Boy Scout Cleans Up Stiltsville

When Drew Collins puts his mind to something, you can bet it’ll be big. His Eagle Scout leadership project was ambitious to say the least. Drew is a Boy Scout Patrol Leader in Troop 69, Thunderbird District in Princeton, FL and his vision was to clean the waters of historic Stiltsville.

Most native Miamians don’t know where or what Stiltsville is, yet this 17-year old twelfth-grader took it upon himself to make sure he had a positive impact on the local environment. “Other Eagle Scout projects are building benches, planting gardens and painting things… I wanted to hit it out of the park,” explained Collins.

Drew’s mom, who actively helped organize and participate in the project, added, “Drew dreams big. He goes to the School for Advanced Studies and is simultaneously earning a college Associate’s degree from Miami-Dade College.  He started out wanting to be a dentist, then it was orthopedic surgery, now he’s thinking biomedical engineering.” Drew plans to continue his education at MIT.

Mark Collins, Drew’s father, was the inspiration for the project. “My dad knows friends from Stiltsville. He brought me to swim and play there when I was young. There are houses in the middle of the ocean and it’s beautiful. When I saw the trash below, I knew I had to help clean it up.”

Located in the shallow channels just south of Key Biscayne, Stiltsville has its place in Miami’s rich historic fabric. Since it’s beginnings in the 1920s as a place for politicians, boaters and the social elite to avoid Prohibition, the area has been home to as many as 27 interesting rustic “shacks” that sit on pilings about 10-feet above the bay.

Almost constantly under fire from hurricanes and governmental challenge, only seven houses remain. Today, protected and cared for by the Stiltsville Trust, these homes still stand, but are in need of some real TLC.

So, early on September 15th, Drew organized around 50 volunteers from Boy Scouts, his school, friends and family to get cleaning. After his mom Debbie and sister Rachel systematically signed everyone in, Drew stood atop a picnic table and took charge. “It’s time to kick this off. I appreciate you all coming out…now let’s go clean up!”

He assigned about twenty volunteers, led by his friend Brad Hadley, to scour the shoreline of Matheson Hammock Park using more than a dozen canoes. Then, riding in his father’s boat, Drew met the remaining members of the Stiltsville cleaning armada at the Jimmy Ellenburg house, owned by William Tuttle, grandson of Julia Tuttle.

Drew Collins surveys Stiltsville as his cleanup day gets started

In expectation of Drew’s help, the home’s caretaker posted a sign that read ‘CAUTION – Ocean Clean-up In Progress by Drew Collins Eagle Project’. The moment Drew saw it he said, “This is gonna be great!”

All day, divers and snorkelers constantly combed the Biscayne Bay floor for trash. As expected, there were tons of glass beer and soda bottles. A few bottles of wine came to the surface still fully corked, though no one dared try the wine inside.

Drew enticed people to find the oddest or most interesting item, “Remember, you are treasure hunters. Now go get some!”

Plenty of treasure was found. A used stereo system, an ornate china teacup, cell phones, folding lawn chairs, a 10-foot ladder and lots of sunglasses were brought up. Probably the best find was the full-sized refrigerator that was home to a moray eel and other aquatic life.  They decided it was best to leave that behind for its new role in the habitat.

University of Miami grad student, Christina Vilmar, dives for trash.

During the day they bumped into a Biscayne National Park research team studying why predatory lionfish were attracted to Stiltsville. Originally, they thought this would hinder the Scout cleanup effort, but it actually helped, as the scuba diving research team joined in. “They were awesome! It feels good to have them help out,” said Drew.

Before leaving the Jimmy Ellenburg house, caretaker Dave Reed helped Drew post his permanent ‘Keep it clean or pay some green’ sign, leaving a lasting reminder to future visitors. The other six houses will soon sport the same signs.

Boat by boat the trash made its way back to Matheson Hammock where it filled a dumpster. Drew returned the next day to continue the Stiltsville effort and will work with all seven houses for the foreseeable future.

Once Drew turns in his papers and passes a Board Review, this outstanding young man should be officially named Eagle Scout before the end of 2012.


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