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A different path

CHESTERFIELD, Mo. — On the tail end of a recent morning hike at Faust Park in Chesterfield, second-grader Carter Beuc knelt on the ground and tried to lash a rock onto the end of a twig with a narrow vine. His buddy Gavin Rose knelt next to him.

Was it a tool? A weapon?

"He's making a golf club," Gavin reported.

While this seemed like a typical scout outing, these youngsters are a part of a growing group in the United States that's taking a different approach to scouting.

The children in this group, Otter and Timberwolf scouts, are members of the Baden-Powell Service Association, which has one foot in traditional scouting and another in more liberal ideals. It accepts members and leaders of both sexes, regardless of religious beliefs or sexual orientation.

There are 16 chartered groups nationwide with about 128 members.

If the name Baden-Powell sounds familiar, it's because Robert Baden-Powell is the founder of the scouting movement and what eventually became the Boy Scouts of America. But the Baden-Powell Service Association isn't affiliated with the Boy Scouts — it's a worldwide organization of its own that accepts members of all ages. It formed in the United Kingdom in 1970 after its members felt that Boy Scouts were abandoning the traditional, back-to-basics ideals Baden-Powell had established decades earlier. Its American branch is based in Washington, Mo., the home of software engineer David Atchley.

Atchley, 37, had been involved in Boy Scouts all his life. He earned his Eagle award and became a Cubmaster for his son's pack. But he was upset with the direction the Boy Scouts organization was taking. The Boy Scout promise includes a duty to God, though uniform emblems of many different religions are allowed, and the organization does not allow openly gay leaders, atheists or agnostics.

Atchley, who is an atheist, thought he could create an inclusion policy for his pack.

He decided to go to the local Boy Scout council to see what they thought. "I was basically told over the phone that if I put that policy in place, they would revoke our charter," he said.

Atchley later made the difficult decision to return his Eagle award.

He eventually learned about the Baden-Powell Service Association, which formed in the United States in 2006 but had only an adult component. Atchley decided to create a youth branch, and became commissioner in 2009. He issued charters to several new groups within the past few months.

Some groups have formed in reaction to the Boy Scouts of America's announcement this summer that it had reaffirmed its ban on gays, after a two-year evaluation of the issue. Earlier this month, UPS announced it would no longer donate money to the organization because of the ban. Intel also announced it would halt corporate donations.

Baden-Powell is focused on traditional, back-to-basics scouting, such as orienteering, camping and hiking. It also stresses public service, which ranges from something as simple as picking up trash during a hike to organizing a fundraiser for a charity. The BPSA manuals are based on scouting manuals developed more than 100 years ago by Baden-Powell himself. The group has four sections for 5-year-olds through adults — Otters, Timberwolves, Pathfinders and the adult Rover program.

Members are allowed to substitute other words for "God" in the motto. The program is run by volunteers and is focused on keeping costs low: Handbooks are available for free online, and basic uniform shirts can be found at discount stores.

Bridgett Wissinger, one of the organizers of the City Garden group, said she loved the back-to-basics approach of the Baden-Powell Service Association. She is getting involved so her son Leo, 3, has a group to join when he's older.

"It's definitely the inclusion policy, instead of an exclusion policy," she said. "Why would I want to say, 'We like you as long as you're straight?' Why would I hurt somebody who is just trying to figure that out?"