OAKLAND Although Oakland Nature Preserve is no stranger to Eagle Projects, each is unique, including the massive project Germán Escobar Jr., of Troop 210 in Winter Garden, finished in the last several months.
Red Trail Longleaf Pine Forest, Germán’s project, bears the name of a preserve project with which he helped organizer Jim Helmers. The ultimate goal is to transform 2.25 acres into a 19th-century pine forest.
For his part, Germán led a group of 53 volunteers in removing weeds and branches from that area before planting 875 longleaf pine seedlings in rows, all while protecting bird and tortoise nests. For a cherry on top, he and his mother crafted the wooden sign marking the forest.
This mammoth task completes a journey to Eagle Scout status that spanned at least two-thirds of his childhood.
As a Cub Scout beginning at about 6 years old, Germán, now turning 18, wanted to become a Boy Scout, and then as a Boy Scout, he strived always to become an Eagle Scout, he said.
“When I first started, I wanted to do it for the experience,” Germán said. “They always presented it as a really cool thing. In Boy Scouts, there’s a lot of interesting things you can do. I was never centered in something specific, so when I went to Boy Scouts, there was many things I could do all at the same time — especially outdoor activities. I like the outdoors.”
That love for nature, the environment and his community helped inspire Germán to undertake such a massive project, he said. He had wanted to try something a bit different, but his fondness for the preserve called him back.
When he learned Helmers was working on the new Red Trail and pine forest, he seized the opportunity.
“It used to be orange groves, and then they burned that,” Germán said. “There was nothing there. It’s just weeds, grass. Most of the preserve is low woodlands, swampy, but this area is kind of higher up. It goes right next to a neighborhood.”
Logging for longleaf pines left the species endangered, hence the idea to restore this area with them, Germán said. Another endangered species, the gopher tortoise, was in this vicinity in numbers as great as 60, he said.
“One of the days, I had to go in and mark every single (tortoise) hole,” Germán said. “One of the other days, I marked every single native plant we wanted to keep. Most plants there were native, but we wanted to keep most of the rare ones.”
Another rare species Germán observed was a tiny pigeon bearing even tinier chicks on the ground, he said.
Most of the work was by hand, from the weeding to clearing logs and trash, which was mostly in September. The second phase, which was all about digging holes and planting seedlings, transpired in November to take advantage of cooler weather and avoid shock for the seedlings, Germán said.
By the time those seedlings are a full-fledged forest, Germán might be twice his current age. But through the long project, he gained immediate benefits of friends and memories, he said.
“It’d beautify the area — I think it’d look spectacular,” he said. “There was a lot of work and organizing, and I think that influenced many younger scouts in my group. … If I were ever to see my project 30 years from now … it would just grow.”
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].