Hitting goals, building homes

Robert Irion came home from elementary school one day, waving a flyer in his hand.

He’d seen some of his peers wearing a spiffy uniform at school on meeting days and wanted to be a part of the fun.

So, in first grade, his parents enrolled him in Cub Scouts.

Now, at 16 years old, Robert is a mere step away from earning his Eagle Scout rank after years of advancement and a more than 200-hour project to coordinate, build, and place wood duck nesting boxes at Lake Granbury.

“It has been a long journey,” said his mother Roseann Irion. “From the time that he joined Cub Scouts, he said he wanted to be an Eagle Scout. We’re very, very proud of him.”

Becoming an Eagle Scout is the highest level of achievement or rank one can attain in the Boy Scouts of America. Since 1912, the Eagle Scout rank has represented a milestone of accomplishment, recognized across the country. It’s not just an award, but a state of being, according to the Boy Scouts of America website. Many recognizable names are Eagle Scouts, including first man on the moon Neil Alden Armstrong and the first Eagle Scout to serve as President of the United States, Gerald R. Ford.

“You are an Eagle Scout – never were,” according to the National Eagle Scout Association. “You may receive the badge as a boy, but you earn it every day as a man. In the words of the Eagle Scout Promise, you do your best each day to make your training an example, your rank and your influence count strongly for better Scouting and for better citizenship in your troop, in your community, and in your contacts with other people. And to this you will pledge your sacred honor.”

Robert Irion, of Plano, said his Eagle Scout advisor suggested building duck boxes, knowing the teen enjoyed hunting and had a lake house on the Brazos River Authority reservoir Lake Granbury. The project had to fulfill part of the Scout Oath, “To help other people at all times,” according to the BSA. One of the primary purposes of the Eagle Scout service project is to learn leadership skills, or to improve or demonstrate leadership skills. The project teaches project management, taking responsibility, showcase planning, development, leadership, logistics, and so much more, according to the organization’s website.

Robert said he began the project in August 2019, with his first meeting with BRA Lake Granbury Project Manager/Program Coordinator Kyle Lewis. A few days before the New Year, Lewis gave the final approval on the project.

Robert presented detailed plans to BRA staff about the proposed wood duck nesting boxes for the reservoir, Lewis said.

“He’s a pretty impressive young man,” Lewis said. “He’s really thought this through. He’s put a lot of detail into this.”

Robert ultimately made 15 wood duck nesting boxes and installed them throughout the reservoir.

“It’s a good feeling. It’s a good feeling to have accomplished it,” Robert said.

Nesting boxes are a great way to provide wildlife a place to raise their young. Wood duck females typically build nests in tree cavities near wetlands, according to Ducks Unlimited. Unfortunately, in many areas wood ducks have difficulty finding suitable natural nesting sites.

Robert said he was able to use prototypes from Ducks Unlimited for his structures.

Wood ducks, which belong to the perching duck tribe, were on the verge of extinction in the early 1900s due to habitat loss. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, helped reverse that trend, according to a report by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

“Wood ducks in Texas are an important aspect of the wildlife community,” according to the TPWD report. “Their uniqueness makes them valuable not only to hunters but also to birdwatchers or people who seldom encounter the exquisite beauty of this “native” Texan. Furthermore, wood duck populations are a barometer of land-use changes. Declines in wood duck numbers can serve as an indicator of loss of essential bottomland hardwood habitat. Because this ecosystem serves as an integral part of the overall landscape, steps need to be taken to minimize further losses. To aid this cause, every effort needs to be taken to ensure that wood ducks remain part of legacy of wildlife resources in Texas.”

The project comes just in time as nesting begins around March and can extend through July, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Ducks and geese are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

It’s not only important to leave the newly-installed boxes alone as they are part of an outstanding project by a local youth, but destroying a nest or egg, killing, or possessing these birds without a permit, is prohibited.

“We want the public to enjoy them, but from a distance,” Lewis said.

Each one of Robert’s newly-installed nesting boxes includes a plate that reads:

Do Not Disturb
Wood Duck Nesting Box
Placed with permission of
Brazos River Authority
2019-2020 Eagle Scout Project

Robert said he learned a lot about leadership throughout the project. He said he learned about scheduling meetings and all the planning that goes into a project.

“It’s a lot of work to plan stuff, but it’s a good reward when it’s done,” he said.

The junior in high school currently has ambitions to become a marine biologist. And while a college hasn’t yet been selected, he knows one thing for certain.

“I’m going to stay active in the troop,” Robert said. “It’s a lot of fun. You make lots of friends doing it.”

Robert will present the final project to the Boy Scouts of America Board of Review for approval in the last step to earning his Eagle Scout rank.

This spring, the family plans to return to Lake Granbury to see the fruits of Robert’s labor.

“We can’t wait to check them in the spring and see how many are being used,” Roseann said.