It’s been four years since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ended its relationship with the Boy Scouts of America, choosing to implement its own independent youth program. Practically overnight, some 200,000 Utah boys who were registered Boy Scouts weren’t registered anymore.

Today, the Crossroads of the West Council, comprising all of Utah and bits of Wyoming and Idaho, has about 6,000 registered Scouts.

But if you’re thinking that precipitous drop in numbers means Scouting is a dying institution in these parts, an anachronism living out its final days, well, you haven’t sat down and had a chat with Val Parrish.

Val is 64. He’s been involved in Scouting ever since he got his Bobcat as a Cub Scout when he was 8. As a boy, he grew up in Latter-day Saint patrols and troops; as a grown-up, he’s climbed all the ranks, worn all the hats. He loves scouting like trees love sunshine, like boys love knives. When the church left Scouting, he didn’t.

And while noting that the new incarnation has considerably fewer numbers, Val is happy to point out the advantages for those who remain.

For starters, there’s a lot more elbow room.

“I would say that right here in Utah we have as good of facilities for Scouting as anywhere in the nation,” he says, referring specifically to the 15 major camps spread throughout the state, all of them still active and fully functioning.

But instead of having to accommodate 200,000, they’re serving 6,000.

It’s like they let your family into Disneyland and then locked the gates.

In all other regards, “In the new environment, Scouting looks a lot more like Scouting in other areas of the country,” Val says.

That’s a diplomatic way of saying that a higher percentage of people now involved, especially leaders, are there because they want to be there.

“Those who are part of it now are absolutely volunteers, they’re stepping up on their own, it’s completely their choice, there’s no assignment that’s been given. So you’ve got passionate leaders and you’ve got passionate Scouts.” 

Val is just one of many holdovers from the previous regime who can’t, and won’t, let go.

“The Scout Law is etched in my soul,” he says with pride, and then proceeds to rattle off all 12 laws without pausing: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.”

In his view, Scouting, done right, “is an organization where all the things you’re trying to reinforce at home are being provided away from home.”

Preserving and supporting the institution is preserving and supporting a strong society.

“It’s not just about my kids, it’s about helping to perpetuate a program that instills character-building values that last the rest of your life.”

Another change since 2020, Val points out, is that Scouting has gone coed. Membership was opened to all genders. Girls can now become Eagle Scouts. The response in Utah has been especially enthusiastic.

“Our percentage of girls is 15.6% of the total youth,” says Val. “Nationally, it’s more like 12%. We’re above the curve.”

So while there are 195,000 less boys in the program in Utah, there are 1,000 more girls.

Val’s current role is chairman of district operations for the Crossroads of the West Council — in addition to being all-around cheerleader. To that end, he and his wife, Allison, are underwriting the upcoming annual recognition banquet scheduled for May at Salt Lake Community College.

“I know a lot of people thought Scouting completely disappeared,” Val says, “and while it’s true, the drop in numbers was great, it’s also true that many dedicated people are still actively involved. The good news is, we’re not dying, we’re growing. The passion for Scouting is still very much alive.”