Trail Life USA, a new alternative to the Boy Scouts of America, is starting to take off in Texas and across the nation.
The question is whether Trail Life will become a viable alternative to the venerable Boy Scouts, a 103-year-old organization with $1 billion in assets and 2.6 million members.
Trail Life was born last summer after BSA’s leaders voted to allow openly gay boys to participate in Scouting, a reversal of a long-standing policy. Many conservative Christians objected, saying the historic vote represented a rejection of biblical teachings on sexuality. Some within Scouting voted with their feet, leaving to create Trail Life USA.
In many ways, Trail Life is modeled on the Boy Scouts. The two groups part ways, though, on the question of admitting openly gay members. Trail Life bans gay members — the same ban that the BSA lifted last year.
“Trail Life is very much what families want,” said Rob Green, a former BSA executive who is CEO of the new group.
“They just don’t know it yet.”
Green worked for the Boy Scouts for 20 years and was the top Scouting executive in Greenville, S.C., when he resigned last summer to help organize Trail Life.
He declined to say how many boys have committed to the new organization.
“Success is not numbers,” Green said. “We want to be the premier youth group, period. The big concern is whether we deliver the program we say we are.”
If they’re worried about Trail Life, BSA executives aren’t showing it. Like a political candidate sitting on a huge lead, the Irving-based organization has shown no interest in engaging in a public debate with its upstart challenger.
“We believe it’s inappropriate for us to discuss any other organization,” said Deron Smith, a BSA spokesman. “We are pleased that the overwhelming majority of our members, families and chartered organizations remain committed to the Boy Scouts of America.”
Smith declined to respond to questions about how many adult Scout leaders might bolt for Trail Life.
The most prominent defector so far is Richard Mathews, who was BSA’s general counsel for a decade. Mathews, an Eagle Scout, is now acting general counsel for Trail Life.
At BSA, he helped develop language to address how the new membership policy should be applied should questions arise within a troop about an openly gay Scout.
“That process was not finalized before I left BSA,” Mathews said. “I think others want to know the new rules, too.”
He estimates that the Boy Scouts will lose 10 to 20 percent of their 2.6 million members.
But it won’t happen overnight, he said.
Trail Life will take off, he predicted, once disaffected Scouting families learn more and “see a little experience” with the new organization.
Another key element in the Trail Life playbook is the contention that BSA’s vote allowing gay members was only a first step toward liberalizing Scouting. Next, they say, could be an end to Scouting’s prohibition against openly gay adult leaders.
“The big elephant in the room is that national [BSA headquarters] is going to change the leadership policy,” said Green, the Trail Life CEO.
In its structure, Trail Life isn’t reinventing the wheel. It patterns itself after the Boy Scouts with uniforms, awards for completing projects, military-style ranks, and an outdoor orientation.
While Trail Life’s program is openly Christian, leaders insist that members of other faith groups are welcome. But boys who openly admit being gay cannot join.
“This is not a hater deal,” said Scott Scarborough, a landscape architect and Trail Life leader in Lubbock. “We want to return to timeless values.”
Scarborough, a former BSA assistant scoutmaster, is responsible for organizing new Trail Life troops in the Texas Panhandle. As of last week, he said, six troops were ready to come online in his area.
“I’ve got 20 men where who are BSA-trained heavy hitters,” he said. “My email is getting busier each day with parents getting ready to come over to us.”
Ron Orr, a Fort Worth-based business consultant, is southwest regional director for Trail Life, representing Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. He and his son — both are Eagle Scouts — are leaving BSA for a fledgling Trail Life troop chartered through the Northeast Tarrant County Association of Christian Home Schoolers.
Trail Life has developed 25 “pre-chartered troops” in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Orr said, with commitments for an additional 30 troops elsewhere in Texas. Leaders are in place in all major metropolitan areas, he said.
“I don’t know if we will grow 10 percent, 20 percent or 50 percent next year,” Orr said. “But we will grow.”
