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Boy Scout Camporee focuses on coal; SKCTC-staffed resources beneficial to youth

Boy Scouts from across the area recently became the first in Kentucky to successfully complete requirements for the new Mining In Society merit badge. They did so with support provided by Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College and the Kentucky Coal Academy.

The Scouts, a total of 18 from Troop 149 in Harlan and Troop 572 of London, were participating in the Boy Scouts of America Mountain Laurel Districts Fall Camporee held Oct. 10-11. Gary L. Steenbergen, a professor at Southeast and a veteran scout leader and the advancement chairman for the district, helped organize the camporee and arranged for the Scouts to camp at Kingdom Come State Park at Cumberland where they enjoyed a night of fellowship and good food before beginning the next day determined to earn the newly appointed merit badge devoted to mining.

The Mining In Society badge, according to Steenbergen, was made available to Scouts last winter. Through the devices of SKCTC and the Portal 31 Coal Mine Tour at Lynch and the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum in Benham, tourists sites staffed and maintained by college personnel, the young men were able to learn about the coal mining industry and its methods while meeting the demanding requirements necessary in earning the merit badge.

Scouts received an all-inclusive tour of the museum led by Jerry Asher where they learned about the history of coal mining in Harlan County, specifically the Tri-City area of Cumberland, Benham and Lynch, home to some of the richest coal deposits in the World. Following the tour, Scouts then rode a train deep into Black Mountain on an exhilarating 40-minute trek that featured several stops along the way as state-of-the art animatronic figures sprang to life recounting the evolution of mining at Lynch, once the largest coal town in the nation.

With the new badge being offered, we thought that by utilizing the Portal 31 and Kentucky Coal Mining Museum resources it made perfect sense to have the camporee in Harlan County, suggested Steenbergen, who has been involved with scouting for over 30 year. The kids and the 10 leaders enjoyed the experience and came away with a much better knowledge of coal mining and the impact the industry has made to the area and the state.

While the Scouts used the resources of the Southeast-operated sites to their advantage, they quickly set out to learn much about the coal industry, while receiving expert instruction offered by Gary Whisman, the executive director for the Kentucky Coal Academy. Whisman, who, as its chief for two years, heads the KCA which operates sites devoted to training and education. Academy locations are on the SKCTC Cumberland campus, at Hazard Community and Technical College, at Big Sandy Community and Technical College and Madisonville Community and Technical College.

Whisman taught a large segment of the merit badge curriculum that features eight components. He specialized in the safety aspect of mining while the Scouts sat on benches inside the nearly 100-year old Lamp House at the Portal 31 site. The day turned out to be successful, and I was very impressed with the Scouts, noted Whisman. They were eager to learn about the coal mining industry, and they came away from their time here being more aware of the industry and its importance and its legacy.

Also involved in the teaching of the Mining In Society merit badge were David Howard of Howard amp; Howard Engineering amp; Geology of Harlan who presented several components of the curriculum along with Professor Steenbergen.

Boy Scouts learning about coal