"That would be
The phone rang
only once in the cramped motel room in Blairsville. "Wilderness Scouts"
answered Corn-well. I introduced myself. "I'm trying to figure this all
out," I said.
trying to figure it out ourselves," said Cornwell. "We don't know
what's going to happen, but some big law firm in New York City [Kane, Dalsimer,
Kane, Sullivan, Kurucz] is going to help us for free. Then I was on some
call-in show on a California radio station, and we just got 200 orders for
birdhouses. We had to get some old ladies from the nursing home to process the
orders, and they're awful slow, bless their hearts. And the volunteers who
build a lot of the birdhouses are blind, so they can only do so much. I just
don't know what we've got ourselves into. Why don't you come on down and spend
some time with us?"
I hold no malice
toward Boy Scouts in general. I married one. But as they say in northern
Georgia, "It just doesn't wash" that the BSA, which in 1987 reported a
$38 million budget with $4 million in profits, could interpret the good will of
Congress so cavalierly. As Joe Sullivan, the Wilderness Scouts' New York
lawyer, puts it, "There is an aura of bullying going on here. I think the
Boy Scouts would have done well to research this prior to action."
The first stop in
researching the Wilderness Scouts is Cornwell. At 41, he could pass for a man
much older. "It's the chronic pain," he says. "It ages
raised in a chicken coop on a mountain homestead just over the North Carolina
border from Blairsville. His father, a moonshiner, was murdered by rivals when
Harold was seven. His mother worked 12 hours a day, six days a week to support
her four kids. One day, two U.S. Forest Service rangers came by, struck up a
conversation with 14-year-old Harold and invited him fishing. "Since I
didn't have a dad, I'd never done outdoor things," recalls Cornwell. On his
fifth bait of the hook, Cornwell landed a 29-inch bass.
After high school,
while serving aboard the U.S.S. James C. Owens, a destroyer, Cornwell fell down
a ladder. Subsequently his crushed spine fell victim to osteoarthritis. In
1984, after 15 years with a nearby phone company, he could no longer work and
retired on disability.
One morning he
took a neighborhood boy fishing with his own son, Richard. "The little
fella was an aimless kid," says Cornwell. "But when he got in the boat,
he brightened up and said, 'I have a cousin who'd sure like to do something
like this.' "
When he picked up
the cousin, over in Fannin County, Ga., Cornwell was dumbstruck. "The
family was living in a shack with no decent heat, no water, not even an
outhouse," he says.
So they went
fishing. "After a couple of hours the little cousin told me his daddy had
been punishing him by pressing his hand onto a scorching woodstove," says
Cornwell. "That was it. I had to do something." The Wilderness Scouts
of America was born.