Hundreds of Boy Scouts clean up waterfowl protection area
More than 350 Boy Scouts got to learn all about nature while performing a needed service at the Oak Ridge Waterfowl Protection Area near Star Prairie on Saturday.
The Scouts, ranging in age from kindergarten students to 21 years old, spent Saturday removing invasive species of plants from the waterfowl protection area. Buckthorn was the main plant that the Scouts worked to eradicate, opening up oak savannas that were being choked with the thick undergrowth.
The idea for the project came from Somerset Cub Scout Master Greg Scheder and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife Biologist Chris Trosen. Scheder brought the idea to the Scout regional council last spring and it caught on like wildfire. Seventeen area service organizations stepped up to help sponsor the event.
The Star Prairie site worked perfectly for the Scouts, because it is nearly dead center in the Eagle River Scout District, which includes St. Croix, Polk, Pierce and Burnett counties and Hastings, Minn. Steve Wojan of New Richmond is the district chairman for the 65 Scout units in this territory.
The event was officially called "Conservation Day on the WPA." With Scouts, their families, plus volunteers from the The Friends of the St. Croix Wetland Management District, there were more than 400 people involved in the morning and afternoon work sessions. The Scouts cleared approximately 10 acres during the day.
These weren't strictly work sessions. During breaks, the Scouts would listen to speakers from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other outdoor organizations. During their 90-minute lunch break, the Scouts could visit booths set up by a number of local outdoor groups.
Scouts and adults worked side-by-side in using loppers and limb saws to cut out the buckthorn and other unwanted plants.
"They were just having the best time," Wojan said of the Scouts. "They had some responsibility and they worked and worked."
Wojan said events like this are becoming more and more important because of the proliferation of computers and other devices that are capturing kids' time and attention. He cited a book, "Last Child in the Woods," which says "Nature Deficit Disorder" is a condition that is affecting kids who are spending so little time outdoors.
"We need to be outside and connect with nature," Wojan said.
To that end, he said Scouting is making a concerted effort to have activities that get children more involved with nature.
Wojan said the Scouts hope to replicate this event in future years and with more nature organizations.
The idea could never have happened without the outpouring of support from businesses and service organizations. Businesses like Wal-Mart, Farm and Home, Econofoods and Somerset Rental were big supporters. So were service organizations like Masonic Lodges from New Richmond, River Falls and Baldwin, the New Richmond American Legion, the Amery Lions Club and Star Prairie Fish and Game.
Trosen and Scheder said they hope to have the event again next year, and on an even larger scale. Trosen said the Oak Ridge location is a good possibility for future years. He said activities like seed collection and acorn planting could be projects for the future.