by Margie Church
Special to the Star News
After a recent Elk River Park and Recreation Commission meeting, Chairman Dave Anderson beamed. Five area Boy Scouts had just delivered their presentations describing their Eagle Scout projects that collectively transformed the Woodland Trails winter walking trail system into a destination.
To earn Eagle Scout, the highest rank in Boy Scouts, each candidate must plan, develop and give leadership to a community-based service project. For their projects, these young men built a bridge, restored a prairie, built a trail, designed and installed mile markers on the Great Northern Trail, and built and installed signage throughout the winter walking trails.
None of this is done without careful planning, organization, fundraising and the cooperative magic that Anderson said always seems to happen when Scouts come knocking. He estimated the materials (much of it donated) and labor total to be well over $20,000.
The joy their efforts will bring to area citizens, he said, is priceless. Together, these represent projects 15 through 19 in the city of Elk River parks system that Anderson has mentored.
Oak savannah restored along trail
Ryan Larson, of Troop 111, chose to restore a portion of the oak savannah along the Great Northern Trail. In the middle of the 20th century, the forests along the Great Northern Trail didn’t exist. A prairie of grasses and flowers shouldered the railroad tracks. Grazing cattle kept the trees and brush down. When the cattle were removed, the trees and brush flourished, shading out the native plants. The idea with this service project was to reclaim a portion of that location by removing the buckthorn, poplar trees and other plants choking out the native plants.
Larson organized a huge crew in 2012 to cut down the trees and haul them to the area compost site. The stumps were treated to kill them and then cut out last spring. A controlled burn by the city of Elk River set new growth into motion. The site was over-seeded with little blue stem and other grasses that the forest had shaded out. This fall, the aspen regrowth was cut. Next spring, the site will be burned again.
“There were diverse remnants of forbs (herbaceous flowering plants) and grasses that needed the sun,” Anderson said. “Once the light returned, the plant growth exploded. Ryan’s service project will bring a lot of wistful smiles to those who remember how the area used to look.”
Larson said he learned a lot from the project.
“I’ve had a great time and I’ve learned a lot about myself and about working with people, most of all,” he said. “You can’t do an Eagle project without people.”
Great Northern Trail has new mile markers
Taylor Hecker is a member of Troop 378. He chose to construct and install mile markers on the Great Northern Trail. This was a complicated project from an engineering perspective. Cretex Materials Engineer John Kallemeyn worked with Hecker to construct the form and decide how to affix the numbers and letters so their impressions could be permanently cast into the monuments. They worked together to design a concrete mix, and Kallemeyn helped Hecker batch and pour the forms. A self-consolidating concrete was chosen because it needs no vibration to settle and provides a decorative finish.
“They used the latest technology in concrete,” Anderson said.
Installation was really labor intensive. The soil along the Great Northern Trail is full of rocks that had to be dug out so the monument footings could be poured. Each monument and its footing weigh approximately 300 pounds.
“Thanks to Taylor’s beautiful markers, anyone will be able to time how long it takes them to get from one mile to the next and know where they are,” Anderson said.
Trail signs provide finishing touch
“Dylan Church’s project is kind of the glue that holds everything together,” Anderson said. “His trail signs are the finishing touches on the winter walking system.”
Church is a member of Troop 99. He constructed and installed 15 signs throughout the 5-kilometer winter walking trails to provide visitors with way-finding signs and maps. He also installed new posts to replace old ones and unify the marking system. Until now, these did not exist, and Anderson said providing them was a natural evolution to the busy system. They also unify the other trail system identification at Woodland Trails.
Church relied on the generosity of the Elk River Sportsmans Club to fund his project, which ultimately far exceeded his needs. He donated the remaining funds to Ryan Herrboldt’s project.
Bridge building was complex, expensive
Herrboldt, of Troop 111, chose to build a bridge across County Ditch 31.
“I offered this project to several Scouts in the past,” Anderson said. “I never expected it to be built. I was amazed that Ryan wanted to tackle it. It was an extremely complex and expensive project.”
Aspects of the bridge construction included hand-digging the holes for abutments, the first of which was 5 feet deep, and then the abutment forms were built and poured. Each of the two abutments is made with 8,000 pounds of concrete and 300 pounds of reinforcing steel. These were followed by setting three 2,000 pound I-beams by the city of Elk River.
Herrboldt then built the deck. Posts and railings will be installed by Herrboldt and his friends to complete the bridge. He oversaw the entire project, helping coordinate each aspect.
Herrboldt’s project also required community effort. Jim Nystrom engineered the complex design, which the city of Elk River and Sherburne County had to approve. LeFebvre Companies transported the steel support beams from Kansas to Elk River, and then Cretex donated the concrete for the abutments and the steel I-beams.
The bridge was also quite expensive, and every Eagle Scout candidate is required to do their own fundraising. Herrboldt benefited from the generosity of several community individuals, including Chuck Larson and fellow Eagle Scout Church, who donated more than $600 from money remaining on his project.
Piano player tackled trail project
Anderson laughs when he recalls his first meeting with Blake La Vallee.
“I asked what his interests were, and he replied that he liked playing the piano,” Anderson said. “I didn’t have any Eagle Scout projects available that involved pianos. So, I offered him several different opportunities, and he chose the trail construction project.”
La Vallee is also a member of Troop 99. He tackled a half-kilometer winter walking trail that runs from the trail head to the Great Northern Trail at the biathlon range. A tremendous amount of hard labor is involved with trail construction. He started with raw woods – cutting down and removing standing dead and live trees. Several other work sessions followed that, including removing downed trees, chopping roots, digging out boulders and hand-raking the entire trail.
“One of the hardest challenges was going through the whole trail and making everything smooth — taking out all of the roots and rocks,” La Vallee said. Afterward, the city of Elk River brought in a skid steer to grind stumps and grade the trail approaches. La Vallee also dormant-seeded the new trail this fall to complete the work.
Anderson said, “His organization skills and attitude were terrific.”
It’s another piece of the puzzle; without Herrboldt’s bridge, La Vallee’s trail would have led to nowhere. La Vallee’s efforts complete 5 kilometers of winter walking trails at Woodland Trails.
Anderson said he is eager to work with Eagle Scout candidates in the future.
“The projects will be a terrific learning experience, and they’ll stand the test of time. Scouts can come back years from now and still see the fruits of their labor. I’m honored to have worked with all these young men and proud to see them achieve their Eagle Scout rank,” Anderson said.