Dave Hall didn’t think twice about posting a video he recorded of a fellow Boy Scout leader toppling an ancient rock formation in a Utah state park.
The mushroom-shaped rock – one of thousands in Goblin Valley State Park that have formed over millions of years – was loose. Hall, along with fellow Scout leader Glenn Taylor, feared that tragedy might befall a hiker.
“The whole park was created because of erosion,” Hall told the Los Angeles Times on Friday. “The rock had eroded to the point where it would fall very soon.”
Hall posted the video on Facebook, but it went viral. Hall deleted the video, but it was too late: Copies were posted on YouTube, where it has gained more than a million views.
The response of the viewing public has been almost unanimous condemnation for the two Scout leaders, who are seen in the video with Taylor’s son Dylan looking on.
Utah’s director of state parks, Fred Hayes, said he was appalled by the video and that his agency had launched a criminal investigation. Glen Wright, a Scout executive in the state, said the Scouting organization is conducting an internal investigation. Deron Smith, a national spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America, called the leaders’ behavior “reprehensible.”
“Obviously, this type of activity does not represent Scouting or what it teaches in any way,” Smith told The Times in an email.
The incident revisits the thorny issues of humans’ relationship with nature and at what point concern for human safety outweighs the integrity of the environment.
To state officials, it’s a question of desecration and vandalism. To the Boy Scouts, it’s a question of to what extent the leaders violated the almost sacrosanct principle of “leave no trace camping,” a philosophy that seeks to minimize human impact on the environment through proper waste disposal and camping practices.
As to which principles of that philosophy the leaders violated?
“Well, everything,” said Wright, the Scout executive.
But to Scout leader Hall, an independent contractor from Highland, Utah, who lives on the same street as co-leader Taylor, the context of last Friday’s rock toppling deserves attention.
To begin with, the park was busier than usual. Because of the government shutdown, all eight of Utah’s national parks were closed, and state parks were honoring passes to national parks. Hall, a frequent visitor to Goblin Valley, said he’d never seen the parking lot as full as it was last week.
The eight Scouts in Hall’s Troop 852 had camped overnight and were playing “hot lava” on the rocks all afternoon.
When he and Taylor, along with Taylor’s son, came upon a precariously perched rock, they worried.
“Who is responsible for a kid dying if we know that the rock will fall if he jumps on it?” Hall said. “You can’t let a family come down and have a picnic under a tree that’s about to fall.”
The three made a choice to shove the rock onto the ground. In hindsight, Hall says, they probably should have consulted a ranger and cordoned off the area.
“But hindsight’s a beautiful thing,” Hall said. “We made the choice at that moment to simply make sure that that rock didn’t fall on anyone and hurt them.”
In response to claims that he and Taylor violated Scouting principles, Hall said “leave no trace” doesn’t mean that Scout leaders should ignore a dangerous situation.
As to the trio’s jubilant response after the rock tumbles, Hall said that was a product of adrenaline. But he sees how a clip only of that segment of the video could lead people to conclude the three were vandals.
“If we thought we were vandals, would we have posted it for the world to see?”