2012-12-14 / Neighbors

Simi Scout combines conservation, history in Eagle project

End result is traditional hut at Chumash museum
By Carissa Marsh

HOUSE RAISING—Joey Alfred, 14, of Simi Valley stands with Graywolf, curator of the Chumash Indian Museum in Thousand Oaks, outside the re-creation of a Chumash hut that Joey built with the help of other Scouts and adult volunteers as part of his Eagle Scout project. HOUSE RAISING—Joey Alfred, 14, of Simi Valley stands with Graywolf, curator of the Chumash Indian Museum in Thousand Oaks, outside the re-creation of a Chumash hut that Joey built with the help of other Scouts and adult volunteers as part of his Eagle Scout project. Preserving history, protecting wildlife, conserving resources— it’s all in a day’s work for Boy Scout Joey Alfred.

The 14-year-old Life Scout recently completed his Eagle project, arguably the most important and most challenging phase in advancing to the top rank in Boy Scouts.

And Joey’s venture was more unusual than most Eagle Scout service projects. The Simi Valley teen, the son of John and Anne Alfred, planned and led the building of a traditional Chumash hut, or ’ap, at the Chumash Indian Museum in Thousand Oaks.

The museum on Lang Ranch Parkway is a historical site and a living history center dedicated to restoring and preserving an awareness of the Chumash people and their influence through exhibits and educational programs.

Nestled in the Santa Monica Mountain range, the 432-acre park includes a Chumash Village, where the huts are on display for visitors to explore.

On Joey’s first trip to the museum this past August, he was struck with the idea for his Eagle project.

“I came across the Chumash Indian Museum while I was doing the American Heritage merit badge,” he said. “I went to the village and I noticed it seemed a little bit empty.”

There were just three finished huts and one uncovered wooden frame.

“I talked to the curator, and he said it’d be a really good idea if I made the hut,” said the Santa Susana High School freshman.

With that, planning began. Joey worked with the curator, Graywolf, to design an authentic ’ap and figure out how much rebar he would need, since he would be replacing the wooden frame with a steel one.

“It’s sturdier and it lasts a lot longer,” Joey said. “Rebar ones last a couple decades.”

Joey needed $875 for the project and raised $873 through donations, which included a $100 gift card to Lowe’s, and by recycling bottles and cans donated by troop members.

His fellow Scouts in Troop 642 performed most of the manual labor. In total, 24 Scouts and 19 adults volunteered nearly 540 hours over three months to finish the project.

Assistant Scoutmaster Will Greer acted as Joey’s adviser and trained 13 boys to weld rebar.

But the most labor-intensive part of the project, and the aspect that had the most farreaching effect on the environment, was collecting the thatching material for the hut: a marsh reed called tule.

Under Joey’s leadership, a team of Scouts hand-harvested tule at Lake Eleanor, an 8-acre freshwater lake in Westlake Village, and Lake Sinaloa, a private 12-acre lagoon rimmed by homes in southwestern Simi Valley.

Joey secured permission from Conejo Recreation and Park District and the Sinaloa Lake Owners Association to work at each site. But the harvesting didn’t just aid the hut project; it benefited those local habitats and surrounding residents, too.

“They use the lake a lot for fishing, and the tule, when it dies, it falls into the lake and sucks up the oxygen,” Joey said, adding that this kills the fish and causes an unpleasant environment and odor.

Clearing the invasive native reeds also makes more usable space in the lake.

“It costs a lot of money to remove the tule,” Greer said. “It benefits the residents (at Lake Sinaloa) and the wildlife as well as the Chumash hut.”

Altogether the Scouts harvested six truckloads of tule weighing about 3,000 pounds. It took 280 work hours to cover the 8½-foot-tall-by-17-footwide dome structure, weaving pieces of the old wood frame with tule to keep the thatching in place.

“It may have been cheap compared to other (Eagle) projects, but it took a lot of labor and a lot of hours,” Joey said.

Because of his project’s positive impact on the environment, Joey is eligible for the William T. Hornaday Award, presented for distinguished service in natural resource conservation.

Joey said it is fitting that his project would focus on conservation since that’s what the Chumash practiced for hundreds of years.

“My project is true to what Native Americans believed in being stewards of the environment,” he said.

Scouts may earn the Hornaday Badge or the Hornaday Bronze or Silver Medal. The goal-oriented young man wants to win a top prize even though that means more work.

To receive bronze or silver, the teen must plan, lead and carry out at least three projects from three separate categories— his hut project ticked the box for resource recovery (recycling)— plus complete several other merit badges.

When asked why not just settle for a badge, since that requires carrying out only one project, Joey’s reply revealed an ambitious and driven personality.

“I kind of like to obtain stuff that not a lot of people get,” said Joey, who has earned 64 merit badges since starting Boy Scouts in 2009 and has also won the World Conservation award and Ad Altare Dei religious award.

Eagle projects are designed to cultivate leadership, communication and organizational skills, Greer said, and they are something boys choose to do knowing there will be a lot of hard work and challenges involved.

“It was good to see him climb that ladder,” Greer said.

Though he admitted to being slightly scared to be overseeing such a big project, Joey said it turned out better than he hoped and he, too, was proud of his accomplishment.

“I felt ecstatic (when) I was finished and it turned out great,” he said. “Graywolf said it was one of the best huts and the most stable he’s seen.”

After Joey finished his ’ap, another local Boy Scout followed in his footsteps and built a fifth hut in the village in November.

The Chumash Indian Museum will dedicate its expanded village during its Winter Solstice Celebration, from 3 to 7 p.m. Sat., Dec. 15.

For more information, visit www.chumashindianmuseum.com.

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