The Scouting trail from Tenderfoot to Eagle Scout is long and hard, and only about four Scouts in a hundred will make it all the way. In Sebago, two Scouts in Troop 82 are well on their way to earning the coveted Eagle Scout badge by demonstrating their leadership, service to their community, and outdoor skills. They must earn 21 merit badges of the 120 merit badges available to learn valuable life skills, they must serve leadership positions in their troop, and they must complete an Eagle service project. The Eagle project is a major step along the trail, and is the opportunity for each Scout to put all the skills and leadership he has learned into practice and create something of lasting value for his community.
Douglas Mountain in Sebago is a popular spot for hikes, especially during the fall foliage season. At 1,416 feet it is the highest point in southwestern Maine. The Town of Sebago maintains a trail to the summit and a parking lot, and at the summit is a 16-foot stone tower built by Dr. William Blackman in 1925. From the top of the tower hikers can see a wide panorama including Mount Washington and Sebago Lake.
Ted Davis, then chairman of the Sebago Conservation Commission, envisioned a new trail to expand the recreational use of Douglas Mountain. It was not too long later that Sebago Boy Scout Seth Newton (16) met with Diana Letellier, one of the Douglas Mountain attendants and with her husband Fern, who had taken over as the new chairman of the Conservation Committee.
Newton had heard that there was an interest in developing a new trail up the mountain and wanted to know if the Conservation Committee would be receptive to him taking on the challenge as his Eagle Project. They discussed several options and settled on a new hiking trail from the parking lot that would climb ¾ miles up the south side of the mountain through groves of hemlock, oak, beech, and pine to connect to an existing nature trail, and from there to the summit. The Conservation Committee agreed to the project, as did the Sebago Board of Selectmen.
His next task was to prepare an Eagle Project proposal to the Troop's District Eagle Advancement Committee that explained the new hiking trail and how he proposed to build it. Sebago's Troop 82 is part of the Casco Bay District of Maine's Pine Tree Scout Council. The Eagle Advancement Committee is made up of veteran Scouters who review all proposals by hopeful Eagle Scouts before the projects begin to make sure that each will make a lasting contribution to the public and represents a fair test of the Eagle candidate's leadership skills. Sometimes a proposal goes back and forth between the Scout, his Troop, and the Committee before all questions are answered. At that point, Committee chair Bruce Cort sends a letter to the Scout and his Troop approving the proposal and the project to begin.
Newton received his go-ahead this spring and has been working all summer on the trail. He and Mr. Letellier have flagged the route for a trail that will traverse some of the prettiest woods on the mountain and have mapped the route using GPS.
Newton has organized several work parties of Scouts and interested parents and adults to work on the trail, and they have completed nearly 2,500 feet of it starting at the parking lot end. Last weekend Troop 82 camped overnight on the mountain to combine fun with work as Newton organized another work party of his fellow Scouts.
I spoke with Fern Letellier on Saturday as he pitched in to help Newton's work crew. "I expect that we will complete the lower 2/3 of the trail today, and hope to have a good start on the upper 1/3 before the weekend is over."
Newton has a lot of work yet to do, but hopes to have the trail completed for use by the public next summer. Both Helen Rogers, the other Douglas Mountain attendant and Diana Letellier are very enthusiastic.
Letellier told me "People are very excited about having this new trail available to climb the mountain, and can't wait for it to be open. It will be a great addition."
Sebago Boy Scout Merlin Bahr (17) got the idea for his Eagle Project by talking to the Sebago Youth Athletic Association (SYAA). He saw that one of the athletic fields behind the Sebago Elementary School didn't have any team dugouts and suggested to the SYAA Field Manager, Michael Cain, that he could build two dugouts as his Eagle project.
Cain agreed if Bahr would build them from cement blocks "so they will last. "The SYAA will help you out. We'll build the forms and have the cement slab for the bases poured, and after that it is up to you to buy the cement blocks and other materials and erect the two 23x6 foot dugouts."
Bahr got the permission of the Sebago Selectmen for his project since the ball fields are on town property, and then prepared his Eagle Project proposal. The District Committee approved it, and he spent the summer collecting returnable bottles and cans to raise $1,375 for materials.
As soon as the slabs were poured, Bahr organized a work party. More than a dozen Scouts, parents and other adults worked all Saturday mixing cement and hauling blocks to erect the walls for two very substantial dugouts. The next weekend he got another crew together and added the roofs to complete the project.
When completed, these two projects will have taken nearly 400 hours of work by Newton and Bahr and the people that they recruited to help. Hikers and ball players will benefit for years to come because of the Scouts' hard work and leadership.
Once Newton and Bahr complete the reports about their projects and earn their 21 merit badges they will come before the District Eagle Board of Review.
If they pass this last step on their long trail to Eagle, they will be among a select few who have demonstrated the very best in young men today.
This article was edited and published in the Neighbors Section of the Portland Press Herald on October 28, 2004 under the title "Soaring with would-be-Eagles".