When New England District Park Rangers hold special programs or clean up events, there is almost always a boy or girl in a scout uniform present and ready to work. Although there is no formal partnership between the organizations, the relationship between the New England District and the Boy and Girl Scout organizations is a strong one, and almost as old as the recreation areas that the children come to visit.
West Hill Dam has an especially strong and lengthy relationship with the scouts. Park Ranger Viola Bramel is the point of contact for the scouts when it comes time for them to earn their highest ranks and awards.
The West Hill Eagle Time Line boasts of 37 Eagles with the majority in the last 15 years. Bramel has personally supported 36 of the 37 Eagle Scout Awards, and all of the Silver (2) and Gold (2) Awards that have been completed at West Hill Dam. Honorees on the Girl Scout Award Time Line are within the past six years. The improvements that the children make to West Hill not only help them with their leadership skills, but also benefit the recreational area for many years.
Boys who are preparing for their Eagle Scout Award and girls who are ready to earn their Silver and Gold Awards have walked down an incredible path of achievement during their scouting careers to get to this point. According to the Boys Scouts of America, Eagle Scout is the highest rank given in the Boy Scouting program. To achieve this rank, boys must progress through five previous ranks, earn 21 Merit Badges, serve six months in a troop leadership position, take part in a Scout Master Conference, plan, develop and give leadership to a service project for a religious organization, school or community and successfully complete an Eagle Scout Board of Review.
The official Girl Scouts website, girlscouts.org, states that the Girl Scout Gold Award represents the highest achievement in Girl Scouting. Open only to girls in high school this prestigious award challenges the girl to change the world, or at least her corner of it. The Bronze, the highest award that can be earned by 4th or 5th graders, and the Silver Award, the highest award that can be earned by 6th or 7th graders, are required to proceed to the Gold Award. The Gold Award is an extensive seven step process that must solve a community problem for years to come.
Many of the scouts who come to West Hill Dam to work on their awards are no strangers to the project. “A lot of the children come to the project when they are younger to attend interpretive programs or to work on their badges,” said Bramel. “As they get older and are ready to earn the Eagle Scout or the Gold Award, they want to do it here.”
According to Bramel, the scouts must raise their own funds, procure their own supplies and assemble their own teams to achieve the leadership requirement of the awards. Between materials and labor, the projects that the scouts have worked on and donated to the District are valued at about $160,000 total.
The Eagle and Gold Awards can take as long as two years to achieve and there is a lot of mentoring going on during that time. Bramel, who has binders for each type of award filled with project ideas, has an initial two hour meeting with each scout to talk about what sort of project they want to do, and to look through the binders for ideas. Another two hour meeting takes place sometime after the scout has made their project proposal and has gotten feedback from their scout advisor or official. One more two hour meeting is held where the scout outlines the final project. “There are smaller, less formal meetings in between and lots of emails back and forth,” said Bramel. “The average is about seven face-to-face meetings and about 12 hours worth of conversations via email.”
When it comes time for the actual construction to begin, Bramel steps back after a brief safety check, and allows the scouts to take control and finish on their own.
Boy Scouts have been seeking to earn their Eagle Scout Award since 1974. Boy Scout Walter Guertin constructed the West River Nature Trail (self guided interpretive trail and brochure) that was so impressive, he received his Eagle Letter of Recognition from President Richard Nixon.
The next Eagle Award wasn’t completed until 1993, when Boy Scout Rusty Stewart constructed a multi-use woodland trail suitable for horseback riding, hiking and mountain biking. The idea of coming to West Hill to work on Eagle projects began to gain popularity at the beginning of the 21st Century with a project in 2002, two in 2004, one each in 2005, 2006, and 2008 and then multiple projects every year from then on. “It is so rewarding to see these young men, who came here as Cub Scouts, mature, grow into themselves as they explore college and careers and achieve this prestigious award,” said Bramel. “Several said to me, ‘I never forgot what Ranger Bramel said and I am here to earn my Eagle Award.’ They love giving back to a place they grew up at and love.”
The projects that the boys completed varies from trail building and constructing habitat structures for all types of winged creatures to constructing a variety of benches around West Hill Dam.
Some boys got very creative with their projects. Timothy Fowler, a Boy Scout who came all the way from Rhode Island to work on his Eagle project, constructed a portable amphitheater and wooden benches. Nicholas King built a life jacket loan station and provided 10 life jackets to go with it. Zachary Modica designed and constructed a fish identification portable board and water safety message system for park visitors. Five Boy Scouts – Matthew Fonseca, Dillon Arnold, Brian DiPasquale, Jake Pitrowski and Joshua Renfros – completed their Eagle projects in 2014. Mitchell McGonagle was the first Boy Scout to complete his Eagle project this year, with more boys coordinating their projects in 2015.
Girl Scout Awards have been a fairly recent initiative at West Hill compared to their male counterparts, but their work is no less involved and just as impressive. Whitney Roche and Janet Hass, both only 12 years old at the time, constructed a cement “step up” for horse trailers to keep people safe and earned their Silver Award. Kelsey Walker, who also volunteered during West Hill Dam’s Junior Ranger Program, received her Gold Award when she replaced or repaired all 19 double-boxed bird houses for Eastern Blue Birds along the West Hill Blue Bird Trail in 2012. Girl Scout Rachel Cronin, who earned her Gold Award in 2014, constructed a teeter-totter with a safe surface landscaped area for small visitors of West Hill Dam.
When the scouts complete their projects, Bramel inspects them and then, if they pass, signs the forms so that the next step of the Eagle Scout, Silver or Gold Award processes can take place. The bond between West Hill and the scouts doesn’t end at the completion of the project. Bramel has attended Eagle Scout ceremonies on her own time to show her support as well as occasional e-mails to check on how they are doing. “Four West Hill Eagle Scouts have gone on to serve our nation in our military forces,” said Bramel.
Most of the New England District recreational sites will help scouts earn badges and awards, either through interpretive programs already put in place or park rangers will work with scouts to come up with a plan. The relationship is a win-win for everyone involved – District recreational sites benefit from the scouting projects for years in the future and the scouts receive leadership and environmental stewardship skills that will last them a lifetime.