[Noozhawk’s note: First in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation.]
It’s been more than a century since Santa Barbara County’s first Boy Scout council formed its first troop.
Little would those youngsters and the tens of thousands to follow realize Scouting skills would carry on for life, that the council would expand to serve thousands of youth annually spanning two counties, and even develop a camp serving Scouts, schools and families alike.
“In all aspects of our programs, we continue with the longstanding traditions of leave no trace, do a good turn daily for other people, so they understand they’re a bigger part of our community and the world, and that not everything evolves around them,” said Ken Miles, development director for Los Padres Council, Boy Scouts of America.
“It’s always about paying it forward, living with moral code of God and country ahead of yourself, being loyal and kind, trustworthy, helpful, friendly — all those values that will help with being more successful in everything you do.”
Santa Barbara was quick off the mark, establishing its Troop No. 1 on Nov. 10, 1910, only months after Boy Scouts of America established its charter and only two years after Sir Robert Baden-Powell founded its British precursor: British Boy Scouts Association.
“The general program has changed very little over the decades,” Los Padres Council president Trey Pinner told Noozhawk. “Our goals remain building leadership skills, providing access to outside activities, building character and personal strengths.”
Today, Los Padres Council serves 3,000 boys and girls, young men and young women annually through a variety of programs — including Lion and Cub Scouts, Scouts BSA, Venturing, Sea Scouts and Explorers — from Carpinteria to Paso Robles.
“Los Padres Council is a family program with the goal of providing for our families as a whole,” said Erica Mundell-McGilvray, the council’s associate development director. “We try to be inclusive of all.”
In fact, the full family focus is a result of Scouting’s decision three years ago to begin admitting girls into its ranks, albeit in single-gender dens and troops. Older girls can even earn the most coveted rank of all: Eagle Scout.
The national organization, facing a barrage of sex-abuse lawsuits, filed for bankruptcy protection last month in an effort to work out a large-scale victim compensation plan while continuing to operate as usual.
Los Padres Council is a separate entity and not involved in the Chapter 11 filing, said Carlos Cortez, the local council’s Scout executive and CEO.
“Meetings and activities, district and council events, other Scouting adventures and countless service projects are taking place as usual,” he said.
“Los Padres Council — which provides programming, financial, facility and administrative support to local units and individual Scouts in our area — is separate and distinct from the national organization. Rancho Alegre, our service centers and all local contributions are controlled by our council.”
According to local historian Gregory Ogletree, Scoutmaster Francis Edgar Miller took the reins of the area’s first troop in 1910. He was memorialized with a small cabin at Rancho Alegre — the only small cabin to escape the Whittier Fire. Founding members included John K. “Jack” Northrop who would go on to establish Northrop Corp. in 1939.
“I do believe that youth who go through Scouting are more confident, can handle the challenges of life better, and understand the outdoor code needed to address the struggles for our planet environmentally,” Pinner said.
According to Ogletree’s 2018 book Scouting on California’s Central Coast: Centennial History of the B.S.A. Councils Based in Santa Barbara, that early council grew to include three troops the following year, all overseen by the YMCA.
Six years later, Santa Barbara Council received its volunteer charter. With support from a local Rotary Club, it was upgraded to a first class council in 1919.
Within months of advancing to its first-class standing, Scouts were pressed into service assisting firefighters and police during the 1920 State Street Fire. They also rendered aid during the 1921 Potter Hotel Fire and the 1925 Earthquake.
They served as uniformed greeters when Queen Elizabeth II came to town in 1983 to visit then-President Ronald Reagan, and over the years the council’s Eagle Scouts, troops and packs have performed countless community service projects.
Though it initially served Santa Barbara, as the little volunteer council quickly grew to a staffed council its boundaries also expanded to include troops in Carpinteria, Goleta, Lompoc, the Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Maria.
Meanwhile, up north, the Central Coast Counties Council was established to serve troops in San Luis Obispo and southern Monterey counties. By 1924, that council was also absorbed into the Santa Barbara District Council.
By 1926, the council was renamed Mission Area Council and reduced in size to include only Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties. San Luis Obispo County split off with its own Santa Lucia Area Council from 1933 to 1994, then merged again with its partners to the south to form today’s Los Padres Council.
The Central Coast council, through its various iterations and under the changing monikers, would move camps and headquarters over the years. The first summer camp, attended by 67 boys, was held at makeshift Camp Morro in 1920. It would move to Camp Hollister, a provisional site north of Gaviota, for two years before more than 100 boys attended summer camp at the council’s first permanent site in 1923: Camp Drake near Lake Cachuma.
By the 1950s, Ogletree writes, three of every four eligible boys in Santa Barbara County were registered Scouts.
Scouts don’t forget their packs or their troops. In the early 1960s, after a storied career as an aircraft engineer, Northrop served as chairman of the local council’s building committee. Under his direction, the current headquarters in Santa Barbara was planned and built, his hand shoveling dirt at the ground breaking.
“Once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout,” Cortez said. “They become sharp, successful people helping others.
“Earning that Eagle Scout doesn’t just look great on a college résumé. When you earn it, that’s just the beginning of your journey. That’s when you find out you have leadership skills, people expect you to lead, and you take on that task daily.”
In 1964, the council moved headquarters from its first home in a historic downtown adobe to take up new residence at 4000 Modoc Road. And on Oct. 23 that year, copper heiress Huguette Clark donated Ranch Alegre to the council.
Northern council camps also evolved over time, beginning with Camp Chumash in 1963 and culminating with Camp French at Lopez Lake, which served Scouts from 1973 until it was closed as a financial drain in 2014.
Just as Northrop returned to serve his council, so has Ogletree. All 500 copies of his book have been donated to Los Padres Council in an effort to help fund the Rancho Alegre Phoenix Campaign.