Back to the roots – scouting group finds value in tradition |

Back to the roots – scouting group finds value in tradition

2017 High Sierra Brownsea Training Camp hosted by 49th Gold Country. 24 scout leaders from eight groups across California and Oregon.
Photo by Celeste Neiser |

Recently, Celeste Neiser and her husband Evan spent three days at Jackson Meadows Reservoir.

Learning to tie knots, cook in Dutch ovens over the camp fire, conducting flag ceremonies, singing songs and participating in skits with a group of adults from California and Oregon who are invested in learning and teaching the ways of traditional scouting.

“I was an Otter, then ‘swam up’ to be a Timberwolf, then was accepted into the Pathfinder Troop, and lastly was received as a Rover Squire,” said Neiser, who spent the weekend walking in the shoes of a young scout.

Called the Brownsea Training Camp, the Sierra Nevada rendezvous is named after the world’s first scout camp on England’s Brownsea Island.

Neiser is the Group Scoutmaster and Founder of the locally based 49th Gold Country Scout Group, part of the Baden Powell Service Association, and more largely, the World Federation of Independent Scouting.

A mother of three girls — Lily, Cecelia and Maggie — Neiser became frustrated after three years of Girl Scout cookie sales and broad programming that didn’t seem to teach her kids outdoors skills.

It was a challenge to get her husband involved. That’s when she became aware of the Baden Powell Service Association.

Started in the U.S. in 2006 as independent and traditional style scouting association, the service association follows the century-old principles established by Robert Baden-Powell, the father of scouting.

Baden-Powell believed in allowing the desires of young people to guide their own activities, adventures, trips and service projects.

When Neiser realized the closest scouting group was in Sacramento, she decided to start her own in Grass Valley last fall.

“My husband Evan and I wanted our girls to have an awesome, “outdoorsy” scouting experience that they could continue into adulthood, and the fact that BPSA is co-ed, all-age, and all inclusive was a strong plus for us,” said Neiser.

In the U.S., gender segregated scouting is typical, yet, men and women work together as adults.

Neiser, who regrets never having the opportunity to be a scout when she was a girl, wanted her children to learn cooperative work at a younger age.

“I always wanted to be a scout when I was a kid, but there were many barriers — economics, religion, transportation — that kept that from happening,” said Neiser. “Now I can be a Rover (adult scout), and scout alongside my kids and my husband. We all learn so much together, and when we go to put on our uniforms for an outing, the kids get very excited.”

The first year was a big learning curve for the couple. They made a point of keeping the group small and waited, until now, to recruit members.

Currently the group has about 20 boys and girls, in three scout sections — the Otters (age 5 – 7), the Timberwolves (age 8 to 10), and the Pathfinder Troup (age 11 – 17).

A Chipmunk section is open to little ones from birth to age four, accompanied by their caregiver. Now that a solid framework is in place, the Neisers are ready to grow the group to its full potential.

The 49th Gold Country Scout Group promotes good citizenship and holistic training in habits of observation, discipline, self-reliance and loyalty. They teach real outdoor skills and service to the community is a core tenet.

Neiser says wearing uniforms puts everyone on the same level playing field and gives young people a sense of belonging, something akin to Rangers in the National Parks or Forest Service.

Rooted in service and creating good citizens, the group actively volunteers.

“The kids are capable of a lot more than we give them credit for these days. They can help build trails, they can assist in food banks — there are so many opportunities to help our community, and we want to make it a regular habit, not just one token activity done annually,” Neiser said.

In the past year, the scouts have teamed up with Tahoe National Forest and Bear Yuba Land Trust — collecting data on preserves, helping with restoration work and participating in community events like a BioBlitz and Celebration of Trails.

On Sept. 16, scouts will help South Yuba River Citizens League in the Great American River Cleanup on the Yuba River.

“What I would really like to see is scout groups, no matter what organization they belong to, re-emerge as the glue that holds a community together like they did in the first half of the 20th century, and these groups should be open to everyone,” said Neiser.

The 49th Gold Country Scouts will hold their first meetings of the year on Sept. 10. The whole family is encouraged to participate and parent leaders are needed.

Learn more: or contact Scout Master Celeste Neiser at 530-401-8603, email:

Contact freelance writer Laura Petersen at or 530-913-3067.

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