Local Scouting History

Scouting on the San Francisco peninsula began shortly after the organization of the Boy Scouts of America in 1910

Pacific Skyline Council office exterior

Scouting on the San Francisco Peninsula began shortly after the organization of the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In those early years, warrants to organize a troop were issued directly from the National Council to the Scoutmaster or citizen’s group. Some of the first troops to be established included Troop 1 Burlingame (1910), Troop 1 Pescadero (1911), Troop 2 Palo Alto (1912), and Troop 1 Redwood City (1914). There may have also been troops established in South San Francisco and San Mateo prior to the organization of the larger Boy Scout council structure in 1916.

When San Francisco Area Council was formed in 1916, the troops in San Mateo County were renumbered and became District 8 with Edward A. Barrer appointed Field Executive. Likewise, the troops in Palo Alto became District 6 of the Santa Clara County Council. Just like Scouts today, the troops met weekly to work on merit badges and prepare for weekend outings. They took hikes to Pilarcitos Lake, Memorial Park, and Butano Falls. Because there were no swimming pools in the area, Scouts went to the Sutro Baths or Lurline Baths in San Francisco to work on their Swimming and Lifesaving merit badges.

One of the first camps for council Scouts was established in 1913 at Mt. Herman along the San Lorenzo River. In later years, Palo Alto Scout leaders took their troops to another camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Waddell Creek.  This camp site was owned by the Tri-County Scout Council, made up of Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties. Another summer camp was established in 1926 within Memorial Park by the San Mateo District. Originally called the San Mateo County Training Camp (SMCTC), it was more widely known as Camp Pescadero. The cost was $8 per Scout per week.

A desire for more local autonomy led to the move to create separate councils in the 1930’s. When San Francisco Council became a participating agency of the San Francisco Community Chest in 1923, funds collected could not be used outside the City and County of San Francisco. As a result, San Mateo County troops were assessed for the services provided by the San Francisco Council. Since the San Mateo District had already proven that it could operate its own training camp, the San Mateo County Area Council was formed on January 1, 1932 with Edward A. Barrer serving as the first Scout Executive.

In Palo Alto, the local troops were feeling the pinch of constrained budgets from the Santa Clara County Council, despite the fact that the district represented over one third of the entire registered Scouts in the council. Councils of a similar size typically had three paid professionals, but Palo Alto District only had one, and even this was taken away in 1938. To ensure a better Scouting program would reach more boys, the Stanford Area Council was chartered in January 26, 1940 to serve the communities of Palo Alto, Stanford, Mountain View, and Los Altos, with John H. Leecing as the first Scout Executive.

During the postwar golden era of Scouting, both Stanford Area and San Mateo County Councils grew and flourished. San Mateo County Council organized Chapter 2 of the Knights of Dunamis, an Eagle Scout society that was the precursor to the National Eagle Scout Association. Both councils sent contingents to National and World Jamborees and organized Order of the Arrow lodges; Stanford-Oljato Lodge #207 in 1941 and Pomponio Lodge #528 in 1957.

Due to the generous support of philanthropist Lucie Stern, Stanford Area Council had attractive offices in Palo Alto, complete with a fire circle, a Sea Scout base in Palo Alto Harbor, and a high sierra camp on Huntington Lake. Camp Oljato is still in operation over 70 years later, and was supplemented in 1964 by Boulder Creek Scout Reservation in the Santa Cruz Mountains. San Mateo County Council continued its Camp Pescadero until 1948 when Camp Pomponio near La Honda was purchased. In 1956, another camp was obtained near Avery and named Camp Ed Barrer in honor of the first Scout Executive. Both of these camps were closed and sold to purchase Cutter Scout Reservation in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 1969. A primitive high sierra camp dubbed Camp Kit Carson on Caples Lake near Carson Pass was also operated for several years until it was permanently closed in the mid 1970’s.

In the early 1990’s, the National Council began to look at consolidating operations, and studies were conducted in each region to examine possible council mergers and consolidations. Ironically, the study recommended that San Mateo County Council be merged into San Francisco Bay Area Council and that Stanford Area Council be merged into Santa Clara County Council. The boards of the two councils decided to preemptively merge together, and the new Pacific Skyline Council was formed on March 15, 1994 with Tim Gorman serving as the first Scout Executive. The two Order of the Arrow lodges followed suit a year later to create Ohlone Lodge #63

Today the Pacific Skyline Council is comprised of over 130 units serving more than 3700 youth in Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Venturing, and Exploring with over 1500 adult volunteers and service centers in Foster City and Palo Alto. The Scout Executive during the 100th Anniversary year was Kent Downing. The council sent a contingent to the BSA National Jamboree in Virginia in 2023 and is well-poised to meet the future.

– by David T. Miura