Local Boy Scout completes Poplar Island service project, earns Eagle Scout rank

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Published Feb. 26, 2013

Tree swallows have found homes in newly designed, assembled and installed bird boxes courtesy of local Troop 91 Boy Scout Jimmy Bieler III, 16.

Bieler, a Life Scout completed the tree swallow project at the Paul S. Sarbanes Environmental Restoration project - Poplar Island on August 21.  The project was Bieler’s final one needed to achieve Eagle Scout.

“He’s helping to restore the Chesapeake Bay, which is one of the directives of the President of the United States,”  said Col. Trey Jordan, District Engineer and Eagle Scout who was invited as a guest speaker to Troop 91’s Eagle Scout pinning ceremony in Edgewater, Md., Feb. 23.  

“It’s a small piece, yet an important piece.  It’s all about being a team.  It’s about your leadership ability to pull people together from diverse backgrounds to do difficult missions, whatever that mission may be.”

Having these birds actively nesting at Poplar Island fulfills a niche that has been missing for decades, said Chris Guy, U.S Fish and Wildlife (FWS) Biologist. Tree swallows eat large quantities of midges and mosquitoes as well as other insects. FWS employees discovered that swallows are ready to go to work if they have shelter.

“A few years ago, we happened to get our hands on recycled tree swallow boxes from a restoration site near the Anacostia River in Washington D.C.,” said Guy.  “We put a few up at Poplar Island and discovered the tree swallows occupied them almost immediately.  We ran out of recycled boxes two years ago and approached the scouts for assistance in making more.”

But as luck would have it, the recycled boxes had issues with the faces falling off.  So, Bieler, and his team made some design changes to include hinges on the boxes to avoid this from happening.  They also used cedar for the wood, which is known for its longevity and strength.  

The boxes were not only redesigned.  Bieler and his crew built them from scratch. It took a group of 10 people, roughly seven hours of cutting and measuring the pieces, and two hours of assembly to make each box, Bieler said.

In the past, Guy and his team created kits, and the Cub Scouts assisted in assembly.  This time, Guy wanted to make the project more hands-on.  This is where Bieler and his band of volunteers came in.

“This has been a great partnership, and we hope that we can continue to foster a relationship with Troop 91 and other troops as well,” Guy said.  “I also chose to personally support Jimmy by assisting in the box building because I am a firm believer in working and mentoring young people.  I brought my children along so that they can feel empowered to know that they can make a difference if they try.”

Bieler’s team also enlisted the support of three boy scouts in his troop and seven adult volunteers, to include his parents Jim and Liz Bieler.

“I like the outdoors and being on the water so it was the perfect project for me,” said Bieler. 

Bieler’s mother also enjoyed being on her son’s team.

“It was a real treat to be able to combine everything together to complete his Eagle Scout qualification,” said Liz Bieler.  “We were all very excited to help out as it was a different opportunity and would help Jimmy achieve his goal.”

The boxes themselves would not have a perch were it not for a partnership that began almost 20 years ago, and has evolved into a living classroom.   

Eighteen years ago, the Corps and Maryland Port Administration formed a partnership to restore Poplar Island, an island located off the Chesapeake Bay coastline that was on the verge of disappearing.

The team’s original intent was to create a valuable habitat with dredged material removed from navigation channels that are essential for the success of the Port of Baltimore and its channels.

As time has moved on, the mission has remained the same as the environmental aspect has grown as much as the island has with animals migrating to reside there.

“Going onto Poplar Island for the first time was the neatest thing in the world for us,” said Jim Bieler.  “We’ve been fishing near there for years and I couldn’t wait to get on it to see what the project was all about.”

“One of the many great things about Poplar Island – aside from its important ecological impact on the Chesapeake Bay – is that this project also serves as a living classroom for those wanting to learn more about the restoration of vital habitat,” said Kevin Brennan, project manager. 

“Thanks to the relationships we have with our federal, state and local partners, we’re able to foster these educational opportunities that will continue to benefit everyone for years to come.”      

From the beginning, Poplar Island has been built on partnerships, between the Corps of and the Maryland Port Administration, as well as other agencies such as FWS and the Maryland Environmental Service (MES). 

Adding opportunities for community outreach to local organizations is another way all citizens can take ownership of the Chesapeake Bay.

On that August day, the group did not just put up boxes. They learned about Poplar Island.  Megan Garrett, MES Biologist, gave a brief overview of the island, and then the scouts were off to place the bird boxes.

“It is truly an amazing project, and I’m excited to learn more about this project as I didn’t know too much before seeing it,” said Jim Bieler.  “It was great climbing through the marshes and hearing about the restoration.” 

Both Jim and Liz Bieler said it is usually the project coordinator who is thanking the group for helping out. 

In this case, the volunteers were thanking them for giving them a chance to tour Poplar Island as well.  It was the first time for everyone in the group, minus Jimmy.

“Our son is really a good kid, always has been, so he was a natural for scouting,” said Jim Bieler.  “He also understands the importance of giving back through volunteering.  With Jimmy, we don’t have to nag or encourage him to get out there and volunteer.  He is usually coming to us with what he’s going to do.”

In the past, the younger Bieler has volunteered for the organizations Wish-A-Fish and Paralyzed Veterans of America.  He also attended a church camp where they built a battered women’s shelter in New Jersey.

He also works for his father’s store, Marty’s Bait and Tackle in Edgewater serving as a resident expert in fishing, where some patrons way beyond his years even ask for his advice.

“As a parent, one of the best moments was when a former substitute teacher from middle school came into the shop and saw Jimmy’s photo,” said Jim Bieler.  “Jimmy was a student of his years ago, and he went on about how smart and engaging Jimmy was.  It was fantastic to hear your son is not only doing great things, yet is remembered years later for it.”

When the Corps finishes the construction, they will turn the project over to the State of Maryland.  If present abundance of animals on Poplar Island is an indicator of what we can expect when the project is complete, Brennan said, he fully expects the island to be a wildlife paradise.