While many of us spent the Easter/ Passover weekend with family, Robert Steen rallied his troop (pun intended) to do some serious spring cleaning on Elliott Key. Steen is a 15-year-old Palmetto High School student working on his Eagle Scout achievement. Serving as the troop’s elected Senior Patrol Leader, Steen is already the youth authority. He has been with Scouting for more than four years and enjoys every minute of it.
As a member of South Florida Council’s Boy Scouts Troop 20 (Thunderbird Division), Steen is ready to join the ranks of some pretty elite people. President Gerald Ford, Neil Armstrong, Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and Steven Spielberg all achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. Steen’s troop meets Thursday evenings at Perrine Elementary School and camps out monthly. Beyond the extremely active and supportive families that make up Troop 20, they are proud to generate more than their fair share of Eagle Scouts.
“About 15 percent of our boys make Eagle,” said assistant Scoutmaster Steve Andris. “The national average is five percent. We’re pretty proud of that.”
On April 6, Steen and his “crew” of around 30 and an armada of five boats launched from Black Point Marina, later arriving at Biscayne National Park’s Elliott Key. A favorite destination for boaters, Elliott Key is the northernmost Key and serves as a hiking, camping and beach destination, as well as an anchor spot for pleasure boats. Unfortunately, the Key is often left with garbage from careless patrons.
“I really love boating and I’ve been coming to the island since I was a little kid; it means a lot to me to give something back,” says Steen. “Every time I come out here, it seems like there is less respect and more trash, so today we’re going to take care of that.”
Armed with pushcarts, trash bags, gloves and mechanical trash pickers, Troop 20 — along with friends and family and helpers from Venture Crew (girls and boys aged 14- 20), — took to the task of cleaning up Elliott Key. Under Steen’s direction, the group was split into teams and dispatched to various areas of the island.
For hours, everyone scoured for garbage, large and small. By far, beer cans and bottles were the biggest find by volume. Rusty barbeque grilles, twisted remains of picnic tables and benches, wood shipping pallets and the occasional toilet seat were also found and carted away. Toothbrushes and thick cables were also pulled from the brush and water.
The mosquitoes were thick, but the resolve of Troop 20 was stronger. The Scouts even waded hip deep in the water to ensure trash wrapped around the brush and mangroves was removed.
Matthew Kalap is a 2010 Eagle Scout who is also a junior assistant Scoutmaster. He worked the rocky shore area near the docks.
“It feels good knowing I am helping the environment and picking up other people’s trash,” he said. “We’re here to help the Bay and we’re not going back until it’s done.”
During a brief break, I corralled Steen for an update.
“We’re doing great,” he said. “With all the hard work and effort, I see a cleaner place. We can all be proud of what we’re doing.”
A Parks Services maintenance man told me the Scouts were doing a great job. “We see lots of groups come over and try to clean, but this group is finding so much more,” he said. “They are really working hard, and we and future visitors certainly appreciate it.”
After a full day of hard labor, the group returned successful. So much trash was collected that an entire boat had to be dedicated to just hauling back the trash bags and debris.
With the Elliott Key cleanup behind him, all Steen has left to do is the paperwork for the project, have a Scoutmaster conference and then face a board of review. He is likely to become an Eagle Scout before mid-Summer.
Many South Florida homes are still on septic tanks to handle waste water. If proper maintenance is not performed as these systems age, it can quickly turn into major expense and headache. About every fourth year, homeowners should have their system pumped out. Also, some people believe enzymes that promote a natural breakdown of waste should be flushed down the toilet. I use my water bill as a reminder and do so quarterly. A little TLC can save you a lot of money. Ill-maintained septic systems might need to have a drain field replacement. This can cost more than $10,000 and will certainly involve pulling permits and watching your lawn get chewed up.
For more information, go to www.soil.ncsu.edu/publications/Soilfacts/AG- 43913/#What_Maintenance_Is_Needed. I’m always looking for interesting people and events for consideration in this column. Contact me at www.MiamiHal.com, hal@miamihal. com or www.facebook.com/MiamiHal. Hal Feldman is a Realtor with RE/MAX Advance Realty and is available for any real estate questions you may have. On Sundays, from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. he is outside Wagons West in the Suniland Shopping Center to talk real estate.