Scouts make Eagle projects personal
It’s not just nature trails, birdhouses anymore
CAPITAL REGION While Eagle Scout projects used to be mostly about conservation, now they are about everything from fixing baseball fields to building a stand to make it easier to clean flags.
Today’s Scouts choose projects that reflect their interests.
For his project, Justin Russell of Clifton Park combined his love of firefighting with love of Boy Scouts. Russell has been interested in the fire service since he was 14, in part because there is a fire station right across from his house. He became a Boy Scout firefighter Explorer and when he became old enough, became a volunteer firefighter.
While taking his New York state firefighting test, Russell realized that the knots he learned to tie in Boy Scouts really didn’t help him understand the eight knots used in the fire service for hoisting tools and doing rescues.
“Not many people could grasp how to tie the knots really well and there wasn’t much of a curriculum,” he said.
He decided to fix that problem by creating a teaching display: seven 2-by-4-foot pieces of plywood that had eight examples of correctly tied knots for the town’s six fire departments and one search-and-rescue team. Russell also created instructional videos with captions and voiceovers about how to tie the knots.
In November Russell completed his project, which took about 168 hours — roughly half by him alone and half with the assistance of 25 others.
The toughest part about the project was the scope, he said. “I had to deal with seven different organizations and a normal Eagle Scout project normally deals with one. I didn’t have to meet with just one person to get approval. I had to meet with seven.”
Russell said he learned time management, how to work others and how to budget. Eagle Scout projects are no longer just about building nature trails, Russell said. “They’ve changed from conservation projects of … building birdhouses and making trails and nature preserves to Scouts actually coming up with their own ideas that they’re interested in, things that they take pride in,” he said.
Outside interests are important, according to Wayne Burdge, scoutmaster for Troop 45 in Clifton Park. The criteria for the project is it has to benefit a nonprofit other than the Boy Scouts and it has to show the Scout’s leadership abilities.
One Scout had a sibling who was stillborn and he created “memory boxes” for parents of stillborn children and a framework that could display a patchwork quilt made by family members.
Another Scout with an interest in baseball helped fix some fields and put in a new flagpole, Burdge said. A Scout who lost his grandmother did a project to assist in the restoration of historic flags, which had been a passion of hers. Flag restoration can be painstaking work with the flags draped on the floor. This Scout created a stand to raise the flags 3 feet off the ground so there was less bending over required to do the work.
Scouts have an adviser throughout the process but must come up with their own Eagle projects. The idea is reviewed by the local scoutmaster and a district representative.
Scouts spend about 50 to 60 hours on the project but some than have exceeded 300 hours, according to Burdge.
“Some projects will take over a year,” he said. “Other Scouts will work on the project for two or three months and really be able to focus on it.”
Scouts cannot start the Eagle Scout project until they have achieved “Life” rank — one notch below Eagle. From lowest to highest, the ranks are Scout, Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life and finally Eagle. Scouts need to accumulate a certain amount of merit badges along the way. After at least six months as a Life Scout and completion of a community service project, he can ascend to Eagle. Projects must be completed before age 18.
“We’ve worked with Scouts that have finished up their project the day before their birthday,” Burdge said.
That happened to Dennis Dugan, who is now director of camping services for the Boy Scouts Twin Rivers Council in Albany. “I was a procrastinator, I acknowledge,” he said.
Dugan said he put up a clock on the tower of the Town Hall in his hometown of Downsville, in Delaware County. The project took about 200 hours.
Dugan cited a recent project by a Queensbury Scout who was a kidney transplant recipient. He wanted to increase awareness of the organ donor network by talking to seven schools. Dugan thought that seemed like a simple project but he didn’t realize how much legwork the project actually involved — including setting up meetings with boards of education, superintendents and principals.
The end result was the Scout ended up talking to 1,500 people and got 700 people to sign up for the organ donor network.
“It was a great project but when you look at the original scope it didn’t seem like much,” he said.
Scouts often have more red tape to contend with than in the past, Dugan said. Projects may require a building permit and Scouts have to follow New York state labor laws, so they can’t have children on a ladder taller than 6 feet, for example. That means more adults are needed.
John King, Schenectady district advancement chairman for the Twin Rivers Council, said students have to document any safety issues with the project, the tools they will use, transportation and any other factors. This is more than was required in the past.
“The planning for them before was more off the cuff. Details may be or may not be thought of,” King said.
Scouts have to document the hours they spend personally on the project — 50 hours is the minimum. Only about 21⁄2 percent of all Boy Scouts nationally obtain the Eagle Scout rank, Dugan said.
Scouts did several projects at Collins Park in Scotia after flooding from tropical storms Irene and Lee caused significant damage. One repainted and cleaned up the concession stand and another cleaned up the bathrooms.
Another Eagle Scout candidate plotted the location of 75 different graves at Vale Cemetery using GPS. After the project’s completion, the Scout must submit a final report about the project, along with photographs and detailed information.
Josh Elacqua, 17, of Clifton Park didn’t have to look far for his project, which he completed last fall. He cleaned up and marked the historic cemetery of Abraham and Mary Moe, near where his parents walked every morning with their dog.
Abraham Moe served as one of Clifton Park’s first town clerks from 1791 to 1818.
“It was hard to tell it was there. It was surrounded by a wooden fence and there were trees and brush everywhere,” he said.
Elacqua designed a project that involved cutting an opening in the fence, putting a path up to the gravestones and removing some of the brush.
He put in a historical marker and signs explaining what was on the gravestones since the engraving had faded.
Elacqua, a member of Troop 45, said the project took almost exactly one year and a total of 144 hours between all the people involved.
Because the land is technically on property owned by a construction company, he had to get special permission since projects have to benefit a nonprofit organization.
He also had to get signatures from the town officials and construction company representatives assuring that the property will be turned over to the town in the future.
In addition, he had to raise about $340. The project cost much more than that, but a lot of business owners donated supplies. The town of Clifton Park provided the historic markers.
Elacqua was happy with the finished product. “It’s something I helped accomplish and a lot of other people helped out too. It’s nice knowing it’s there for history and a lot of other people to see,” he said.
The public at large benefits from Eagle Scout projects, which Dugan said is still the core purpose.
“It’s still really a leadership project where the Scout works within the community to find a project that’s worthwhile that benefits the community.”