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