2005-08-27 / Top News

Boy Scouts Clean Up Round Island Light

Dedicate Summer Days to Historic Structure in Straits
By Jessica Delaney

A small rubber dinghy is the primary mode of transportation for Troop 323 while they work on Round Island. The dinghy carries them from Round Island to Mackinac and also transports a large percentage of the troop’s gear and supplies.
A small rubber dinghy is the primary mode of transportation for Troop 323 while they work on Round Island. The dinghy carries them from Round Island to Mackinac and also transports a large percentage of the troop’s gear and supplies.

Boy Scouts from Freeland have been coming to Round Island for the past 10 years to clean up Round Island and specifically to work on the Round Island Lighthouse. Working with the U.S. Forest Services and the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, the scouts are continuing efforts to keep the lighthouse structure and its two outbuildings, a paint shed and privy, in good repair.

Andrew Kenel (left) and Brendan Case were two of the five Boy Scouts working on Round Island August 17 through August 21. The other three scouts were Ben Case and Jonathan and Austin Beck.
Andrew Kenel (left) and Brendan Case were two of the five Boy Scouts working on Round Island August 17 through August 21. The other three scouts were Ben Case and Jonathan and Austin Beck. The lighthouse is on the Hiawatha National Forest, which is responsible for upkeep and the Boy Scouts spend a week each summer there, providing valuable man-hours to the upkeep.

“We have a relationship of mutual care and concern for the lighthouse,” said Paula Johnston of Hiawatha National Forest. “It’s a partnership. We work together to come up with a project list. They can do things that we can’t.”

The work has never been easy for the scouts, nor for their adult chaperones. There is a large time commitment with the lighthouse job, both in the time spent on the island working and with the time spent raising funds in lower Michigan. The work has involved everything pouring new foundations for the outbuildings to dragging around five-gallon buckets of rocks.

Then, too, there are the living arrangements.

“I hate camping,” said assistant scoutmaster Ann Doyle, “but Round Island is such a love for me that I tolerate the camping.”

Scouts spend the weekend camped out on the Island. A generator in the lighthouse (which they brought across themselves) provides limited electricity. All supplies, from food to cooking water, must be brought across from Mackinac Island by dinghy. There are no toilet facilities on the island: Instead scouts use a box in the woods. All cooking is done by the scouts on a rotating job roster.

Recently, the scouts spent a weekend hard at work on Round Island. They came up Wednesday, August 17, and remained through Sunday, August 21. A number of jobs awaited them on the island, like cleaning the island of debris, reroofing the generator house, adding trim to the privy, replacing the flag, general cleaning throughout the lighthouse, and screening in all of the windows and doors.

“We have about 300 square feet of screen and we want to cover every opening on the inside of the lighthouse with the screen,” said Ms. Doyle. “There’s a problem with birds and animals and we want to minimize the opportunity for them to get in.”

It may sound like a lot of work for a group of teenage boys, but according to them, it’s some of the most fun of the summer. Also, to give the boys a bit of a break, chaperones make an effort to take the scouts across to Mackinac Island in the evening, to give them time to run around and just have fun. But for the scouts, some of the greatest joy in the trip comes from the sense of achievement they get.

“This is my third year up here, and I think my favorite part is just the lighthouse,” said Jonathan Beck, a Life Scout. “I like being in it and going up to the top.”

Matt McMullen and Luke Kenel were both involved in the first group of scouts to head over to Round Island. Though neither are Boy Scouts now (the program ends at age 18), they continue to come across, Mr. McMullen as a youth leader and Mr. Kenel to help out. They are proud of the improvements that the scouts have made over the years.

“We’ve done a lot,” said Mr. McMullen. “We’ve gotten everything painted, we did the handrails, cleared paths to the lighthouse, and moved all of the rocks out of the way. The privy was slanted sideways, so we fixed that, too.”

“When we first started here, a 52 foot class J military boat took two loads of trash away from this place. That was a project, cleaning all of that,” said Mr. Kenel.

The first year of the ongoing restoration project was particularly difficult for scouts. The current land bridge that connects the lighthouse to the rest of the island was under water, meaning a wet trek back to the woods. Boulders surrounded the lighthouse, making it difficult to gain entrance, and signs of vandalism and trash littered the island.

As if the sight of devastation hadn’t been enough to frighten off scouts, a storm blew in which ripped their tents.

“The first year we were faced with hurricane-force winds and heavy rain,” said Dave Mack, a leader who has been working on Round Island since the first day. “Well, you could say that we had a lightning experience.”

“The winds were 70 mile per hour. The tents mostly held up, but we lost some when the wind broke holes in them,” he remembers.

Scouts are careful when it comes to safety. A large portion of travel to the island is done in a small, rubber boat, and all riders are required to wear a safety vest. Scouts have worked with the Coast Guard to judge whether the waters are safe to traverse, and have had to delay trips owing to dangerous weather conditions.

All scouts must be 14 years old and have received merit badges in first aid and swimming to make the trip. Any scout who does not meet all three conditions can still be allowed on the trip, provided a parent accompanies him.

Recently, the U.S. Forest Service has been celebrating its centennial year and, in recognition of this, the United States Congress granted money specifically to highlight the forests. Hiawatha applied for and received a $100,000 grant for work on Round Island Lighthouse, to paint and rehabilitate the building. A requirement with the grant was that all money be matched. Boy Scout Troop 323 is working as a partner with the Forest Service to raise the money. To do so, they are establishing a fund through the Midland Community Foundation, although in order to open the fund, they must first provide $5,000.

To contribute to the Boy Scout’s efforts, send check to: Midland Community Foundation, 109 Main Street, Midland MI 48640.

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