Saturday’s cool weather was perfect for enjoying a walk in the Forest Preserves. Which is exactly what some 24 Boy Scouts from Troop 16 did last Saturday morning. In their own way.
“The weather was perfect for walking in the forest preserves and finding trash,” event supervisor Dan Ferguson said Monday.
Led by Ferguson, Scoutmaster Richard Tresselt and four other adults, 24 energetic scouts spread out in Thatcher Woods in search of trash and junk left by careless picnickers and illegal fly dumpers.
They found plenty.
In fact, it was a record day for the troop, which recently celebrated its 90th anniversary.
Over four hours, the scouts hauled a total of 4402 pounds of trash, metal and concrete out of the woods and disposed of it properly. Thirty construction debris bags, donated by Dressel’s Ace Hardware, were filled. The haul easily beats any of the first nine years of the cleanup, during which a total of 10 tons (20,000 pounds) of refuse were recovered.
Ferguson noted that the cleanup was one of two or three such projects Troop 16 undertakes each year as part of its commitment to community service. On May 13 some of the troop will help load collected food items at the South Oak Park Post Office on Garfield Street near Harlem and truck it over to the Oak Park Food Pantry.
But it’s the environment, and particularly the woods, which is of the keenest interest to the scouts.
“This is a way of giving back to the community,” said Graham Steele, 13, who added that such service was part of the scout’s code.
“The service model says do a good turn,” he said. “This is our good turn.”
Zach Battieger, also 13, took pride in the morning’s good work.
“This gives us something to brag about,” he said. “Today I lifted 1,000 pounds of rock. This feels like I’m doing something really helpful.”
Eleven-year-old Teddy Mayer was proud to help clean up something of particular interest to scouts?#34;a forest.
“It means a lot. This is like the only forest that’s close by.”
The boys also enjoyed the weather, which is dry and comfortable, despite the certainty of rain later in the day. Not every cleanup event is so blessed.
“One April we had snow on the ground,” said Ferguson, showing a photograph of a previous cleanup featuring bundled up scouts in front of trees laden with wet, heavy snow. “That makes it difficult to pick things up.”
Standing in front of a growing pile of concrete in the lot west of the Trailside Museum, Ferguson looked around at his dedicated laborers.
“They like to pick up stuff,” he said. The effort has paid off over the years, with larger pieces of refuse fewer and farer between.
“The big stuff is gone. We don’t find that any more,” said Ferguson.
In past years, the troop has found everything from animal carcasses to car transmissions to concrete.
“Three years ago there must have been two dozen shopping carts near First Avenue,” said Tresselt. “Two years ago we found an engine block.” The most bizarre find, Ferguson said, was a footlocker, laid out like a coffin, with a dead cat inside.
An even more welcome result is that the dumping of larger items appears to be down.
“I like to say garbage attracts garbage,” said Ferguson. “When people see a site clean they tend to treat it better.”
Of course, some thoughtless people still use the woods as a garbage dump. Saturday’s haul included two BBQ stovetops and some construction braces. There were dead animals this year as well, including a dog and a deer. The final weight total was jacked up by what appeared to be close to a ton of concrete chunks left by an illegal fly dumper.
When scouts go camping, a cardinal rule is to always leave their campsite better than they found it. Those campsites, include some of the most pristine places in the northern hemisphere, including the boundary waters up in Minnesota, where several of the scouts present Saturday were headed this summer. A number of the scouts who are 16 and older will camp in the Denali Range in Alaska this summer.
“That’s why you teach people to camp,” said Ferguson, “because it teaches individual responsibility and teamwork. That’s what’s best about scouting.”
Looking up from his clipboard around 10 a.m. Saturday, Ferguson called out, “Who’s the dead dog crew? We need three guys to get the dead dog.”
Within seconds, Battieger, pushing a wheelbarrow, was joined by two other scouts, and the three headed north across Chicago Avenue to retrieve the dog.
Off to leave the forest better than they found it.