A Brief History of Scouting in Orange County

Phil Brigandi (2011)

Orange County has always been fertile ground for Scouting. Our first troop was founded in Anaheim in 1910, the same year the Boy Scouts of America was founded. Within a few years, troops were springing up around the county.

The first attempt to provide some sort of county-wide organization and support for local troops was in 1912, when the Santa Ana Council was formed with help from the YMCA. It lasted less than a year, and Scouting faded until World War I was over.

In 1920, a group of civic leaders formed the Orange County Council. Organizing new troops and providing a summer camp were two of its first priorities. Within a year, almost every community in the county had at least one troop, and the first summer camp was held along the Santiago Creek. In 1922, a permanent campsite was leased at Barton Flats, in the San Bernardino Mountains. It was dubbed Camp RoKiLi, after the three service clubs that did the most to support its founding—the Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions Club. Camp RoKiLi would serve local Scouts until 1967. The Council also had several weekend camps over the years, and in 1937 opened a Sea Scout Base on Newport Harbor.

During the Depression, the Council staff shrank to just two people—a Scout Executive and a secretary for the office in Santa Ana. Some Scouters in the northern part of the county began to feel they were not getting as much support from the Council. A new Field Executive was hired for the northern troops in 1938, but after he left two years later, the issue flared up again. In 1943 the two nothern districts decided to pull out and form their own Northern Orange County Council. The dividing line was set at roughly Katella Avenue, and the Orange County Council was renamed the Orange Empire Area Council.

Both councils struggled to keep up with the explosive growth of Orange County in the 1950s and ‘60s. Both also opened new summer camps. The Northern Orange County Council opened Camp Ahwahnee in the San Bernardino Mountains in 1955, and the Orange Empire Area Council opened Lost Valley Scout Reservation in 1964, replacing old Camp RoKiLi.

avenue of flags national jamboree 1953
Avenue of Flags, 1953 National Jamboree
Courtesy Phil Brigandi

In 1953, Scouting had its biggest moment ever in Orange County when the Irvine Ranch hosted the third National Jamboree. Some 50,000 Scouts and Scouters from all over the United States were joined by guests from around the world. The Jamboree was held above Corona del Mar, in an area that now includes Fashion Island, Newport Center, and the communities of Big Canyon and East Bluff. Jamboree Road commemorates the only Jamboree ever held on the West Coast.

One of the most prominent local Scouters in the 1950s was Bill Spurgeon, the grandson of the founder of Santa Ana. He became interested in programs for older Scouts, and in 1957 launched the first vocational Exploring Post at Beckman’s Helipot Division in Newport Beach. By 1959, Spurgeon’s idea was adopted as a national program. Today it is best known for its law enforcement posts. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department sponsored the first in the nation in 1960.

In the 1960s, the North Orange Council (as it was then known) began to experience financial difficulties. After a long debate, the decision was made to rejoin the southern council, and on August 1, 1972 the Orange County Council was reborn. After a decline in membership in the mid-70s, Orange County Scouting began growing again, adding new programs, and new facilities.

In 1991, the Orange County Council was thrust into the national spotlight, when Anaheim Hills attorney J. Grafton Randall filed a discrimination suit against the council because his ‘free thinking’ twins were expected to say the word “God” in the Scout Oath. After an initial victory in the Superior Court the case went all the way to the California State Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the Council in 1998.

Recent developments include several new camps, a rebuilt Sea Base, and a new council office in Santa Ana. The most visible addition is the new Outdoor Education Center, across from Irvine Regional Park, which was dedicated in 2009.