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Montana's open spaces create abundant opportunities for the state's Boy Scouts, but also present challenges for organizing and maintaining units in rural areas.

"We just don't reach as far as we want to," Montana Council board member

Case Haslam said.

And that is why the council - which oversees all of Montana's units - started its annual online auction four years ago.

"The proceeds of the event go to support rural scouting," Haslam said.

The auction includes more than 400 items, ranging from a drill bit set to a freshwater pearl necklace and a slew of gift certificates for businesses across the state.

Haslam encourages the public to visit the auction at www.biddingforgood.com/montanabsa before it closes June 6.

Almost one-third of the donated items had received bids by Thursday afternoon. The 828 bids have raised nearly $5,000 for the organization so far, which Haslam said is as much as they gathered the first year of the increasingly popular auction. He hopes the total gains another digit as it has in past years.

Haslam estimates that nearly 8,000 young boys and teen girls - yes, girls - from Baker to Browning have joined Boys Scouts of America and the number keeps growing.

"We are getting more scouting in eastern Montana than ever before," Haslam said.

Venture crews and Explorer units are seeing the fastest growth of Boy Scout programs in Montana, he said.

The two non-traditional opportunities are open to both boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 21. The groups tend to focus on a specific adventure activity most of the year such as spelunking, or a career opportunity such as wilderness search and rescue.

Haslam said northwestern Montana has 76 units, including Venture crews and more traditional scouting troops.

Jory Dellinger, cub master for one of Missoula's Cub Scout packs, said this translates into more than 1,000 youth participants in Missoula, Mineral and Ravalli counties.

Dellinger said that even the more urban Missoula area would benefit from the auction.

"We have one professional Scout, one paid person, working the entire Bitterroot," Dellinger said. "He could have a morning meeting in Superior and an evening one in Darby."

However, Dellinger and Haslam discuss Montana's vast distances with as much pride as they do concern.

"We are one of the largest land-mass councils in the country," Dellinger said.

Jayme Fraser is a junior studying print journalism at the University of Montana who is interning at the Missoulian this summer. She can be reached at 523-5241 or at jayme.fraser@missoulian.com.

 

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