Heart of America Council Begins Greening Its Campsites

“We shall never achieve harmony with the land, any more than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve but to strive.”

Thus wrote Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), the father of the land ethic, which describes an ethical, caring relationship between people and nature.

Leopold’s contention that we are always on a journey toward better, more enlightened land use is certainly reflected in Scouting’s relationship with the land. What was once a resource to be used is now a resource to be treasured. Practices that were once common—like cutting live trees for lean-to shelters—are now unheard of in the program. Especially since Scouting’s embrace of Leave No Trace in the 1990s, traveling lightly on the land has become second nature to Scouts.

At times, however, there’s still a dichotomy between backcountry and frontcountry behavior. Scouts who would never cut switchbacks at Philmont Scout Ranch unthinkingly take the shortest route between their summer-camp campsites and the dining hall. Or councils that invest in Leave No Trace training allow their camp facilities to become as beaten down as the sites of weeklong music festivals.

That’s not the case in the Heart of America Council.

In 2016, the Kansas City council developed an extensive water quality protection plan for H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation, a historic, 3,800-acre facility near Osceola, Kansas. Its goal: to protect the Briley and Blaylock Creek Watershed in the Truman Lake Basin.

A big part of the plan was to improve some of the 35 campsites spread across the sprawling reservation, along with the miles of trails that connect those campsites and program areas. Working with a team of experts in construction, planning, and conservation, the council developed a concept for creating sustainable, “green pod” campsites that use grading, terracing, the planting of native grasses, and other techniques to reduce erosion. The HDR Foundation, which specializes in engineering, architecture, environmental, and construction services, provided an $80,000 grant, and Boy Scout Troop 428 kicked in an additional $10,000.

Two campsites have been rebuilt so far. The sites were regraded, and terraces planted with native grasses were added to slow and redirect runoff. Permeable geo-textile was placed on and in front of planned tent pad locations and covered with gravel to strengthen these heavily trafficked areas. And to redirect foot traffic to established trails, split-rail fencing and stacked rocks were added in strategic locations. As a result, the sites are better able to withstand heavy year-round usage.

Perhaps best of all, Scouts who use the facility are learning what it means to tread lightly on the earth. And that brings us to another quote from Aldo Leopold: “The hope of the future lies not in curbing the influence of human occupancy—it is already too late for that—but in creating a better understanding of the extent of that influence and a new ethic for its governance.”