Eagle candidate takes wing with nest-box project

Posted April 15, 2009, at 8:03 p.m.

When the wood ducks and mergansers arrive this month on Snow’s Pond in Jefferson, they will find safe haven for nesting. That’s thanks to the vision of one 17-year-old boy.

During the last weekend of hard ice this year, Ethan Foster was up at dawn, carrying ladders and pulling a sled full of tools across the pond. He was alone, but not for long. Soon, several more young people joined him, helping to haul 12-foot-long wooden posts and a number of duck nesting boxes across the frozen expanse.

“That’s the point,” Foster said as he set down some posts on the ice. “I’m not supposed to do this by myself. In order to become an Eagle Scout, I’m learning to be a leader.”

Dressed in camouflage and wielding a huge, screw-shaped ice auger, an adult also arrived on the scene. It was Foster’s father, Kenny, who is also Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 216 in Jefferson. “The whole idea for the boy, it’s to direct the job as a leader,” the Scoutmaster said.

On Snow’s Pond, Ethan Foster took charge of his team — Tyler Clark, 16; Jackson Fortin, 17; Ryan Hayes, 16; Nick Guptill, 13; and his 14-year-old brother Andrew — leading them in an all-day effort that marked just the finishing touch on a months-long project. Before the Scouts could install eight nesting boxes, Ethan had undertaken many other tasks, on his own and as group leader.

A junior at Erskine Academy in South China, Foster said he was keen to come up with an Eagle Scout project “that wasn’t like anything else I had ever heard of. The project had to be nonprofit, and beneficial, and you can’t spend money on it,” he explained. “I like the outdoors, so I wanted to do something outside, too.”

Building and installing nesting boxes for wood ducks and mergansers seemed just the ticket, but without significant donations, the project could be costly. Foster enlisted the help of several local businesses, which donated everything from lumber to hardware to wood shavings for the ducks.

“N.C. Hunt Inc. of Jefferson generously donated $500 to $600 worth of wood,” Foster said. “To get that much wood is pretty amazing!” he said. Bond Bros. of Jefferson donated screws and other hardware, while Louis L. Doe Home Center in Newcastle donated the shavings and wire that are placed inside the boxes. After gathering his materials, the Eagle Scout candidate also organized his troop to build the bird boxes.

Following the prime Boy Scout precept, “Be prepared,” Foster also engaged another man from Jefferson, Gary Vannah of Gary’s Welding, to design and produce the double-handled pounder that would be used to slam the wooden posts into the bottom of the pond. Supplies for that were donated by Mark Blackler of Jefferson.

That pounder came in handy when it came time to install the boxes on Snow’s Pond. On that bright morning, all of the previous challenges paled in comparison to finding parts of the pond floor that were neither too muddy nor too frozen to hold the posts stable. The boys used all of their muscle to pound those posts into the pond bottom, and when they were done, Foster opened and checked each box’s readiness.

Inside each box could be seen the words, “Ethan Foster Troop 216 Eagle Project 2009,” which had been burned into the wood by Foster’s parents, Sue and Kenny.

Ethan Foster displays the inscription burnt into one of his duck nesting boxes.

Duck nesting boxes built by Boy Scout Troop 216 of Jefferson.

Ethan Foster checks the pond bottom for depth and consistency.

Ethan Foster (left), Scoutmaster Kenny Foster, Ryan Hayes, Jackson Fortin, Tyler Clark, and Nick Guptill pose with a duck nesting box they installed on Snow’s Pond in Jefferson.

Ryan Hayes takes the lead as he and Ethan Foster carry 12-foot wooden posts across Snow’s Pond in the early morning light.

Ethan Foster (left), Tyler Clark, and Jackson Fortin look on as Scoutmaster Kenny Foster starts up the ice auger.

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