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Published June 01 2010

Boy Scouts to camp out at Capitol

The North Dakota Capitol lawn will host its first sleepover ever – and it’s not starting out small. We’re talking an overnight stay for 3,000, two years in the making.

In Bismarck this weekend, Boy Scouts from four states will mark the movement’s centennial in keeping with its spirit: camaraderie, exploration and a flurry of service projects, including a massive push to spruce up the lawn in question.

The festivities will also highlight a relatively little-known North Dakota connection in the birth of the Boy Scout movement, whose founder had strong ties to the state.

“This is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime event for our Boy Scouts,” said Brad Olson, program director for the group’s Northern Lights Council, which serves North Dakota and parts of Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana. “We’ve never had anything of that magnitude.”

Years ago, Scouts asked state officials if they could camp on the Capitol lawn, but the state balked at the prospect. This time, the Scouting group lined up high-profile help to appeal to the Capitol Grounds Committee: Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, Public Service Commissioner Tony Clark and state Supreme Court Justice Dale Sandstrom, all one-time Boy Scouts.

As persuasive ammunition, Sandstrom used a key North Dakota-Boy Scouts, connection: William D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America, worked as a reporter in Fargo and started a weekly newspaper in Lisbon, N.D., in the 1880s. An avid outdoorsman, he returned to the Lisbon area throughout his life to hunt.

“It’s a significant North Dakota tie to one of the major youth movements in America that many people don’t seem to be aware of,” Sandstrom said.

This time, the Grounds Committee gave its OK.

Organizers plan to make the most of the uncommon camp location. Participants will meet Gov. John Hoeven and other elected officials. They will vote on a mock texting-while-driving bill in the legislative chambers, and they will weigh in on a mock Supreme Court case about a school search.

As is their wont, the Scouts will engage in some good deeds. They’ll clean and plant 100 trees on the Capitol grounds. There will be a nonperishable food collection and blood drives.

The event will draw on serious manpower: 3,000 Scouts, leaders and parents have signed up so far. The Red Cross will help serve food as a training exercise.

“The logistics are absolutely phenomenal,” said Tim Tello, chairman of the centennial celebration.

But there will be time for sheer fun, too, from an egg drop to Guitar Hero competitions to a laser show to a pinewood derby track organizers say is the world’s longest at 302 feet.

William T. Boyce will figure in the festivities, too. Fargo’s Steve Stark will impersonate Boyce and Teddy Roosevelt, another famed Scouts supporter with North Dakota ties.

Says Tello about the event, “It was a lot of work, but it will be fun to see it happen.”

If you go