A beloved local river is splitting Virginians. But it’s the Boy Scouts who are causing the real divide

Virginians are feuding with Washington DC Boy Scouts over a beloved local river (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Virginians are feuding with Washington DC Boy Scouts over a beloved local river (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

A Boy Scout group from Washington DC is under fire for silting up a scenic Appalachian river beloved by generations of Virginians.

The Maury River, which runs for 43 miles through the mountains north of Roanoke, Virginia, had one of its tributaries dammed in 1966 to create a lakeside campground for visiting Scout troupes from across the DC metro area.

But locals now accuse the Scouts of choking the river and its wildlife by regularly draining the lake in order to maintain the dam, according to The Washington Post.

"We have to do something. We can’t let it go unaddressed, unchallenged," George Kosovic of the Maury River Alliance told the Post.

The Independent has asked the Scouts for comment.

At the centre of the dispute is the Goshen Scout Reservation, owned since 1960 by the Boy Scouts' National Capital Area Council (NCAC), which every summer draws scouting troupes from across the DC Metro Area to camp beside the placid 444-acre Lake Merriweather.

"The lake... is the central feature, both for program delivery and for the landscape. It’s the space between the campsites, which makes it feel more personal," said Matthew Keck of the NCAC.

Lake Merriweather was created by damming the Little Calfpasture, one of two smaller rivers which unite to form the Maury. To maintain it, the NCAC drains the lake every autumn and dredges out all the debris caught by the dam, which releases sediment into the Little Calfpasture and thus the Maury.

For years, the area was under a monitoring regime by state environmental regulators due to a large number of fish deaths following a test of the dam's emergency floodgate in 1992. Although that monitoring expired in 2014, residents told the Post that the problems had continued.

A scientific study last May found that the Little Calfpasture was too silty for healthy aquatic life, making it among the worst waterways in the state.

"The dam is ruining the greatest natural resource in Rockbridge County," said one letter to the Lexington newspaper The News-Gazette last August.

"The state is full of lush lakes for the purposes that Lake Merriweather is used. The Maury is a mighty river that is being held back and spoiled for generations to come and only done so to benefit one group of summer visitors."

For its part, the NCAC said the dam maintenance is necessary to prevent the dam from failing and flooding the area downstream, with potentially disastrous results.

"We’re at the phase where we’re trying to understand: would larger scale dredging help us to manage the silt and sediment that’s in the lake over time?" said Mr Keck, who regularly visited the Goshen reserve as a child.

"We’re looking to model what it is we teach young people, right? 'A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.' We don’t just say those words to open a meeting, we live by them. We are always trying to be good Scouts."