A conservation warden intern and Eagle Scout-hopeful teamed up on a project that benefits the Northwoods community — a PFD loaner station at the Lake Tomahawk boat landing.
The station was completed July 27.
Chris Bender, a conservation warden intern with the DNR, worked on the project.
“As part of my internship with the DNR I had to do an independent project,” Bender said. “It was actually Tim’s [conservation warden Ebert] idea for this. It’s something that started up in Alaska.”
A successful life jacket loaner program was started in Homer, Alaska, in 1996. It was meant to combat a high rate of youth drownings. Thus, the “Kids Don’t Float” monicker.
Loaner stations were built to hold life jackets that could be borrowed by boaters in need.
“They had over 500 of them. It was really popular. So it’s a program that Wisconsin decided to try,” Bender said.
“The main idea is to encourage ... kids to wear life jackets when they’re out in the boats. But also, we want everybody to wear a life jacket out in the boat,” warden Tim Ebert said.
“So the idea here is the opportunity to provide life jackets, personal floatation devices, in a variety of sizes and types to accommodate different types of users.”
Ebert is hopeful the station will encourage boaters to be more responsible.
“It might be a situation where they show up at the boat landing to go out for the day and they’re loading stuff in the boat, ‘Oh, we forgot a life jacket.’ They can go right there, grab one, take it for the day,” he said.
“Or maybe they don’t have one that fits real well, especially for children and infants ... not everybody has those kinds of life jackets available.”
Ebert had the idea for the loaner station in mind since last winter. The Lake Tomahawk landing was what he had in mind.
“Then Chris came to me as an intern, and he was looking for a project to work on, so we brought up this project, and he liked the idea of it, and ran with it from there,” Ebert said.
Bender would soon recruit help on the project.
“I asked Ethan Metz to help ... he’s going for his Eagle Scout badge,” Bender said. “We gave him kind of the basic plans, and he took it from there. He was responsible for donations, getting permission to build it. All the steps.”
Bender said Woodruff Ace Hardware and the Lakeland True Value sponsored the project.
Ethan Metz, going into his sophomore year at Lakeland Union High School, is looking to achieve Eagle Scout status.
“This is my service project that we have to do,” Metz said. “And the project has to benefit the community.”
Metz took the lead on the project, which was a chance not only to serve the community, but also to develop his own leadership skills.
And he had help.
“Some boys from the troop came out (and) an assistant Scoutmaster,” he said.
The building part of the project lasted about six hours. Of course, the purpose it serves means the project is ongoing.
“Typically, the way we’re doing these is we’re trying to partner with some kind of community organization or a group,” Ebert said.
“Here Chris ... did most of the work on this in terms of really getting it in place, finding Ethan to work with, and working some with the Lake Tomahawk Parks and Recreation Department also — on its placement there.
“And Mr. Holmes [Dennis Holmes, who volunteered for the project]. Working with them to get it set up to go in this location.”
Ebert said the DNR supplied signs that are incorporated into the structure, plus a supply of life jackets. It appears someone may have donated a few others since, Metz said, “Dennis [Holmes] said that somebody went down there and that there are more life jackets in there.”
Bender and Metz secured donations of all the lumber and hardware. Ebert said other people donated the use of their tools.
“Now it’ll be a joint effort between Ethan, the Eagle Scouts, and Lake Tom Parks and Rec Department. Just to kind of keep an eye on it. You know, if there’s any issues that arise that we can address,” Ebert said.
There’s dry storage in the bin, and it was stocked with 18 life jackets. Hooks on the structure are meant for wet life jackets.
“We just ask that if a life jacket gets wet, or maybe somebody uses it for swimming down there at the beach, they just hang it on the hooks so it dries. And then, somebody at some point in time will see it’s dry and put it back in the bin. It’s basically an honor system for the life jackets,” Ebert said.
A sticker with the names of sponsors and Metz, Bender, and Holmes is to be added in the near future.
The life jackets will be removed during the winter, but will be available at any time there is open water. The project will be monitored for about a year.
Ebert said they want to see how the loaner station is being used, and if there are going to be theft or vandalism issues.
“Hopefully we’re not having those issues. And if it goes well, we might look at expanding it and putting them in other places in the area.”
Ebert said he is not aware of any theft or vandalism issues yet.
“Hopefully that continues ... like anything else, if somebody chooses to abuse it, it’s not going to stay, probably,” he said.
Bender has heard a lot of positive comments from the public about the loaner station, and seen evidence of use and compliance.
“I’ve seen quite a few life jackets on the hooks already,” he said.
Ebert said, “We want to see the life jackets get used. We would like to see people wearing them. especially the children. By law they’re not required to wear the life jackets, but we strongly encourage that; encourage everybody to wear them all the time when they’re out on the water.”
For Metz, getting his service project done was a big step, but the work to achieve Eagle Scout continues.
“I have to do a couple more badges and fill out lots of paperwork,” he said.
He is thankful for the support of others during the completion of the loaner station and those that were asked to donate.
“I think every store pretty much donated,” Metz said. “They were more than willing to give stuff.”
Ethan and his mother, Carolyn Metz, were headed to a Lake Tomahawk Town Parks Commission meeting where they expected approval that the town would oversee the loaner station.
Carolyn Metz is thankful that her busy son got the chance to build the loaner station.
“It’s a huge thank you to Chris and Tim for allowing Ethan to do this as his project,” she said.
Ebert is thankful that Bender and Metz turned the loaner station he envisioned into a reality.
“Chris and Ethan did a lot of good work on this project ... I kind of gave them the idea, and they pretty much ran with it. Made it happen.”
Craig Turk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.