Boy Scout Troops 513 and 108 and Packs 108, 513 and 60 of the Coastal Carolina Twin River District have been volunteering at the Center for Forested Wetland Research (SRS-4103) for the last three years. These African American Scouts and Scoutmasters have been helping with field work at a time when there were few staff, and made it possibility for the USDA – Forest Service to conduct several important studies.
The Scouts helped plant seeds and plants that grew in the studies on sweetgrass ecology and management. The Scoutmasters are dedicated mentors to these mainly urban and underprivileged boys, and are assisting with outreach to this underrepresented population by helping to expose the boys and their families to this agency and the work that is being done.
Each of the scouts and their leaders are African-American, the majority of the Scouts lacking one parent in their households. Thankfully, the Scouts has Scoutmasters who tirelessly work to keep them involved in constructive activities that are helping them to grow in productive young men.
Cubmasters Macio Jacobs,Daryl Orage and Penelope Middleton, and Scoutmasters Robert Madison, Sr. and Sara Freeman, have on numerous occasions brought their groups of young men to the Center’s work unit facilities and to field sites on the Francis Marion National Forest to help with field work. The scouts helped propagate seedlings by mixing potting mix, filling pots with soil and planting seeds, weeding, and eventually using the seedlings to help install research plots by digging holes and planting the seedlings. The work was hot, dirty and hard, but the scouts and scoutmasters always got the jobs accomplished. Because the work unit has been understaffed, no other field assistance was available during this period and therefore important studies would not have been accomplished if it were not for the help of these Scouts. As a result of their hard work, there are now two field studies installed and hundreds of additional seedlings growing in the greenhouse and at the Seed Orchard, poised for use in future studies.
Most of the efforts contributed by the Boy Scouts has been focused on studies of the Ecology and Management of sweetgrass (Muhlenbergia filipes). This native coastal grass is an important non-timber forest resource used by local Gullah people in the traditional coiled basket art form brought to this continent by enslaved Africans. “Sweetgrass baskets,” as they are called, are a source of income and cultural pride for many of those who make them and the baskets are historical icons for the Charleston, SC area where most of the baskets are made and sold. However, with the recent urbanization of the area, both the amount of the resource and its accessibility has declined dramatically. As a result, basket makers who used to personally collect the materials must now buy it at a high price from others who travel to less-developed coastal areas to collect it. The work of the Boy Scouts is important in helping to shift the balance and restore the population of sweetgrass in this area.