Elementary school students enjoying the huge outdoor classroom of the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area headquarters will find their visits just a little bit more comfy thanks to a Woodland Eagle Scout.
Ryan Stevens, 16, spent a good chunk of the past year planning and building 16 redwood benches in an outdoor area where students previously sat on tarps on the hard ground.
“It wasn’t very comfortable on the ground,” Stevens explained, “and they had a hard time getting the tarps out and putting them away after.”
He should know. Stevens spent a lot of time out there during his younger days, participating in the annual Nature Bowl competitions for children in grades 3-6. Sponsored by the Yolo Basin Foundation and the state Department of Fish and Game, the Nature Bowl features teams of students competing against each other to correctly answer environment-related questions aligned with state science standards.
Stevens, who has always been homeschooled, said he loved participating in Nature Bowl, “because I have a real interest in life science.
“I loved learning new vocabulary,” he added. “And competing with other kids. I’m competitive.”
So when it came time to pick a project as the centerpiece of his Eagle Scout award, he knew exactly who he wanted that project to benefit.
“One of my first thoughts was Nature Bowl because of all the things I’ve done there,” he said. “I wanted to give back to them.”
Stevens contacted Corky Quirk, education associate with the Yolo Basin Foundation, to find out what he could do, and when the idea of building benches came up, he said, “I knew I wanted to do that.”
It was definitely one of the bigger projects he could have chosen, he said, but it helped that woodworking is in his blood.
Both his father, Lance Stevens, and grandfather, Allen Stevens, enjoy woodworking, Stevens said, and his grandfather even has a woodworking shop outside Woodland.
Both helped him in the planning stages, including the design of the benches and the decision to go the more expensive path — using metal legs for the benches rather than wood, since they would last longer. But Stevens himself provided the labor.
“I did most of the work,” he said. “They just supervised.”
He did have assistance from many fellow Scouts from Troop 133, who helped with installation of the benches in October. That installation included using an augur to dig holes for the legs in the hard ground, leveling the surface, installing the benches and pouring concrete. They finished by spreading gravel over the the 30-by-32-foot area.
From beginning to end, the project took up six months and 80 hours of his time, plus another 141 man hours from volunteers.
Quirk says it was so worthwhile.
“We are thrilled with the benches built by Ryan,” she said. “Previously, school children would sit on tarps on the ground and now they are on wonderful benches. Often the kids will choose to also eat their lunch there, rather than at the picnic tables. (And) returning teachers, kids and parent chaperones comment about how great it is to have this new addition.
“We very much appreciate Ryan choosing the Yolo Basin Foundation and we are grateful for his gift of benches,” she said.
Stevens, meanwhile, appreciates the community who supported him in his efforts.
His least favorite part of the project, he said, was soliciting donations.
“But I was amazed at the generosity of the community. I never went to a place that turned us down,” he said.
Contributors included Kimzey Welding, Yolo Lumber, True Value, OSH, Schwarzgruber & Sons and Amos Metz, with Yolo Lumber donating all the wood and Kimzey Welding providing the metal at cost. Amos Metz donated the augur, Stevens said.
The final cost of the project was $3,400, he said, with $2,800 coming from community donations and his parents donating the rest.
Stevens already has seen the fruits of his labor.
“We went out there and saw kids using the benches,” he said. “They say (they’re) used almost every single day for school field trips and people have commented how great it is for the kids not having to sit on the ground.”
“I’m extremely glad I did this project,” he added. “It was a lot bigger than some of the projects I could have done, but it made a difference. They turned out very nice, and I’m glad I did it.”
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy.