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Mining for Merit Badges: OSMRE at the BSA Jamboree 2023

Authored By
Emily Isaac

As 15,000 scouts from around the country gathered for the 2023 National Scout Jamboree, many were unaware they were standing on former coal mines.

Roughly every four years, the Boy Scouts of America brings together thousands of scouts, along with dozens of independent organizations, to celebrate scouting and offer recreational and educational opportunities to attendees. The first National Scout Jamboree was held in 1937 in Washington, D.C., and moved to its permanent home at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Fayette County, West Virginia in 2013.

Nestled in the heart of West Virginia’s coal country, the Summit Bechtel Reserve sits on 10,600 acres of land that used to be a patchwork of surface and underground mines. After purchasing the land, the Boy Scouts of America undertook a comprehensive reclamation project in partnership with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. Areas of the site previously cleared by legacy surface mining were converted into large open areas for base camps, large step-like cuts called “benches” were turned into access roads, and reforestation efforts returned lush greenery to the previously barren land. In addition to the jamboree’s home, it now serves as a high adventure camp and training facility, boasting attractions such as the longest combined zip line course in the world.

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For 10 days this July, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) joined the Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration’s Minerals Education Coalition in running an educational booth centered around the Mining in Society merit badge. Merit badges can normally take weeks to finish, but the jamboree presents the opportunity for scouts to complete them more quickly by providing access to experts and resources, all in one place. The Mining in Society merit badge booth centered on the theme “Journey to the Middle of your Mobile,” highlighting the many ways in which mining touches our day-to-day technological lives, like through our mobile devices. The booth was comprised of various tables covering the process of mining minerals, sustainability and safety, and careers in mining.

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“The fact that OSMRE has been able to come in and talk specifically about the mining history of the summit has really added a strong element to our booth this year,” says Charlie Zimmerman, chair of the Minerals Education Coalition’s Scouting Subcommittee, the organization which put together the booth for the event.

Tables managed by OSMRE focused on mining history at the Bechtel site and the following reclamation process. OSMRE staff used a variety of maps, courtesy of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the National Mine Map Repository, to show the scouts how much the ground they stand on has changed over time. The back wall of the tent displayed a type of metal grate which is often fixed to the entrance of old mine openings to allow smaller animals like bats to make a home inside, while keeping out large animals and humans. “I think it's really cool that thousands of kids now get to come and explore the great outdoors at a site that wasn't accessible or useful to anybody for a good 50 years,” says Stefanie Self, a mining engineer with OSMRE’s Pittsburgh office. “I really like the fact that we get to highlight how much progress we've made here over the last 20 years."

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Self and the other OSMRE staff were encouraged by the scouts’ level of engagement and interest. “I hope the scouts come away understanding not only that mining is necessary, but that it doesn't have to be a permanent use of the land. It doesn't have to be destructive. We can fix it afterwards and give the land new purpose,” Self says.

In addition to the jamboree, OSMRE participates in outreach and youth engagement activities across the country, teaching young people about mining and careers in the environmental field. Staff from the Pittsburgh office have participated in science fairs and occasionally visit nearby schools to give earth science demos, connecting the work that OSMRE does to topics students are learning in school. Chelsea Solotky, an archives specialist with OSMRE’s National Mine Map Repository, emphasized how important it is for OSMRE to share information and expertise with the younger generations. “As a young person, geology wasn't even on my radar, so I would have loved to attend events like the jamboree and learn about the careers that are out there.”

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