LARGO — The relevance of knowing how to navigate with a map and compass, tie every knot from a half-hitch to a bowline, and build shelters from sticks might seem questionable in a mostly paved county like Pinellas.
And after-school activities such as carving down a Pinewood derby car, or learning how to scale a fish also might seem like strange folly, when a 32-inch flat-screen and an Xbox are ready to play in so many family rooms.
But for many Largo parents, such activities are more relevant than ever, and the now 100-year-old purveyor of such pursuits, the Boy Scouts, provides the ideal avenue of escape from the grind of lifestyles increasingly bound by concrete and entertained by electronics.
"Getting kids active and outdoors, it's hard to do in the urban jungle of Pinellas County," said Wayne Brown, leader of Cub Scout Pack 468 in Largo.
For his son, Jordon, 9, the Scouts give a lot of the things Brown says are missing in school, and are hard to come by in other extracurricular activities — a mix of adventuring outdoors, fun with friends, with lessons on courtesy, loyalty and other character-building traits.
Paula Bowers, a parent of another Cub Scout in Largo, said scouting has introduced her son, Jacob, to new activities — like a visit to an ice skating rink earlier this year.
"It teaches them a lot of experiences they wouldn't normally be able to (have). It helps build confidence, helps them be a little less uneasy about new things," Bowers said.
But even scouting, steeped in its old-school outdoor history, is changing to accommodate 21st century realities, like the fact that some boys now use a Global Positioning System receiver before they know how to read a map.
William Davis, the Scout executive in charge of the West Central Florida Council, which governs scouting in Pinellas, said among the new activities introduced into scouting handbooks is geocaching — using a GPS receiver to locate hidden troves.
"We've got some new activities around. New merit badges for those more used to communicating with their thumbs," Davis said.
But competing with instant-on at-home entertainment is now a challenge facing the Scouts.
"Now, we have boys who spend all their time inside. Boy Scouts would like to reverse that trend," Davis said.
Some of the lures include private retreats scattered around the area, such as Camp Soule, a tree-filled oasis amid the urban sprawl in Clearwater.
Brown, the pack leader, said his Largo group's numbers are relatively flat — and has room for more members. Nationwide, Boy Scout membership also reflects the relatively flat membership trend.
But, Brown said, he'd like to change that.
"We're all trying to get more people involved," he said. "The more kids we have, the more stuff we can do."