For his Eagle Scout project, 12-year-old Jack Hobbs of Ashland Middle School wanted to do something for the planet.
His inspiration came when he and his Boy Scout Troop No. 112 were at Emigrant Lake on a cleanup patrol and saw a lot of cigarette butts. How, he wondered, to get rid of them?
Setting up an Eagle Scout project requires more than a construction effort — it also requires considerable research and enlisting the cooperation of others with a stake in the issue.
Through that research, Jack learned the butts, though tiny, get in the ecosystem and are often mistaken for bugs by creatures who eat them, he says.
"They get in the water supply and the chemicals in them are actually toxic," Jack says. "It's not good. Sea turtles and manatees eat them. It clogs their stomachs and kills them in a circle of death."
Raptors eat marine life that have ingested the butts and the problem is passed up the food chain, he says. Even if the butts remain on the ground, undisturbed, it takes about 15 years for them to degrade, he adds.
Jack set up a team to create brightly painted "butt bins" for two Jackson County Parks at Howard Prairie Reservoir and Emigrant Lake where they will be elevated and wired on stakes, then maintained by county parks personnel.
Jack got cans donated from school food caterers and paint donated by Home Depot. He enlisted fellow members from his scout troop, soccer team and school to spray the cans yellow-orange and paint them with positive pictures, such as the sun, clouds, flowers and rainbows.
The painted images are in keeping with the scout philosophy of being "safe, respectful and responsible," he notes, adding that scouting "is one of the best things I've ever done with my life."
"It's not just the fun of camping but the values you learn — loyalty, honor, respect, reverence, obedience and service to others."
Jack's scoutmaster, Bob Ellis, calls him "an exemplary young man, always jovial, a great kid."
Although most people don't think about where butts end up, Ellis says, "There's a big need for smokers to have a place to put butts instead of casually putting them on the ground, where it takes a long time for them to degrade and they're very toxic."
The boy's mother, Karen Hobbs, who is an after-school activity coordinator at Ashland Middle School, says, "What mother doesn't love a learning process like this? Friends join in and they all have to think about how to do it."
Jack is working toward becoming an Eagle Scout, the highest of seven ranks in the Boy Scouts, which requires among other things earning 21 merit badges. His favorite badges so far include sailing, archery, oceanography and swimming, he said.
He notes that video games and other digital preoccupations have taken their toll, but that scouting still can get boys up and off the couch.
"Not that many kids do it anymore. They're engrossed in video games, but if you ask them, a lot of them will come."
The cans built by Jack and his cohorts are coated with paint that sticks permanently to metal and then covered with polyurethane, to survive in the elements. The No. 10 cans have holes punched in the bottom to drain water.
"The parks here are so beautiful, but these are high traffic areas and the butts are kind of an eyesore," Jack says. "This gives smokers a way to avoid that."
He says he plans to put instructions for the project online, "so people all over the world can do it."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at email@example.com.