Winterfest features all things Boy Scout

Feb. 12, 2013 @ 12:18 AM

Around 3,000 people from about 15 states gathered at the Gatlinburg Convention Center this weekend for the 39th annual Boy Scouts of America (BSA) Winterfest.

The event, sponsored by the BSA Northeast Georgia Council, is the largest Venturing and Exploring event in the nation, and third largest annual scouting event in the nation, said Susie Ryan, development director for the Northeast Georgia Council.

"It takes a lot of coordination, and probably close to 300 volunteers to staff this event," Ryan said.

Venturing is a coed program of BSA that allows members from ages 14-21 to prepare for responsible adulthood through activities and programs centered on a specific focus, like the outdoors or religious life.

Exploring is a coed teen program in the Learning for Life subsidiary of BSA. It places teenagers in clubs called posts, which teach the teens about possible careers, like law enforcement or firefighting, while building friendships through activities.

During Winterfest, Venturing and Exploring posts gather in Gatlinburg for some friendly competition. Most of the action takes place on Saturday, with registration, briefing and opening programs Friday, and skiing from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

There are a total of 62 competitions and events, including firefighting events, law enforcement events, sporting events, shooting events, among many others.

Members of firefighting posts could be seen stuffing dummies through large pipes during a timed obstacle course. Others were seen swinging from ropes during rappelling competitions.

"The events, a lot of it coincides with their own professional training," Scout executive Trip Selman said. "So like fire academy, police academy, their events coincide with their professional training."

There was also a talent show and recognition portion for those who won the competitions, as well as a dance from 8:30 p.m. to midnight in the convention center ballroom Saturday.

BSA has been in a hot topic in the media recently, relating to the possibility that the organization might repeal its policy that prohibits gays from participating. Selman said all the attention has not affected Winterfest in any significant way.

"People ask," Selman said. "Any time scouting's in the news nationally, people will ask. But at this point, northing's been decided so most everybody just sort of asks if we'll know. But it hasn't been an issue."

rhargett@themountainpress.com