15 December 2010

Scout Projects Enhance Resort for Nature in Omaha

Autumn was an active time at Omaha's Heron Haven as numerous Boy Scouts were completing their Eagle Scout projects.

"Heron Haven is a local treasure which the scouts' efforts have made even more special," said Ione Werthman, the guiding force, site manager and overall visionary for the nature area near 119th and Old Maple Road. "We are a volunteer-run area, and any projects can help improve our area. I am very proud of the fabulous jobs the scouts did."

Heron Haven comprises 25 acres at a site which, in 1991 was slated to become an apartment complex.

It is now a wetland resort for nature, providing educational and learning opportunities for schools, scouts and church groups as an important and essential part of its mission.

There were at least a dozen scouts, from different Omaha troops, which recently finished their projects, Werthman said. "We've had six one year, and three or four other years, so the boy's effort this year were exceptional."

There have been about 30 scout projects done on the area in the past ten years, Werthman noted.

Particular projects she mentioned, included:

Frank McKenzies: constructed a chimney swift tower which was placed in an appropriate place. This species has not yet been observed at the haven, but Werthman said she is looking forward to adding it to the site's currently tally of 139 species of birds.

A set of triplets, each completed their own project. Mike Bauwens built six benches, placed along the trail, providing a place for a respite while walking about. His brother Patrick, built 20 bluebird houses which were installed along the dike which is the western boundary of the haven, and along Old Maple Road. The Eastern Bluebird is another species which can hopefully be added to the site's bird list. Ben Bauwens placed wire protection around 22 trees to prevent any beavers from gnawing on them, which could result in their loss.

Mason Hiller made six tree permanent identification signs that were anchored in concrete along the hiking trail, which will be beneficial in noting trees during hikes for visitors as well as helping younger scouts identify trees while getting their nature merit badges.

Philian Hoff improved the parking lot, including eradicating an unwanted invasive species, the Asian reed canary grass.

Stephen Hardesty also worked to get rid of the same unwanted grass, and planted native grasses to add to the "backyard setting" around the nature center.

Andrew Fish cleaned up and widened the hiking trail, and putting pea gravel in place to make the route to the boardwalk, handicap accessible.

Brian Ermal improved and widened the trail, placing wood chips for a good distance through the trees and to the viewing blind near the wetland.

Garrett Barrends built a protection fence railing along a curve in the trail where it is near water, making the route safer for young kids.

Blake Gittler improved the front of the building by removing weeds, putting plastic in place and covering it with pea gravel to inhibit future growth, did some painting and otherwise improved the "front door appeal" of the nature center.

Previous scout projects have been helpful by painting the building, making recycle bins and putting fences around the gardens, Werthman said.

Additional community support was provided by a local resident who donated their former wooden fence, when they were redoing their yard.

Heron Haven relies on volunteers to get things done, as it is supported by memberships and donations.

"I personally invite area residents to Heron Haven to personally observe the wonderful results of the scout projects," Werthman said, adding that "we are trying to get ideas for new projects all the time."