Since he began as a Cub Scout at 6 years old, Michael Bird has aimed high. The lifelong Galloway Township resident always felt that it was important to reach the ultimate goal of Scouting - to become an Eagle Scout.
On Jan. 3, the 18-year-old finally achieved what he started long ago.
Before family, friends and invited guests, Bird received Scouting's highest award during a Court of Honor ceremony at Absecon United Methodist Church.
"It was important for me to attain Eagle because I always finish what I start. I'm not a quitter," Bird said from his parents' home a few days before receiving his honor.
A 2013 graduate of Absegami High School, Bird is attending the University of Delaware and is home on winter break.
He said his role model for the Eagle award was his paternal grandfather, who also was an Eagle Scout but who passed away when Bird was in the sixth grade.
"He always told me I could do it. When we would talk about Eagle, he would tell me 'go do it' and that's what I did," said Bird. "I feel good because even though he isn't here to see it, I'm sure he knows."
The Eagle Scout Award is the culmination of all that a Scout has learned, and rates above that of the Star and Life awards a Scout earns as he rises through the ranks.
According to Scouting officials, the Eagle rank is achieved by only 4 percent of all Scouts. Since it was first awarded in 1912, it has been given to more than a million Scouts who consistently performed to the best of their personal ability and exceeded expectations at every stage.
To reach Eagle, a Scout must earn 12 required badges, such as first aid, camping and personal fitness, and nine more merit badges of his choosing.
The Scout also must complete an Eagle Scout service project that benefits his community. After the completion of these requirements, the Scout submits his body of work to the local Scouting council for approval, at which point he is named an Eagle.
Bird's Eagle project was the renovation of the Galloway Township Municipal Complex Rain Garden, located off Jimmie Leeds Road.
Bird got approval to start working on the garden in September 2012, and completed it about five months later.
Barbara Fiedler, who is Galloway Township's Chief Sustainability Officer, said the township has long been a source of projects for Eagle Scouts.
"With the declining number of employees, we are constantly looking for creative ways to achieve results on projects that would have otherwise been worked on by our own personnel," said Fiedler, who coordinated the project with Bird.
Bird contacted her office at the perfect time for one of these projects, she said. The Municipal Complex Rain Garden, which was created years ago by volunteers from Richard Stockton College, was in a state of disrepair and in need of almost total renovation. The rain garden served two purposes: to remediate pooling rainwater in the Municipal Complex parking lot and to act as a demonstration rain garden for both residential and commercial properties, Fiedler said.
Fiedler provided Bird with a "wish list" and a site plan for what she envisioned for the garden. This included the purchase of many species of native plants to replace those that were lost.
Once his project was approved, Bird arrived at the Municipal Complex with a crew, and they began to pull weeds, trim the shrubs and tall plants and move shrubs that were in the sight line of the road. Additionally, Bird purchased and planted native plants that helped to absorb water and provide food for indigenous species of birds and insects. He also constructed and placed signs that marked the native species plantings, constructed and placed a birdhouse within the garden, which Fiedler noted was occupied by a barn swallow within days of being put up, and he constructed a new "Galloway Township Rain Garden" sign.
"The result of this project more than met our expectations," Fielder said. "We now have a vibrant site that attracts an abundance of wildlife and absorbs a good portion of the parking lot runoff water."
When Bird went away to college, his mom, Sallie, dedicated many hours to the maintenance of the newly renovated garden, Fiedler noted, making the project a real family affair.
Troop 26 Scoutmaster Mike Monteith said Bird is the fifth member of the troop to achieve Eagle status in the past two years.
"We're just really proud of what he has accomplished and the honor that he brings to the troop," said Monteith, who said he has worked with Bird for about three years.
"He's very smart, very helpful, very respectful," Monteith said. "He's all that a Scout should be and a credit not only to his family, but to the community."
Bird is the middle child of Dave and Sallie Bird, who also have a 20-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son.
"Mike's always liked the outdoors, whether it was playing sports or working on projects," said Sallie Bird. "He's the type of kid who starts a project and sees it through, and we're very proud of him."
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