GODFREY — Take a walk around the Nature Institute and you’ll see the handiwork of a generation of Eagle Scouts.
Six years ago, one scout from Troop 7 replaced worn trail signs along hiking paths in the nearby Mississippi Sanctuary. Thirty years ago, a scout built the original Gator Pit.
“Everything around the lodge — the trail signs, the fire pit, the puzzle box — are Eagle projects. They’re small projects but worthwhile,” said Patti Brown, TNI’s education director.
Last month, three Scouts from Troop 7 in Alton added to the list of projects.
Look to the left boundary line of TNI as you drive up South Levis Lane and you’ll spot the Gator Pit. While there aren’t any real ‘gators to scare day campers, the pit does present a challenge to kids.
It’s a low-beam activity designed for younger children to promote balance. Older ones benefit from it as well as they work together to place different-length boards in the right sequence to create a path across the pit.
Nathan Backstrom, 17, was looking for an Eagle Scout project when someone put him in touch with Brown. She suggested he rebuild the pit.
“We removed the old tree stumps and brought in new posts that AmerenUE had donated,” Nathan said. “We also laid down a layer of mulch as well as rails to contain it.”
The most challenging — and time-consuming — part of the project was wedging the holes for the boards.
“We couldn’t use power tools, so I sat with a mallet and knife cutting out a notch on the stumps,” Nathan said. “It was pretty tedious.”
“Mulch was added this time where before it was just dirt, so hopefully this will last another 30 years,” Brown said.
Look west from the lodge’s front porch and you’ll see the burrow. The burrow is used in TNI’s groundhog program in February to teach kids how animals go into hibernation and live underground. Once an old culvert, campers have a safer hideaway, thanks to 13-year-old David Mathus.
David, who’s been a camper at TNI himself, was volunteering there last summer and noticed the pipe’s jagged edges.
“I saw that the kids liked it but it was rusted and dangerous,” Davis said. “I decided it would make a good Eagle project.”
David led a team of about 10 other Scouts and adult leaders to remove the old pipe. Jim Baalman, of Ferrellgas in Godfrey, welded together and installed two 3-foot-long propane tanks. Dirt was piled over it and milkweed and other flowers were planted to attract monarch butterflies.
David and his team built a hut at one end of the hideaway. The hut, 4 feet wide, high and long, with open sides and a telescope, affords children a spot to watch for butterflies feasting on milkweed.
Anyone who has spent time camping knows keeping animals away from the garbage is important. Thanks to Jerry Bemis III, 17, TNI no longer needs to worry about raccoons rummaging in the rubbish.
“Garbage cans are very much needed and the others were not ‘critter-proof,’” Brown said. “These are kind of camouflaged, which is nice.”
Jerry, who now lives in Greenville, designed wood boxes for trashcans. With the help of about a dozen other scouts and leaders, three boxes were built, painted brown and strategically placed around TNI grounds.
“I like having Scouts do projects around the Nature Institute because we can’t afford these ourselves,” Brown said. “They’re giving back to the community and still benefiting us.”