000-pound boulder. He recently filed a personal injury lawsuit against a young woman and her father because of a 2009 car accident. The driver, only 16 at the time, rear-ended several vehicles. No one was taken to the hospital, but four years later, Taylor claims that he endures “great pain and suffering, disability, impairment, and loss of the joys of life.” His video, however, showed little sign of that.

Meanwhile, the national headquarters of Boy Scouts of America said the group had been “shocked and disappointed by this reprehensible behavior.” Scout spokesman Deron Smith insisted that the Boy Scouts teach “the principles of ‘Leave No Trace.’” After the Scout leadership met, it ousted Hall and Taylor as troop leaders.

Every summer, it seems, a slew of accidents involving Boy Scout troops dominates the headlines. In Utah alone, lightning strikes, scuba-diving accidents and vehicle accidents have all claimed the lives of young Scouts. Non-fatal accidents are probably even more common. Scout troops have caused massive forest fires through negligence; in 2002, a 14,000-acre fire caused by an unsupervised troop cost federal agencies $13 million to extinguish. Earlier this summer, at Utah’s Hinckley Scout Ranch, a Scout leader shot and killed a black bear when it visited a picnic table covered in candy the Scouts had left out.

There are over 2 million youths involved in Boy Scouts of America, and most of the adult volunteers are just that -- volunteers. Many of the accidents and mishaps that Scout troops incur could be reduced through better training and smarter guidance about how to behave in a natural area.

After all, the leaders of a Scout troop are supposed to be role models. Scout leaders who trash the environment their programs explore, or who display poor judgment in the wilderness, will teach young people to behave in just the same way. On the national level, Scout leaders have decided that anyone who is gay is automatically unfit to lead young people. What the Goblin Valley incident reveals is that the Scout bosses are fretting about sexual orientation when they ought to be honing in on the basics of leadership.

Leadership in the outdoors certainly doesn’t involve mindless vandalism followed by an insincere justification of what you’ve just done. It’s about knowing the value of the places you visit and teaching others to respect the public lands that make your outdoor fun possible.

Casey O’Malley is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. She is a freelance writer and a high school teacher in Salt Lake City

David Olsen
David Olsen
Nov 05, 2013 05:02 PM
While two adults were committing that crime against nature, millions of Boy Scouts are learning many kinds of life lessons including "Leave No Trace".
Have you volunteered with the Boy Scouts to share you love and knowledge of the outdoors Casey?
Troy Davis
Troy Davis Subscriber
Nov 06, 2013 09:15 AM
I've worked in wilderness all over the country, and I used to say that the most dangerous animal on the North American landscape was not the griz, nor the cougar or the rattler: It was the Boy Scout.

That was a joke, but it had more than a little truth behind it. Typically, I'd seen them injure themselves, leave a mess, teach WWII-era camping techniques and, of course, start large fires. I literally cannot count the times I dealt with snakebite victims - or alternately, dead snakes - when around Boy Scouts. Actions like killing bears, causing accidents which seriously injure people, defacing famous, irreplaceable landmarks take formerly problematic behavior to an entirely new level.

To be honest, though, I expect broken bones, out-of-control campfires, squashed bugs, dead snakes and other stupid decisions when young kids are getting outside and having fun. That's what kids do. Such experiences are teaching opportunities, allowing instructors to show kids how to respect the world around them and behave in it.

I certainly know a few people who experienced very good instruction in the Scouts, and listening to them I sometimes regretted not having a chance to enjoy those outdoor adventures as a child. But the model breaks down when leaders act like adolescents. One bad apple doesn't spoil the bunch, but a rotting apple sitting on top makes the bunch much less appetizing.

Taylor is clearly an embarrassment. Any responsbile grown-up could have reported this (ancient) 'safety issue' to a ranger or park staffer, thereby saving the day. Or maybe used it to demonstrate to his scouts how to recognize and avoid a potentially dangerous situation. Instead, struggling mightily to move the 'unstable' structure, he recorded the event, picked the music and posted it all, as a 14-year old would likely do. Perhaps the Scout leadership could take *this* opportunity to re-examine their volunteer approval and training processes.