Scout helps new era take root at SL tree museum

Thursday, May 29, 2008

You might say that an ambitious teen is helping the city turn over a new leaf.

Local Boy Scout Darren Johnson has always had a soft spot for the Living Heritage Tree Museum in Storm Lake - "It's a beautiful place to walk around and there's a lot of history to learn about there," he says - so when it came time to choose a community project to earn Eagle Scout status, he went back to the park.

The results of his handiwork will be celebrated this week as the City of Storm Lake holds a ribbon-cutting for the improved tree musem, with everyone welcome to attend Saturday at 10:30 a.m.

Darren said that his first inclination was to plant more trees, but with some concerns over crowding of roots and branches as trees mature, that idea was set aside. If he couldn't bring more trees to the park, the next best thing was to bring people to the trees.

"It seems to be such an underused resource for the city. People either don't know that it is there, or they don't use and appreciate it to the full extent it could be," Darren said.

Thought it had been pretty well kept up by the city, he found that some of the historical markers had been broken off, and a few areas vandalized with grafitti.

He identified any areas for repairs, and then work to create a walking tour of the Living Heritage Tree Museum.

"I hope people can walk around and have a lot of fun learning the histories behind each of the people or historical events ties to each of the trees," he said. "There is a lot more information than you can put on a little plaque."

He spent long hours researching history, then wrote a script and recorded it onto a master CDs. Copies of the CD will be available at King's Pointe so that visitors can fully enjoy the attraction.

The park boasts an outdoor classroom, and the Eagle Scout-to-be would like to see that put into use much more often. "There's a lot of potential here as a gathering place, we can promote it on a website, and the trees can be used to teach about all kinds of American history if we use the place to its full potential."

Darren has already put over 100 hours of work into his project, with assists from mom and dad Jerry and Dianne Johnson of Storm Lake, and the members of Troop 103.

City officials were excited about the Scout's project, and are planning to have a short program on the tree museum at Saturday's event.

"The tree museum is a unique experience for the community and its visitors, and to be honest, we had not promoted it as completely as we could have," City Clerk Justin Yarosevic said. "Darren came along and was working on this clear back last fall and winter, with new signage, more work on the histories, an audio tour and even a Power Point presentation loaded with graphics.

"The work he has done has been tremendous to help make this an up-to-date tourism attration. We know that we have to work hard to find more activities for families to do in Storm Lake for little or no cost, and this is a resource we already have that has just been waiting for more attention."

The Living Heritage Tree Museum project was initiated by former mayor Wilbur Tucker and a committee of volunteers in the late 1980s.

Winding walks, mood lighting, benches, a golden eagle statue, signs, landscaping and the outdoor classroom was created to go with a collection of trees that were the life's work of Stan Lemaster and Theo Klein of Louisville, Kentucky, who traced down trees relating to famous people and moments in history and reproduced new seedlings for the Storm Lake park that would be their largest project.

There is a George Washington sycamore taken from the landmark tree at his headquarters in the 1776 Battle of White Plains, and an Ann Rutledge maple from the gravesite of Abraham Lincoln's first love.

There is a descendent of the Bunker Hill Oak of Revolutionary War fame, and a cottonwood from the birthplace of "Buffalo Bill" Cody. There is a Ming Dynasty Cypress, Casey Jones Willow Oak, Little House on the Prairie Cottonwood, Johnny Appleseed apple - even a tree grown from seeds that went to the moon in the pocket of a NASA astronaut. And many more.

For Darren, however, the Colonel Sanders Ash, from the home of Colonel Harlan Sanders in Shelbyville, Kentucky, is the favorite. "I don't know - I guess I just love that chicken," he laughs.

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