Boy Camp Causing Issues With Local River

A Boy Scouts camp is facing the ire of a community of Virginians upset over the flooding of a scenic river with sediment. This sediment has turned the river a cloudy brown, driving away anglers, kayakers, and swimmers, as reported by two locals to Fox News Digital.

The National Capital Area Council of the Boy Scouts annually drains Lake Merriweather every fall, causing sediment to flow into the Maury River in west-central Virginia. This area is a popular attraction for hikers, kayakers, fishers, and swimmers, particularly during the summer. However, frustrations boiled over last August when the Scouts drained the lake early during peak season in preparation for a dredging project, locals said.

"We're heartbroken that the river turned dirty during the summer when people spend their time on the river banks," said John Pancake, who has spent every summer on the Maury and has lived along it for 12 years. "It's a thing that people love here, and so having it kind of wrecked was a really sad thing for people here."

Lake Merriweather must be occasionally drained to maintain its dam and prevent a flood that could destroy thousands of properties downstream, explained Matthew Keck, the Boy Scouts council's director of support services, to The Washington Post. This process releases collected sediment into the Maury River, degrading its water quality.

Less than a mile downstream from Lake Merriweather, the Little Calfpasture and Calfpasture rivers merge to form the iconic Maury, which the Virginia General Assembly designated a "state scenic river" in 2020. The Maury flows 43 miles through Rockbridge County, where many of Pancake's family members have lived since the 1700s.

Pancake noted that the lake draining has been ongoing for years, but the situation became untenable when Goshen Pass, a popular part of the Maury outside his house, turned brown during the summer. This sediment drove away locals and tourists who enjoyed the river during the busy season, he said.

"People were really upset," Pancake shared. "It was just a field of clean rocks, and now there's soil that's built up in the rocks and vegetation."

The National Capital Area Council of the Scouts had drained the lake in preparation for a dredging project through a federal grant, which ultimately failed to materialize, Keck said. This led to exposed mud flats for weeks, sending sediment into the Maury.

Pancake is part of the Maury River Alliance, a local advocacy group that formed last summer in response to sediment concerns. By April, at least 150 people attended a meeting with the group at a fire station, The Washington Post reported.

"I've been on this river for all my life, more than 70 years, and the sediment has changed the river," Pancake said. "The sediment can smother the little critters that are at the bottom of the feed chain and kind of smother the life out of the river."

The increased sediment downstream has been a concern since the 1990s. Between May 2022 and 2023, sediment from Lake Merriweather exceeded levels necessary to maintain healthy aquatic life, according to a James Madison University study published last year. The study found that sediment loads in the Maury were six times higher in the winter compared to the summer due to the lake drainings.

Linda Larsen, who has rented property along the Maury for over 30 years, also expressed her dismay to Fox News Digital. "There just aren't the variety of fish that there had been there. There aren't the variety of birds that there had been," she said.

Larsen, another member of the Maury River Alliance, said wildlife is being "choked out" of their homes by the sediment. "There is now this blanket of sediment that is covering the riverbed," she explained. "So, all of these animals, these very small little insects and animals that are necessary for the life and eco-cycle of the river, are being killed."

In 1992, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality stated that sediment from the Scouts' dam management caused a fish kill in the Little Calfpasture. The state required changes to the council's management practices, but those sanctions were lifted in 2014 when the river showed signs of improvement.

Larsen blamed the National Capital Area Council of the Scouts for the river's decline. "It has nothing to do with the children. It has nothing to do with the national organization," she said. "It has to do only with the council that owns the property that is allowing this pollution to continue to occur on the Maury River."

"The owners and operators of the camp have not treated the river as they should," Larsen continued. "I think they could do a better job of protecting the river, and I hope that they will start doing that, because I feel that that is very much in the philosophy of their organization."

Larsen warned that without collaborative efforts to protect the river and its habitat, it would continue "slowly dying." She criticized the current practice of raising and lowering the lake levels, which dumps sediment into the Maury and impairs the river's health.

Both Pancake and Larsen called on the Boy Scouts to take action to protect the iconic river and work with residents to find a solution. They mentioned that discussions have already begun about improving water quality.

"The people that could really make a change are the administrators of the Boy Scouts of the D.C.-based Boy Scout Council," Pancake said. "They could change their management practices on the lake, and it would make a big difference."

"People here would like the Boy Scouts to be good neighbors and to keep the river clean," he added. "It's a beautiful river. It's part of the reason that their property is so beautiful."

The National Capital Area Council of the Scouts did not respond to a request for comment.

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