Trail Life USA Celebrates 10 Years of Picking Up Where BSA Left Off

(AP Photo/LM Otero)

Ten years ago, as the iconic youth organization Boy Scouts of America (BSA) kicked its self-immolation into high gear, a group of prescient leaders joined together to contemplate forming an alternative program for boys. Or perhaps a better way of phrasing it is that these leaders wanted to preserve what BSA had always been, as the original group abandoned its principles to morph into an alternative organization. At any rate, the result was the creation of Trail Life USA.

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In May of 2013, BSA voted to drop its membership restriction against openly gay Scouts. Four months later, in September 2013, the first ever Trail Life USA convention was held in Nashville, Tenn., and the group has enjoyed steady growth ever since.

It looks like those early organizers made the right move: BSA has since completely diverged from its traditionalist roots. Openly gay leaders were okayed in 2015. At the beginning of 2017, the organization opened its tent flaps to “transgender boys.” (On a personal note, that was the point at which I quit any involvement in the organization, even though our local chapter was solid. I have a personal policy against giving time or treasure to woke organizations.) By the fall of the same year, the last great boys-only youth program announced girls would soon be allowed to join. In February 2019, girls were officially admitted, and the name Boy Scouts of America was jettisoned in favor of the more inclusive Scouts BSA.

Its moral collapse in full swing, Scouts predictably introduced a new “Citizenship in Society” merit badge in 2021, and took the extra step of making it a requirement for attaining the rank of Eagle Scout. “The new merit badge encourages Scouts to explore important topics around diversity, equity, inclusion and ethical leadership,” proclaimed Boys Scouts of America/Scouts BSA/Scouting-dot-org. Thus fell the curtain on a once-great program that had lasted over a century.

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But thanks to the foresight and organizational work of Trail Life USA’s founders, the old-school, all-American scouting experience lives on. And this year the plucky upstart is celebrating its 10th Anniversary.

Let’s pause here to briefly discuss the history of gay people in Scouting. Homosexuals, both non-practicing and gay, have always been a part of Scouting. The point was that open discussion — yea, promotion — of sexuality was not. (I am unable to find it now, but I remember seeing a quote when BSA won the Supreme Court case Boy Scouts of America vs. Dale. Someone in James Dale’s former council said, “It wasn’t that he was gay: no one cared about that. It was just that he was so annoying about it.”) Traditionally, the organization served children within an atmosphere of traditional Judeo-Christian American culture.

And let’s have a quick word about girls in Boy Scouts. Again, females have always been part of Scouting; Scouts have sisters and mothers, after all. I left Brownies when I realized it was much more fun to tag along at the Scouting events my brothers attended — and I was welcomed to do so. But the true value of the organization lay in its boys-only membership. Boys were provided a true safe space in which to be boys, free of the self-censorship and mood disruption that comes with the presence of the opposite sex. Once Scouting failed to respect that and let girls in, we soon saw disgraceful organizational failures to uphold Scouting values, such as condom availability at the 2019 World Jamboree in West Virginia. Because nothing says “clean” and “morally straight” like facilitating premarital sex among teens!

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Related: Attendance Drops Off at First National Jamboree of New, Inclusive Boy Scouts

Once sexual attraction and its attendant complications, such as jealousy, unequal treatment of peers, and petty revenge are introduced, personal development is compromised and unit cohesion suffers. This is why females and gays were once banned from the troop-level activities of BSA — and the military, for that matter.

So in June of 2013, led by Eagle Scout and attorney John Stemberger and others, “fifty Christian Leaders from significant national organizations gathered for a historic meeting in Louisville, KY, to contemplate forming an organization that would guide generations of courageous young men to honor God, lead with integrity, serve others, and experience outdoor adventure,” recounts the Trail Life website.

“Now, 10 years later, [Trail Life USA] is the largest boy-focused, Christ-centered scouting organization in the country,” announced the organization in a press release on Thursday. “Last May, Trail Life announced it had officially chartered its 1,000th local chapter with more than 50,000 members in all 50 states.”

“While the Boy Scouts abandon their traditional boy-centered roots, we are dedicated to providing boys and their families a space that is geared towards boys,” Trail Life CEO Mark Hancock said in a press release. “It may make financial sense for [BSA] to allow girls to join the ranks, but how is this beneficial for boys in a time when so many statistics point to boys losing ground?”

“This is why Trail Life is so unique — we are providing an uncompromising boy-focused program designed to let boys be boys, accentuating their strengths and allowing them to feel understood and appreciated. Trail Life USA aims to restore the wonder and winning elements of boyhood so boys can have a sure and secure future through our Proven Process,” Hancock continued.

“We guide them with vetted male mentors. We ground them in biblical truths. We appreciate their strengths. And we inspire them with outdoor adventure, character, and leadership challenges,” he added.

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As a woman who loves boys and men, I am grateful to Trail Life for ministering to them with its program. It’s good to know there is still a place where boys and men can get away from the women, and where the timeless, priceless value of bonds between fathers and sons, boys and boys, and men and men is honored and facilitated. And I am also reassured that there is yet a repository of righteous, manly men in our country to pull us out of the dark times we’re facing.

Meanwhile, Boy Scouts-Scouts BSA-Scouting-dot-org isn’t dead, and it’s done a lot to recoup the membership lost during the recent shutdown nonsense. But our overall culture has changed such that Scouting is no longer in great demand. Scouting’s membership has been in decline since its peak of over 4 million Scouts and volunteers nationwide in 1973, now hovering just north of a million.

So, no, Scouting isn’t dead. But it’s also not the Boy Scouts anymore. Trail Life USA took up that mantle before it could fall to the ground and be soiled.

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