When Scoutmasters take an interest, Eagle Scout candidates who choose to do footbridges (that appear to be usable by horses) are rendering a major public service — they connect the Scouts to the land and the public to the land, and they offer a major alternative to the County trails that are far removed from the water views that come with stream trails.
Park Authorities do not have the manpower, budget, or interest to do stream trail maintenance and new construction. At the same time, because these are public lands, construction is forbidden unless the Park Authority approves the Eagle Project. Under the leadership of Chairman Sharon Buluva, a process has been established for Fairfax County that could be a model for other counties. Hats off in particular to the County insurance manager, who certified the projects as “covered” if approved. The process includes a laminated “stake notice” at the site for 30 days.
Eight formal lessons shared with a recent Eagle Advisor:
01 Doing the Zillow overhead and the tax map to identify 360 degree adjacent stakeholders matters. On Eagle 01, had we not done this, we would have put the bridge on what turned out to be private property. The Scout learns about hybrid governance — consulting all stakeholders, not just the obvious one nearest the point. The best time to take azimuths is in the middle of winter when all the leaves are gone — a District program could survey for sites across its areas in the winter, then farm out the sites to Eagle candidates for permission development, and build in the spring. Each Troop should maintain a tax map for its area of operations that can be used by more than one Scout. Troops become Stewards of the Earth for their chosen area of interest.
02 Fairfax County sets the gold standard for mapping available to the public BUT stream trails, which are available as part of a PDF poster than can be printed by anyone, are NOT available on the hand-held app (Trail Buddy) that walkers, runners, and bikers use. This is a major opportunity that would also allow Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to plot needed and installed footbridges while also flagging to the public via Trail Buddy that BSA Scout Troop N installed and maintains each of the shown footbridges. This is also part of the geospatial aspect of the proposed new merit badge.
03 There are select landscaping companies that will donate driver and truck time to move materials from point of purchase to point of assembly to trail entry point, and they will also loan chainsaws, electric drills, and other tools as needed, all they ask is for a note of appreciation in the next Scout newsletter.
04 Dads overbuild. My biggest problem was Dads changing the specs from 10″ to 12″ from 6 feet apart to 6 inches apart for the cross beams, from 4 x 4 to 6 x 4 for the low bridges, all of this has cost implications for the families and weight implications for the Scouts carrying materials into the woods. It also has stream wash implications — 12″ is more of a surface than 10″ — I use the three words wealth, weight, and wash to emphasize to Dads that they need to STICK TO THE SPECS. I personally chose not to get involved in horse bridges because I worried about the weights, but I suspect that you could make a real contribution by establishing a design that can carry horses as well as people. My design was designed for 250-300 lbs, since a horse has four legs and the 1000 lbs or so is distributed it may be that the same bridge can handle a horse, but horse experts should be asked about this and that would be one of your Scout’s original contributions. NOTE: low-lying bridges crossing shallows need 1′ wide 2′ deep cement footers with metal brackets connecting cement to 4′ x 4′ base post — the bridges should be within two inches of ground level in these instances.
05 Dads are hugely helpful in a larger context. Among the greatest contributions Dads made in addition to helping their sons pre-build (but not assemble) the bridges at home was to do chainsaw trimming up and down the trail on either side of the bridge. Combined with younger scouts clearing debris including the occasional tire from the stream itself, each project was more than just a bridge, it brought a trail section up to God’s standard.
06 Boys Life will do a nation-wide story but the District has to believe in the project and champion it. A merit badge is do-able but needs the direct support of the top leaders of Scouting.
06 Trails need more than bridges. They need regular walkers who clear fallen trees and collect debris after floods. Right now Difficult Run has two fallen trees over the trail, I believe an Eagle Project could be made of a Scout getting County approval and creating a team to walk the half mile stretch and safely clear (with chain saw) the two fallen trees while also removing four tires that are in mid-stream at different points and should be both removed and delivered to the County recycling facility.
07 This is potentially a $12 million a year national fund-raising opportunity for the BSA, something that would bring Scouts, churches, bike clubs, bird watchers, homeowners associations, citizens, and county authorities closer together in improving our sacred Earth. All streams across America is neglected — this is a huge opportunity for the Boy Scouts of America.
08 The BSA Eagle Project PDF is a *pig* of a document — from the Stone Age in terms of file size — and should never, ever, be sent to anyone via email. Instead the County and other points of contact should receive the draft proposal in powerpoint form (see below example) and the SINGLE PAGE from the Eagle Project where County signature is required to approve the project on public lands. County knows how to send a letter of acceptance and appreciation when the project is reported back to them as completed, see the sample completion report below.
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