Boy Scouts membership falls 7 percent last year, continuing decade-long decline

Boy Scouts (from left): Joshua Kusterer, Nach Mitschke and Wyatt Mitschke salute as they recite the pledge of allegiance during the “Save Our Scouts” prayer vigil and rally on Feb. 6, 2013, outside the Boy Scouts of America National Headquarters in Dallas, Texas, in opposition to openly gay scouts. Richard W. Rodriguez, AP (File)

Boy Scouts (from  left): Joshua Kusterer, Nach Mitschke and Wyatt Mitschke salute as they recite the pledge of allegiance during the “Save Our Scouts” prayer vigil and rally on Feb. 6, 2013, outside the Boy Scouts of America National Headquarters in Dallas, Texas, in opposition to openly gay scouts.Richard W. Rodriguez, AP (File)

Boy Scouts (from left): Joshua Kusterer, Nach Mitschke and Wyatt Mitschke salute as they recite the pledge of allegiance during the “Save Our Scouts” prayer vigil and rally on Feb. 6, 2013, outside the Boy Scouts of America National Headquarters in Dallas, Texas, in opposition to openly gay scouts.

The Boy Scouts of America’s youth membership fell 7.4 percent last year, continuing a decade-long decline for one of the nation’s oldest youth organizations, a spokesman said Friday.

More than 2.4 million youth participated in its programs in 2014, along with just fewer than 1 million adults, spokesman Deron Smith said. Enrollment fell 6 percent the year before, and in previous years declined slightly or seen little to no change over the last decade.

Still one of America’s most influential groups serving youth, The Boy Scouts has tried to boost participation with new technology-based programs and a “high adventure” base featuring mountain climbing, kayaking and skateboarding.

Last year was also the first full year the Texas-based organization was open to openly gay youth, a compromise approved by its national leadership in 2013. But the organization still excludes openly gay adult volunteers.

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While welcomed by some, the membership policy was criticized both by gay-rights advocates, who said it didn’t go far enough, and by conservatives who called it a betrayal of Scouting values. Some conservatives split from the organization to form a new group, Trail Life USA, which has created its own ranks, badges and uniforms and opened chapters across the country.

Trail Life founder John Stemberger said Friday that the group has enrolled 20,000 youth and adult members so far.

The Boy Scouts also welcomed a high-profile volunteer president, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who said in his first major address to Scouting leaders that he would have allowed gay adults as well, but would not seek to change the policy after it was enacted.

Smith said he couldn’t point to a single reason for last year’s decline, but cited the policy change as well as the “limited amount of discretionary time” parents and children have.

“That said, we’re pleased that the strong majority of our Scouting family remains committed to Scouting,” Smith said in an email.

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