While many of us spent the Easter/Passover weekend with family, Robert Steen rallied his troop (pun intended) to do some serious Spring cleaning on Elliott Key. Robert is a 15-year old Palmetto Senior High student working on his Eagle Scout achievement. Serving as the troop’s elected Senior Patrol Leader, Steen is already the youth authority. He has been with Scouting for more than four years and enjoys every minute of it.
As a member of South Florida Council’s Boy Scouts Troop 20 (Thunderbird District), Robert is ready to join the ranks of some pretty elite people. President Ford, Neil A. Armstrong, Sam Walton (Wal-Mart founder) and Steven Spielberg all achieve the rank of Eagle Scout. Robert’s troop meets Thursday evenings at Perrine Elementary School and camps out monthly. Beyond the extremely active and supportive families that make up Troop 20, they are proud to generate more than their fair share of Eagle Scouts. Assistant Scoutmaster Steve Andris explains, “About 15% of our boys make Eagle. The national average is 5%. We’re pretty proud of that.”
On April 6, Robert, his ‘crew’ of around 30 and an armada of 5 boats launched from Black Point Marina arriving at Biscayne National Park’s Elliott Key. A favorite spot for many boaters, Elliott Key is the northernmost Key and serves as a hiking, camping and beach destination, as well as an anchor spot for pleasure boats. Unfortunately, the Key is often left with garbage from careless patrons.
“I really love boating and I’ve been coming to the island since I was a little kid. It means a lot to me to give something back,” says Steen. “Every time I come out here it seems like there is less respect and more trash, so today we’re going to take care of that.”
Armed with pushcarts, trash bags, gloves and mechanical trash pickers Troop 20, along with helpers from Venture Crew 2021 (girls and boys aged 14-20), friends and family took to the task of cleaning Elliott Key. Under Robert’s direction, the group was split into teams and dispatched to various areas of the island.
For hours, everyone scoured for garbage, large and small. By far, beer cans and bottles were the biggest find by volume. Rusty barbeque grills, twisted remains of picnic tables and benches, wood shipping pallets and the occasional toilet seat were also found and carted away. Toothbrushes and thick cables were also pulled from the brush and water.
The mosquitoes were thick, but the resolve of Troop 20 was stronger. The group even waded hip deep in the water to ensure trash wrapped around the brush and mangroves was removed.
Matthew Kalap is a 2010 Eagle Scout and an Assistant Scoutmaster for Troop 20. He worked the rocky shore area near the docks and said, “It feels good knowing I am helping the environment and picking up other people’s trash. We’re here to help the Bay and we’re not going back until it’s done.”
During a brief break, I corralled Robert for an update, “We’re doing great. With all the hard work and effort, I see a cleaner place. We can all be proud of what we’re doing.” A Parks Services maintenance man told me, “We see lots of groups come over and try to clean, but this group is finding so much more. They are really working hard and we and future visitors certainly appreciate it.”
After a full day of hard labor, the group returned successful. So much trash was collected an entire boat had to be dedicated to just hauling back the trash bags and debris.
With the Elliott Key cleanup behind him, all Robert Steen has left to do is the paperwork for the project, have a Scoutmaster conference and then do a Board of review. He is likely to become an Eagle Scout before mid-Summer.
Here is the video story from YouTube: