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Local youth creates outdoor classroom as part of Eagle Scout project

Maxwell Elementary students will soon be hitting the trail to study science, thanks to a local boy scout. For his Eagle Scout service project, Kevin Kiester organized a group to clear the nature trail behind the school. Kevin said the trail hadn't been touched in four years, and wasn't useable because it was overgrown.

The trail, called the Outback Classroom, is now a cleared path, approximately three to four feet wide, that winds through a wooded area. Landscape timbers or tree limbs line the sides of the path, green markers are placed in front of significant plants of interest, and green benches are scattered along the way. At one point, the trail broadens into a classroom area, with open space and a row of benches.

"I think it is a good place for students to be able to study and learn about plants, animals, and insects. I like to take the students out with a journal and let them write about what they see and hear," said Robyn Rutkowski, first grade science teacher at Maxwell.

On the other side of the classroom area, a bridge crosses an old creek bed. Kevin said he didn't realize the bridge was there until they removed a "huge shrub" that was blocking the entrance.

Kevin solicited the help of people from the church he attends, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints in Harlem. He said he had one person working a chainsaw to clear large debris, one weed-eating crew, one re-routing crew, and two raking crews.

"I started one raking crew at the end of the trail, and one at the beginning, and they met in the middle," Kevin said.

It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to walk the trail, Kevin estimates. He said he planned the route to utilize the area, to keep it away from poison ivy, and to view as many different trees as possible.

Kevin said "it was neat" when the Bishop of his church discovered a plant at the end of the trail that is known to attract humming birds. Kevin made a point to leave the plant there, even though he had to work to remove vines growing through it.

The trail includes bird feeders, which Ms. Rutkowski said her students plan to keep supplied with seed. Second grade teacher, Saundra Maxwell, said her students will be "exploring the Outback in September ... to classify living and non-living things. We will be learning how plants grow and change."

Ms. Maxwell's students will continue to use the trail throughout the year, making bird feeders from pinecones in December, and watching "new life budding" in the spring.

It took Kevin's group only two and one-half hours to complete the project on Saturday, Aug. 5.

"It was easy considering I had 17 people to help," he said.

Kevin, who is 16-years-old and a sophomore at Thomson High School, is Senior Patrol Leader of Troop 116 in Harlem. He has sentimental ties to Maxwell Elementary because his mother, Sonja Kiester, has taught there for 21 years.

"The best part about the project ... was that it brought back a lot of memories from all the time I spent here growing up," he said.

Another part of the project Kevin said he enjoyed was the opportunity to be the boss, something teens often aren't able to do.

"He did a lot of hard work. He showed he has leadership, which is what the project is meant to do," Kevin's father, Steve Kiester, said.

Now that he has completed his service project, Kevin must pass a board review to become an Eagle Scout. This performance-based rank is the highest in scouting, achieved by only four percent of scouts nationwide, according to the scouting website.

Scouts must earn 21 merit badges to receive the Eagle award. Eleven merits are required, and 10 are chosen according to personal preferences and hobbies. Kevin is also an Order of the Arrow member and has been a counselor at Boy Scout camp.

Excellence in scouting runs in the family as Kevin's older brother, Rick, also completed his Eagle Scout service project shortly before Kevin did. Rick, who is a senior at Thomson High School, worked to clear seven miles of the Bartram Trail between the Clarks Hill Dam and the Petersburg Recreation area.

"Rick is definitely not afraid of hard work," his mother said. "Kevin took his project seriously. He values the scouting program and how it has taught him leadership skills."

Web posted on Thursday, August 31, 2006

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