Open Letter to the Boy Scouts of America

I was recently motivated to reach out to the local Council of the Boy Scouts of America about all the things I have seen scouts doing in recent history. I tried to keep my email as objective and PC as possible. I have strongly opposed the BSA on one particular social issue in the past, but I can’t oppose them entirely because they do succeed at getting kids outside. This is the message I sent. Am I too far off base or out of line?

To Whom It May Concern:

Recent Instagram posts from friends on the Appalachian Trail have inspired me to write this. The BSA is supposed to be teaching our young men to be safe and respectful while enjoying the outdoors, but fellow hikers often encounter a far different reality. Trail shelters, privies, trees, and rocks are covered with Boy Scout graffiti, much of which even includes Troop numbers (see attached photos). This graffiti, though, is almost minor compared to other offenses that I have witnessed. 

Scouts (and Scoutmasters) cutting trees for firewood, burning their garbage in campfires, and hiking in oversized groups all go against the principles of Leave No Trace. Teaching such bad habits to Scouts perpetuates these high-impact activities, and can lead to the destruction of the Public Lands and Wilderness Areas that we love. I have witnessed Boy Scouts doing all of these things in the Hawk Mountain and Pinnacle areas on the AT.

Less locally, I have witnessed Scoutmasters leading troops through genuinely unsafe conditions. Last summer, I passed a troop on the Presidential Ridge in New Hampshire’s White Mountains (widely know as one of the most dangerous hiking areas in the Northeast). The winds were blowing at over 60MPH, gusting over 80MPH, raining, and zero visibility. If I was leading a group of young, inexperienced teenagers, I would have taken the first trail down off the ridge. Instead, these scouts pressed on through the worst of the storm. A boy could have easily gotten lost and suffered from hypothermia.

I’m not sure if these are systematic flaws in the “Boy Scout Method”, or if it’s simply that your Scoutmasters are undereducated, but such actions detract from the credibility of the BSA as an organization, negatively impact our public lands, put Scouts in danger, and, in some cases, ruin the outdoors experiences of other people.

I am more than willing to speak to troops or Scoutmasters to help remedy any issues that my local Troops may be having. I have volunteered my time once before by giving a gear talk to Troop 160 in Leesport. [Their Scoutmaster] can speak to my experience. 

The problem of Boy Scout misconduct on this country’s trails is certainly not limited to your Council, but contact information for the BSA’s national leadership was not easily found online. As the Council in my area, I thought you would be the best ones to receive this message. I would appreciate if you could forward my concerns to someone on the national level of the BSA.


   Thank you for your time,

Dan Bortz


8 thoughts on “Open Letter to the Boy Scouts of America

  1. BeeKeeper says:

    Well said and plenty PC!

  2. James Bush says:

    This is an excellent letter and I echo these sentiments completely. Having the benefit of personally witnessing the second example in the Presidentials, I couldn’t agree more.

    • dcbortz says:

      That’s right! You guys were in the thick of it, too! I specifically remember having a discussion with my hiking partner about how we hoped those scouts were smart enough to turn back. Lo and behold, we came across them a few miles later. We couldn’t believe it.

  3. JERMM says:

    Dan- I hope you post the response from the BSA. I too have witnessed oversized groups, chopping standing trees, camping on top of vegetation and setting up tents under hanging food bags…I could go on.

  4. Liz Fallin says:

    I have been a Scout and Venturing leader for several years (Venturing is the co-ed arm of the BSA, for older teens, which usually focuses on high adventure, such as backpacking). I have seen this sort of thing as well, but in my experience in Washington it’s been fewer and farther between. There are those of us who teach LNT as a part of every outing, and many times it’s the youth who take over that task.

    I have also participated in two treks at Philmont Scout Ranch in the Sangre de Cristos of northern New Mexico. Each trek is eleven days of backpacking. In base camp, plus the first three days on the trail, the crew is accompanied by a ranger, who performs a shakedown of gear and clothing, and checks skills such as LNT, stove use, navigation, and bear protocols. In all of my days backpacking at Philmont, I don’t recall seeing trash, camping on fragile surfaces, graffiti, cutting switchbacks, or other LNT violations.

    Now I know that there are scads of other Scout troops and Venturing crews who are out in the field. But Philmont is teaching solid LNT skills to over 22,000 youth and adults every summer. We can’t reach 100% of the Scouting organizations, but we are reaching a good number. So perhaps there’s a bit of hope.

    • dcbortz says:

      I’m sure that there is plenty of good teaching going on. Hopefully, some of it takes hold. I just think that many of the people teaching these things on the local Troop level (lots of parents who may not have much actual field experience) may not be completely pulling their weight. It’s great that learning goes on at Philmont, but, if those lessons aren’t reinforced at home, they will be quickly forgotten.

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