More than 70 percent of BSA troops and Cub Scout packs are chartered through churches, which consider Scouting a part of their ministry.
Perhaps to blunt conservative criticisms stemming from the change of policy on gay members, BSA is focusing renewed attention on its longstanding declarations of allegiance to God. Avowed atheists can be kicked out of the Boy Scouts. A national committee is exploring ways to place more emphasis on “duty to God” as a basic tenet.
“There will be a raised awareness of duty to God as a core principle that is non-negotiable,” said Chip Turner, national chairman of BSA’s office for religious relationships. “A Scout must have some grasp of what ‘duty to God’ means.”
Turner, who lives in Fort Worth, is an Eagle Scout who’s been an adult volunteer in Scouting since the late 1960s. In those years, he said, no rival organization has mounted a credible challenge to BSA in the area of youth development.
“I don’t expect some atom bomb to go off for either group,” he said, referring to the Boy Scouts and Trail Life. “There is a lot of ‘wait-and-see’ going on.”
Nashville, TN – September 6, 2013 – More than 1,200 former Scoutmasters, Eagle Scouts, parents, church leaders and former Boy Scout of America (BSA) professionals gathered tonight for the first inaugural Leadership Convention of a youth character development organization in Nashville. The convention’s theme was “Honoring the Legacy … Raising the Standard.” Forty-four (44) states were represented, including Alaska and Hawaii.
The name and visual branding for “Trail Life USA” were unveiled publicly for the first time to great applause and excitement by those gathered to launch a Christian alternative to the Boy Scouts of America. Trail Life USA will be an outdoor scouting-like program designed for boys ages 5-17 which will focus on adventure, character and leadership.
The new group will have a strong inclusion policy for youth; all boys are welcome to the program regardless of religion, race, national origin or socio-economic status. However, adult leaders in the program will be Christian and must sign a statement of faith and submit to background checks. Both boys and adults will be required to adhere to a code of conduct. The full membership policy can be read online at www.TrailLifeUSA.com.
The Trail Life USA leadership team includes some highly decorated former BSA members and former professional BSA executives. Among these are:
Rob Green Trail Life USA’s Interim Executive Director; served as a professional BSA executive for 20 years in Florida and South Carolina before resigning after the BSA’s membership change in May 2013.
Attorney Richard Mathews Consultant and legal counsel for Trail Life USA. Richard worked for the BSA professionally as their in-house legal counsel for eleven years, culminating as the BSA’s General Counsel for the last three years.
John Burkitt Considered by many to be one of the greatest Boy Scout historians alive today having compared, studied and analyzed every Boy Scout, Cub Scout and Scoutmaster handbook ever published from the original Baden Powell’s “Scouting for Boys” to the present. John has served as the primary editor and author of the first edition of the Adventuring handbook that will be used in the Trail Life USA program.
Eagle Scout and former Scoutmaster, John Stemberger, Chairman of the Board for Trail Life USA, said “Our vision will be to become the premier national character development organization for young men which produces godly and responsible husbands, fathers, and citizens. Parents are going love the new outdoor adventure program and we are very excited to be part of this next chapter in the history of scouting in America.”
On Saturday special guest speakers include former Governor and Fox News Commentator Mike Huckabee and Michael Farris, Chancellor of Patrick Henry College.
More than 30,000 former scoutmasters, Eagle Scouts, parents, and church leaders have contacted the organization about the new program. Chartering new troops will occur in late September 2013 and the program will officially launch on January 1, 2014. For more information churches, parents and former BSA members can visit the web site at www.TrailLifeUSA.com or contact Info@TrailLifeUSA.com.
Trail Life USA (www.TrailLifeUSA.com) is a Christian adventure, character, and leadership movement for young men. The K-12 program centers on outdoor experiences that build a young man’s skills and allow him to grow on a personal level and as a role model and leader for his peers.
– See more at: http://www.traillifeusa.com/2013/09/06/introducing-trail-life-usa/#sthash.xAURtQey.dpuf