Three former Cub Scout/Boy Scout leaders in Albia are launching an alternative to Boy Scouting called Trail Life USA. An open house is set for Thursday, Feb. 7, 7 p.m. at Trinity United Methodist Fellowship Hall to introduce parents and boys to the new organization for boys kindergarten through 18 years of age.
Travis Kaster, Adam Mick and Brandon Gee, who have been part of the Boy Scouting movement for years and were Cub Scout leaders up until a year ago, are organizing the new program.
Trail Life USA began in 2013 following the Boy Scouts of America in a national meeting voting to go against a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing them to set their own standards, and instead allowing for openly homosexual Scouts in 2013 and leaders in 2015. Since that vote in 2013, close to a million leaders and Scouts along with numerous sponsoring churches, including the Mormon Church, have left the 108-year-old organization.
The Wall Street Journal reported in December that BSA is contemplating Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
OnMyHonor.net was a group formed to oppose the proposed membership policy change in March 2013 and consisted of parents, Scoutmasters, Eagle Scouts and other Scouting leaders. The latest vote in 2018 by the national BSA leadership was to allow girls to participate in Boy Scouts and changing its name to “Scouting USA,” which drew the wrath of Girls Scouts of America and a lawsuit.
The Albia trio of former Scout leaders aren’t looking to slam Boys Scouts of America. Each has fond memories of the organization, but they are all convinced Trail Life USA is a better fit for their own personal beliefs and the direction they want to take their sons and boys in the community.
“Let Boys Be Boys” is one of the statements of purpose for Trail Life USA. “We believe that both boys and girls need programs that are designed for their unique and valuable strengths and traits. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ gender-blurring cultural trend that favors ‘sit still, be quiet, pay attention’ environments is hurting boys. Their rough-and-tumble nature doesn’t fit there. The result is that boys are falling behind academically and being labeled with social and learning disorders for behaving normally. Trail Life USA understands the needs of boys and strives to provide an environment where they can fully be boys so that they can develop into winning and confident men,” a statement from Trail Life reads.
Another marked difference from BSA is that Trail Life USA is unabashedly Christian in its statement of values. The Trail Life motto is “Walk Worthy,” which comes from Col 1:10 that says “Walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing him.”
And the Trail Life Oath is “On my honor, I will do my best to serve God and my country, to respect authority, to be a good steward of creation, and to treat others as I want to be treated.”
Christ-centered and boy-focused is how the program is developed. “From what we’ve learned, no boy is turned away because of their faith, but their parents have to adhere to the Christian principles stated by Trail Life,” said Kaster. Kaster said Jewish parents and even atheistic parents have agreed to the statements of faith to have their boys participate.
Each Trail Life troop is chartered through a church that is expected to be an active part of the life of the troop. Both Kaster and Gee are members of Trinity United Methodist Church. Mick (who grew up at Trinity) and his family are members at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. “It’s not a denominational thing at all,” said Gee. “In fact, we’ve reached out to other churches in Albia to join our effort.”
Trinity is also the charter organization for Boy Scout Troop 76, which is currently not operating, and Cub Scout Troop 76. Those two commitments aren’t in any sort of collision course.
The founders of Trail Life USA all come from the BSA tradition and have returned to many of the original core values of Boy Scouts. The program is outdoor focused (camping and outdoor skills), is adventure oriented and working toward leadership and character development. It also stresses male-centered adult leadership, although women are invited to participate in the Woodland Trail program for boys 5-10 years of age.
Membership requirements are relatively simple. You have to be a boy biologically.
Safety and courage are also parts of the core values of Trail Life USA.
One of the differences between Trail Life and BSA is in its decentralized decision-making process. Beyond remaining faithful to the group’s statement of faith, statement of values and membership standards, decisions of the direction of each troop are left in the hands of the charter church and its local leadership. Over the past few years, for instance, BSA has handed down rules against doing such things as playing with water pistols, playing laser tag and shooting b-b guns. Those types of decisions, along with offering camping and outdoor skills development opportunities will be made on a troop by troop basis.
The program is also character focused, as opposed to awards focused. Instead of ranks and badges earned in the shortest amount of time, Trail Life will focus on long-term character building. There is, however, a ranking and awards structure with the Freedom Award comparable to the BSA Eagle Scout Award.
Trail Life USA does not own property and they don’t have retail outlets for uniforms and equipment. The caps, t-shirts, polo shirts and official uniforms (which all look alike for all ages) can be ordered on-line. Camping and outdoor adventure opportunities are done at county, state and national parks and on private and public ponds and lakes.
There are official salutes and handshakes and many of the traditions long cherished by boys.
One other part of the organization structure that harkens back to the old one room school model is that all ages of troop members meet together with older members mentoring younger members before breaking out into age appropriate groups, Woodland Trail (K-5), Navigators (6th-8th), Adventurers (9th-12th) and Guidon, a group of 18 to 25 year olds who provide positive peer support.
The cost to join the troop is $26. First Iowa State Bank in Albia helped get the troop chartered and other donors have stepped up to help the fledgling group. The Albia troop number is IA 6:10, which in reference to Ephesians 6:10, describing the armor of God.
For more information or to make donations to the group, call Travis Kaster, 641-777-0559.