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That's the bad news. The good news is that the more attention the Wilderness Scouts got, the more people began to take action. The morning after seeing a Nov. 15 television story on the Wilderness Scouts, Cape May, N.J., county sheriff James Plousis called his counterpart in Blairsville. "I asked him what we could do for those kids," says Plousis. "He said that the night before, the Scouts' poor old bus died. I couldn't think of any way to get those kids a bus, but I called the Atlantic City paper, and it did a story."
And who do you think happened to read that Nov. 21 edition of The Press? Donald Trump, commander of many things, including some buses that were used to transport employees to Trump Plaza. A few weeks later Plousis drove the 861 miles from Atlantic City to Blairsville and, with just a hint of tears, handed over the keys of a bus on which the sign above the windshield still read TRUMP PLAZA. Cornwell outright cried.
Meanwhile, the Boy Scouts did not back down, but they did say they would invite the Wilderness Scouts to join the BSA and said that the Girl Scouts of America would be extending the same invitation to the little girl Wilderness Scouts. But when Cornwell was recently contacted by local Girl Scouts leaders they complimented him on the success of the Wilderness Scouts. What the BSA probably didn't know is that Cornwell had himself been a Boy Scout in North Carolina. "What I remember is how much it hurt to be the only kid who couldn't afford a uniform," he says.
When the afterglow of publicity wears off and the celebrity dust settles over the Wilderness Scouts, they will still be almost broke. The group's dream had been to buy a $400,000 parcel of virgin timber that could be their headquarters and camping grounds. It was a place where they transplanted some endangered goldenseal flowers. It was a place where they studied the planets, set traps and watched herons fish in the ponds. But that property was recently sold. They now have their eyes on another $400,000 parcel. They already have $6,000 saved. At $5 a bluebird box, they're only 78,800 orders short of buying the land.
However, the 15-member board of the Wilderness Scouts recently voted unanimously to retain the name and, if necessary, to use what money they have to fight the BSA. Wouldn't it be easier just to pick a new name? Says Cornwell, "I can't look at those kids after all this work and tell them, 'You can't be scouts,' because somebody comes along and says so. These kids are always getting the message to give up, and if we did that with the name, it would just be one more example of giving in."
Back in his motel-room office, Cornwell is stuffing letters of support into an old accordion file. "Here's one from the president of some company up in Canada," he says. "He thinks that Congress ought to take a look at this charter it granted back in 1916."
Maybe Congress ought to. By coincidence, who should be on the House Ways and Means Committee, the one with jurisdiction over tax-exempt organizations, but Ed Jenkins, who represents Georgia's ninth district. His home office is in Jasper, which is just over the ridge from the Wilderness Scouts.