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Boy Scout tackles chinaberry tree problem at park

By Sonny Long
July 5, 2013 at 2:05 a.m.
Updated July 6, 2013 at 2:06 a.m.

Volunteers, from  left, William Pickens, Brian McCarthy, Angel Tryon and Trey Rice helped Boy Scout Gregory McCarthy remove 80 chinaberry trees from Coleto Creek Park.

HORNADAY AWARD

Think of it as an Olympic medal bestowed by the Earth.

That's how the Boy Scouts of America website describes the Hornaday Award. The purpose of the Hornaday Awards program is to encourage learning by the participants and to increase public awareness about natural resource conservation. There are several levels of the award. A council may award the Hornaday badge to individual Boy Scouts for outstanding service in conservation.

SOURCE: scouting.org

CHINABERRY TREE

This fast-growing tree can form dense thickets that crowd out native vegetation. Chinaberry fruit is poisonous to humans and small mammals. Leaves and roots release compounds that inhibit the germination and growth of other plant species.

SOURCE: U.S. National Park Service

The invasion of chinaberry trees at Coleto Creek Park has been dealt a blow, thanks to an area Boy Scout's conservation project.

Gregory McCarthy, a member of Boy Scout Troop 363, tackled the project as part of applying for a Hornaday Award, the top conservation honor bestowed by the Boy Scouts of America.

"I contacted Coleto Creek Park and asked if they had any conservation problems that fit the categories for the Hornaday," said Gregory, 14, a freshman at Victoria East High School.

"They did. Chinaberry trees are invasive and causing problems."

The park's chief ranger, Wilfred Korth, confirmed the chinaberry tree problem.

"Control of invasive species is an ongoing battle at Coleto," said Korth. "We have been trying to keep as many native plants as possible growing in the park to provide the diverse habitat that the wildlife in our park needs to survive.

"As invasive plants move in, they can crowd out the natives and create an ecosystem not conducive to our wildlife.

"We chose chinaberry tree removal because it was becoming one of the dominant trees within our wildlife viewing area," said Korth.

"Our hope is that with the removal of these trees, the seed bank will be reduced so that the continued expansion of chinaberry trees within the park will be stopped."

Gregory identified and tagged 80 chinaberry trees in the designated area, and he and a crew of volunteers spent a day removing them from the park.

"The hardest part was the planning," admitted Gregory. "When you do a vast project like this, it puts you in a real-life learning opportunity situation where it put my leadership to the test."

Gregory and 16 volunteers gathered on a Saturday and took on the chinaberry trees, cutting them down and removing them from the wildlife viewing area.

But it doesn't stop there for Gregory in his quest for a Hornaday Award.

His presentation will include information on how chinaberry trees are invasive, how they are affecting the environment and ways to raise awareness.

The biggest thing Gregory is taking away from the project is his growth as a leader.

No Scouts in McCarthy's district - the LaSalle District of the Boy Scouts of South Texas Council - have ever earned a Hornaday Award. The LaSalle District includes Goliad, Jackson, Calhoun, Refugio and Victoria counties.

"I was entering into uncharted territory that was scary, uncomfortable and unsure, so it took some leadership to be the first one to blaze through this and get it finished," he said.

Gregory also acknowledged the help he received from others.

"I know that I'm nothing without the generous people who have helped me," he said.

"People saw that I had a vision and (was) already showing leadership by doing a project that few have done and being prepared to do that project."

Gregory also led by example.

"I found out that your workers are only as strong as the leader," he said. "If I'm working hard, they will work because I'm leading by example.

"Also, being the leader of the project gave me some insight on what a boss does on a daily basis and prepared me at an early age with that ability to lead.

"Also, I learned that a leader's attitude in the way you give instructions and the way you carry yourself throughout the project is extremely crucial to the success of the project."

Korth was impressed with the young Scout.

"He was responsible for developing, coordinating and completing the project with my approval as the site manager," said the ranger, who is a former Eagle Scout. He has worked with Scouts on about 10 projects during his tenure at the park since it opened in 1981.

Gregory will learn this fall if he receives the Hornaday Award.

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