BenetteDavid_BSAlogo“Be Prepared.” To most, it’s a familiar phrase and recognized as the motto of the Boy Scouts of America. Perhaps less widely known but just as crucial to scouting is the last tenant of the scouts’ Outdoor Code: “Be conservation minded.”

A local scout, Bennett David, has proven to serve as a testament to this decree. Bennett previously joined the ranks of over 50,000 scouts each year to attain the honor of becoming an Eagle Scout – a recognition earned by only six percent of all scouts. His work in conservation, however, has enabled him to become a part of an even more exclusive group. This year, Bennett became one of only 134 scouts to earn the Hornaday Award Silver Medal, an honor that originated more than 100 years ago. He is only the third recipient from North Carolina.

I am an Eagle Scout myself. I credit the Boy Scouts’ emphasis on conservation and the outdoors as a leading influence on my own career choice in environmental education. In fact, my first job was as a summer camp staffer outside of Louisville, Kentucky. This was more than 20 years ago and now I find myself teaching these same requirements at the Arboretum’s weekend programs and week-long Merit Badge Challenge Camp. It’s a part of my position as youth education manager that I particularly relish.

It was at one of these merit badge sessions that I met Bennett five years ago. He was an enthusiastic scout with a thirst to fill his sash with merit badges (he now has 132!). Even then, he exhibited characteristics of leadership and charisma uncommon among his other peers. He earned his Environmental Science Merit Badge at the Arboretum which, along with 20 other badges, aided in the completion of his Eagle rank. But Bennett wasn’t content to end his scouting career there. BenetteDavid_SilverMedalHe approached me with an interest in earning the Silver Hornaday Award. I agreed to serve as his conservation adviser – a position I admittedly had little knowledge about but was dedicated to help Bennett in any way that I could. We discussed the four conservation projects required of this award and I worked to match Bennett’s interests with any resources the Arboretum and its partners could lend. Bennett proved his abilities to lead his peers while completing his Eagle Scout project, but could he do this again with the extra workload and coordination that was required for the Silver Hornaday Award?

The answer, of course, is yes.

BenetteDavid_RiverCleanupWithin two years Bennett partnered with Monarch Rescue to design and implement a Monarch Waystation featuring native plants at a local school and led more than 500 people in creating seed bombs to help provide more hosting plants for these imperiled butterflies and other pollinators. He led scouts and students in constructing nestboxes for the declining brown-headed nuthatch and placed them everywhere, from golf courses to schools across Western North Carolina as part of an Audubon North Carolina initiative. He worked with Asheville GreenWorks and RiverLink to organize a crew of more than 100 youth to devote nearly 4000 hours to remove 130 tires and other trash from Hominy Creek. Bennett also led his fellow scouts and students at Christ School to remove invasive plant species from Richmond Hill, a popular recreation area, over a period of two years.

Any one of these projects proves Bennett worthy of distinction, but simply completing the projects does not grant the Silver Hornaday Award. Scouts must present evidence from all these projects to the Boy Scouts of America national headquarters in Irving, Texas, and the scope and impact must be found by a panel to be significant and deserving of the honor. BenetteDavid_JMBDAwardWe waited patiently for word to come regarding Bennett’s application and finally, the day came. He was one of two scouts nationally this year to receive the Silver Hornaday Award.

There are a great number of threats to our natural resources and wild places. These accounts can seem daunting at times, especially as we hear more stories of wildlife disappearing. More evidence of ecosystems thrown off balance; more places we once knew as open spaces are now developed and paved. Despite this, scouts like Bennett exhibit a combination of characteristics that leave me not only hopeful but optimistic about the future of our planet. He is a proven leader and he is, as the Boy Scout’s Outdoor Code states, “Be conservation minded.” It is young men and women like Bennett who will champion our water, air, land and species, and inspire others to join them in this cause. It is our role, as parents, youth leaders and educators to provide opportunities for young people, like Bennett, to experience and fall in love with the natural world. They will take it from there.