Scouts turn back time

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.” So says Irish poet, W.B. Yeats.

That seems to be one of the major lessons in life – nothing will ever get better unless someone puts some energy and effort into making it better.

Last summer I was chatting with my Scenic Rivers buddy, Ranger Eddie McCalip, and he was lamenting the fact that one of the prettiest sections of the Nature Trail at Bogue Chitto Water Park was basically unusable because part of the trail had eroded and sloughed off the side of the ravine into the river.

I strapped on my hiking boots and went to see for myself.  Originally the trail wound from near the boat ramp around the edge of the ravine and through the woods but years of rains and foot traffic had eroded the trail down to a treacherous drop-off into a bramble-filled ravine.

At this point, the trail was far too narrow to get a Ranger’s ATV or a mower down the trail, narrow enough that Scenic Rivers staff were rightly concerned about Park visitors falling – and if someone were to fall it would be quite a job getting them out.  Scenic Rivers was ready to close that part of the trail to keep hikers out of that treacherous slough.

While I was inspecting the eroded trail, I made another discovery – an old Girl Scout chapel in the woods just past the drop-off.  The sign said that the chapel was built by the girls of Troop 223D in April of 1995 – 24 years ago.

This once beautiful chapel was now falling in, obscured by hophornbeam saplings, slick and black with leaf mold, and choked with privet, yaupon, smilex, and blackberry. 

What must have once been a serene place with a lovely overlook of the river was now ruined and unusable.  It resembled a setting from a horror movie!  I cataloged the ruined Girl Scout chapel in the back of my mind because Ranger Eddie and I figured that the eroded trail was a more immediate issue.

Here’s where the energy and effort part of the story comes in.

Late last summer, I took my three Scout sons, Whit, Knox, and Quin and their Scout buddy, Phillip Nance to the park. We spent a day marking and cutting a new trail to bypass the eroded trail.  It was a sweaty, buggy day but by the end, we had a new trail corridor from the boat ramp to the back of the old Girl Scout chapel connecting to the Nature trail a ways past the eroded hazard. We piled a bunch of cut brush in the old, eroded section of the trail to block future Park visitors from that trail.  This will also help that section grow back into the forest.  We all walked back and forth down the new corridor to tromp a new, obvious trail.  

When we finished the new trail would be usable and lovable by Park visitors for a long time, but there was still the matter of the decaying ruin of the old Girl Scout chapel right in the middle of the new trail.  

Throughout the fall and winter months, Ranger Eddie and I plotted a solution for the overgrown chapel in the woods.  Scouts are always looking for service projects and restoring that chapel to make it an attractive, usable Park feature would be right up their alley!

Last weekend we gathered a handful of Scouts from our local Troop #124 and descended upon the old Girl Scout chapel with loppers, hoes, saws, and axes.  We set about clearing the tangled overgrowth of saplings and briars.  It took most of the morning but it was a cool, breezy Mississippi April day perfect for this sort of work.  About the time we were finishing with the vegetation, Ranger Eddie showed up with a pressure washer and a couple of hundred feet of hose.  

The other Scout leader raised an eyebrow doubtfully, not expecting even a good pressure washing to make much of a difference, but I grabbed the nozzle and said, “Watch this.”

The first pass of the water jet on a slimy black fence post restored it to the original golden red color and made it obvious that this was going to be a raging success!  A couple of hours of pressure washing the benches and railings made an unbelievable difference!  Now, this would be a lovely, serene place for prayer and meditation again.

Troop #124’s service project last Saturday is certainly not the end of the matter.  Remember Yeats, “Things fall apart?” 

This beautiful chapel will need occasional maintenance or else in a few years it will return to the woods again. But I’m sure that there is a Boy Scout Troop or a Girl Scout Troop – or even one of the BSA’s new co-ed Scout groups somewhere around here that will be looking to put in the effort to turn back time on this precious little spot in the woods.  

Originally published in the Enterprise-Journal Newspaper

Categories: Conservation

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