Eagle Scout could earn another prestigious Hornaday Conservation Award for his efforts combating invasive species in Sterling Forest
By Zachary Kunow, Trail Conference volunteer
I am a 16-year-old Eagle Scout with Boy Scout Troop 21 of Suffern, N.Y., and have been a member of the Trail Conference for the last three years. My Eagle project was to build a 60-foot bridge over a stream on the Long Swamp Trail, a 3.2-mile loop in Sterling Forest State Park. As a result, you can now hike the Long Swamp Trail year-round, not just when the stream is frozen over.
This was a great project, and I really enjoyed working on it—so much, in fact, that my troop and I adopted the trail and have been maintaining it for the last two years. The troop takes at least four hikes on the Long Swamp Trail each year, and my family and friends hike it many other times as well. I’ve noticed that after all the improvements to the trail, its popularity and usage has increased significantly.
Since completing the bridge, I have set my sights on earning the Hornaday Conservation Award, one of the many awards you can earn even after you’ve attained Eagle, the highest rank in Boy Scouts. This is a very prestigious award—each medal is only earned by approximately a dozen scouts per year. And I am now one of those scouts!
There are three levels to the Hornaday Conservation Award. The first level is the Hornaday Badge, which requires the completion of one conservation project. The project must be equivalent to, or can even be, your Eagle project; I worked on a recycling project to earn the Badge. The next level of the Award is the Bronze Medal. This requires three conservation projects in different categories. My recycling project, Eagle project, and a third project making wood duck boxes that were positioned in key areas of Sterling Forest have earned me the Hornaday Bronze Medal.
The Gold Medal is the highest conservation award that can be earned in Scouting. To earn this medal, a fourth project in yet another area of conservation must be completed. In considering another project, I looked to the Trail Conference. I knew that the Trail Conference had an Invasives Strike Force headed by Dr. Linda Rohleder, and I decided to reach out to her to discuss a project on the Long Swamp Trail involving invasives. In partnership with park officials, we agreed on a plan to remove six invasive species: Japanese barberry, multiflora rose, wineberry, Oriental bittersweet, garlic mustard, and Japanese stiltgrass. I would lead the project; work would be completed with the help of my troop, family, and friends.
Invasives are crowding out many native plants and are changing the landscape in Sterling Forest. Japanese barberry and multiflora rose are becoming more and more prevalent in the park and on the Long Swamp Trail, which is one of the main reasons why I chose to work on invasive species. To tackle this project, I set up a workshop with Dr. Rohleder to train my troop on the identification and proper removal of these invaders. During our training session, Dr. Rohleder provided me with descriptions and pictures of each species so they could be properly identified on the trail. I laminated these identification guides so they could be reused each time we went on a hike. These turned out to be very helpful—there were times when the first person on one of our hikes missed a plant, but one of the other spotters would see it. (We found that there were “missed” invasives almost every time we went on a hike.)
I planned to have several hikes in the spring and fall so that we could identify as many invasives as possible. Garlic mustard is best seen in the spring when it is flowering. Japanese stiltgrass is easiest to identify in the summer as it gets taller. I found it easier to identify the other invasives after “leaf-out.” It was even easier later in the summer when plants were mature and sometimes flowering.
The initial plan was to walk the trail and identify each invasive sighting, capturing the GPS coordinates, then go back to the locations at a later date and remove the plants. We soon discovered that it was easier to remove the invasives as we identified them. Once removed, these plants were placed on rocks or hung in trees so that they could dry out and die. This way, we wouldn’t contaminate another area by taking the invasives outside of the park.
In total, my invasives team went on two hikes in the spring and three in the fall. We used several different tools for the invasives removal, including ratcheting clippers to trim large plants like barberry and multiflora rose lower to the ground. To get to the roots, we found a small pickaxe to be the most useful. For stiltgrass and garlic mustard, we mostly did manual pulling, which was time consuming. A four-pronged rake made this work a little easier—and with less bending. We used the pickaxe on the wineberry and the ratcheting clippers on the bittersweet.
During of our five trips tackling invasives along the Long Swamp Trail, we removed approximately 250 Japanese barberry, 125 multiflora rose, 35 wineberry, 25 Oriental bittersweet, two large patches of garlic mustard, and many patches of Japanese stiltgrass. As a result, the trail is now more esthetically appealing. It will also allow for native plants to survive and flourish, since they will not have to compete with the invasives.
The impact of this project has been significant—even after those first spring hikes, we could notice an improvement. I plan on making the invasives program part of my troop’s normal trail maintenance on the Long Swamp Trail. This will allow us to keep on top of invasives species management along the trail and give native plants time to grow back.
Zachary Kunow is currently completing his junior year at Suffern High School and starting to think about college. The conservation work he’s done with the Boy Scouts and the Trail Conference has whet his appetite to study environmental engineering. He is on the varsity volleyball, swimming, and crew teams at Suffern; he’s hoping to row in college. In addition to his Scouting background, Zachary is a member of the Fire Explorers, which is run by the Boy Scouts of America. He has also recently joined the Tallman Fire Department.