Rhinelander Boy Scout takes lead to help prevent drownings
Adam Engel is a young man of few words, but his actions speak volumes. In fact, this Saturday, along with his family and members of Troop 673, this ninth grader will be installing a structure at Hodag Park that may be instrumental in saving lives.
Adam’s project is part of Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources’s (DNR) “Kids Don’t Float” program and the small yet sturdy building will house life jackets that boaters and swimmers can borrow before hitting the water.
“This program is all about keeping everyone-especially kids-safe while out enjoying Wisconsin’s many rivers and lakes,” said Chuck Horn, the DNR’s acting boating law administrator, and former conservation warden heading the effort.
The DNR implemented the program earlier this year and sought to recruit partners to build and take responsibility for the life jacket stations. It is a replication of a successful life jacket program that started in Homer, Alaska, in 1996. Officials in that state were disturbed with the high number of child and youth drownings happening there. The project started with several boat landing stations where life jackets were available to borrow at no cost and returned after use.
“This is definitely an honor program,” said Horn. “If someone needs a life jacket, they can take one before they launch and return it to the station once they are off the water.”
Adam’s mom, Amy, saw an article in a March 2012 edition of the Hodag Buyers’ Guide detailing the “Kid’s Don’t Float” program the DNR was trying to implement in Wisconsin. She thought it would be a good project for Adam, who has been a Boy Scout since first grade, and is now ready to complete the highest rank in the organization-Eagle Scout. To become an Eagle Scout, participants must complete a community project demonstrating their leadership skills and awareness of community needs.
So Amy suggested the project to her son, who wholeheartedly agreed.
“I like to swim and fish, and spend time on the water and I thought having these life jackets available would be a good thing,” he said. “In Scouts it’s all about safety, and to be safe on the water, life jackets are important.”
Statistics point out that drowning while boating is not a rare occurrence in Wisconsin. Last year alone 23 people drowned in Wisconsin waters when they fell overboard. Only four were wearing life jackets. Since 2008, 77 people have died from drowning while boating in Wisconsin waters.
Adam and his troop thought the Hodag Park boat landing would be a perfect spot for the life jacket station. “It’s a launch that gets lots of traffic,” said Adam. “There’s also a beach there, so swimmers could use them too.”
The project involved woodworking skills, painting and construction. The entire troop, along with their leader Bob Metzger, helped construct the station, but Adam was the “foreman” which is part of the requirement for becoming an Eagle Scout.
“You have to have leadership skills, and so I had to explain how the station went together,” said Adam. He also had to attend several Rhinelander city board meetings to get approval for the structure to be placed at Hodag Park.
While the DNR provided the funds to purchase the material, it was up to Adam to shop for the supplies and to organize and coordinate the construction of the station.
“We built it at the Masonic lodge where we met last Saturday,” said Adam.
Then the structure was moved to the Engel home, where Adam has been working on it for the last week from a little shed on the family’s property. The DNR provided a professionally made sign to attach to the station. When the structure is completed, it will have the sign installed, a roof and even hooks where people can hang wet life jackets up to dry. The DNR will also provide life jackets of every size to stock the station.
Of course, one of the main concerns is that people will abuse the program, mainly by vandalizing the structure or stealing the life jackets, which have a DNR loaner jacket statement printed on the back. To help combat this, members of the Hodag Water Ski Team have agreed to keep an eye out on the structure, to see that it comes to no harm.
“I hope people will respect what the main purpose of the station is,” said Adam. “It’s there to help keep people safe.”
The plan is to have the station at the Hodag Park boat launch every summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day. And while this project has been a perfect stepping stone for Adam to complete his Eagle Scout requirements, he’s also proud of his family and his troop for helping to make the station possible.
“It may help save a life someday,” said Adam. “That’s what really counts.”