BRISTOL, Va. — Following traditional protocol, local Boy Scouts retired flags Saturday morning in downtown Bristol during the annual continuous campfire.
The early-afternoon flag retirement ceremony was held on the first day of the Scouts’ continuous campfire, which lasts one week at the corner of State Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. It concludes next Saturday during the annual Klondike Derby, when Scouts test their skills at various stations throughout downtown Bristol.
Members of 13 Scout units in the Sequoyah Council’s Overmountain District, which comprises of the Bristol area, kicked off the continuous campfire during an opening ceremony, according to Ray Ratheal, an assistant scoutmaster.
“It runs for a week and basically we have someone out here 24 hours a day, watching the campfire,” Ratheal said. “Lots of units will have their meetings out here, or a meal out here. Different people will stay and watch the fire.”
A large surplus military tent, numerous flags and a fire pit will remain in the parking lot beside the intersection this week.
Scouts held a traditional flag retirement ceremony Saturday afternoon, when they began properly burning some of the hundreds of flags which the district has received this past year. Local residents and businesses give the Scouts torn and faded American flags, state flags, Christian flags and others to be properly destroyed.
Ratheal said the Scouts learn “respect for the flag, for the country” when retiring the flags. It’s a tradition, he added.
Brandon Hart, a district executive, said the Scouts also learn some military respect. Members from the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post briefly attended Saturday’s events.
Ratheal said other veterans will visit throughout the week.
The Scouts typically retire between 700 and 1,500 flags each year, Hart said. One year, they retired 1,700 flags.
The Scouts follow U.S. flag code as they retire Old Glory, Ratheal said.
Next Saturday, the Scouts will participate in the 49th annual Klondike Derby.
“That’s a challenge of Scout skills, where patrols go from station to station and have to demonstrate their Scout skills,” Ratheal said.” They get scored and it’s very competitive.”
During the popular event, groups of boys trek through downtown Bristol with their homemade sleds as they complete various Scout tasks, from first aid to map and compass.
Although a decision has not yet been finalized, this year’s Klondike Derby may be the last in downtown Bristol.
“The discussion is to move the derby somewhere else,” Hart said. “We cover 3½ counties. We’ve talked about moving it around, maybe to Abingdon or Saltville or Mountain City. That’s a question that we will put out next Saturday when we survey the Scouts.”
Ratheal said he hopes the derby stays in Bristol.
If the Scouts vote to keep the derby in Bristol, that’s where it will stay, Hart said.
A move to another location, however, would allow the Scouts to compete in various tasks that are not currently permitted in downtown, Hart said.
No matter the decision, the continuous campfire would likely remain in Bristol.
At the conclusion of the continuous campfire, Ratheal said Scouts will save some of the ashes and add them to the fire next year.