By Polly Keary, Editor
At 14, Joshua Hawken stands 6’1″ in his smartly pressed, highly decorated scout uniform.
It is as if his determination to achieve has seeped into his cells.
Hawken is one of the Sky Valley’s most ambitious Boy Scouts. At 9, he made news for creating 104 emergency preparedness kits for the families of soldiers.
He went on to remove English ivy on Whidbey Island that was strangling old-growth cedar trees in an eagle habitat, among numerous other community projects. He has earned 75 merit badges, including one for nuclear science.
And last week, he finished a project that will qualify him for the highest youth environmental award in the nation, the Silver Hornaday Award, for building a 58-foot, 8,000-pound bridge to be placed in a Granite Falls park–the fifth bridge he has created for area outdoors destinations.
Winning the Silver Hornaday
It wasn’t hard to find the Hawken home Thursday. It was the only house on 154th Street that had in the yard what looked like a nautical wooden parade float, built of sturdy beams, broad planks, and posts through which was cordoned a thick white rope railing.
Building even one bridge might seem like a remarkable achievement for a teen; this is Joshua’s fifth. The bridges were part of a series of projects, the first of which netted him the rank of Eagle Scout at the age of 12-and-a-half, making him one of the youngest Eagle Scouts in history.
That first project was to put in stepping platforms that allowed hikers to cross part of Wallace Lake.
“I was looking for an Eagle project and we heard that Wallace Lake was really good,” said the soft-spoken young man, sitting on the porch of his family home Thursday morning.
After the platforms were complete, he continued to do service work that qualified as additional Eagle projects. He did a second project, this time removing English ivy, an invasive species, from a stand of old-growth cedar on Whidbey Island. The ivy was strangling some of the venerable old trees, which were doubly environmentally important, as they were part of an eagle habitat.
Then, six months after earning his rank, he revisited the place at Wallace Lake where he’d put the platforms, to find they’d washed out.
So he did a third project, and built a 20-foot bridge to replace the platforms.
He went on to build three more bridges out of salvaged material. Those were originally slated to go to Wallace Falls State Park, but the permitting process was so long that the Department of Fish and Wildlife suggested he might seek another home for them.
So Hawken decided to offer the bridges to Cascade Park, a privately-owned park near Granite Falls that is used for campouts by such groups as the Girl Scouts and various church groups.
The creation of those bridges qualified Hawken for a bronze Hornaday Award.
The Hornaday award was begun in 1914 as a way to recognize people who protected wildlife, and was later broadened to recognize Boy Scouts who excelled at environmental projects.
Typically a scout earns a Hornaday badge, then a bronze medal, and then the silver medal. In the 99 years the award has been offered, only 1,100 scouts have earned the silver medal.
The most recent bridge project will qualify Hawken for a Silver Hornaday Award.
After the large bridge is installed at Cascade Park, it will give handicapped children greater access to the park.
“We are putting it across a wash in the park that fills full of water when it rains, for access for kids with handicaps to get to an outdoor gathering place back in the trees,” said John Bess, a Mormon missionary who volunteers at the park. “Up until now we’ve had no way to get kids in wheelchairs back to that area. We have a walking trail that’s very steep, and so it’s been very difficult to get kids with health issues back in there.”
Building the Bridge
When Hawken envisioned building the bridge, by far the largest he’d ever taken on, there were some skeptics.
“At one time someone told him that no one would donate enough for a bridge,” said his father, Matthew Hawken, a former locomotive engineer with BNSF.
But like the proverbial stone soup, once Hawken started with an idea, people began to offer help.
Hawken and his family drew up a design for the thing, sent it to a family friend who is a structural engineer, and she helped fine-tune it and approve it.
Everett Steel donated the brackets into which the handrail posts are set. Neighbor Paul Wyndham, a welder, helped weld the structure.
A California company called Fasten Master supplied 825 ceramic-coated bolts and even paid for the shipping.
Boise Cascade donated most of the lumber. Lowe’s donated some too, and Lowe’s delivered all the wood to the site.
On Thursday Cascade Crane of Tacoma volunteered to transport the giant structure from Monroe to Granite Falls to its final home.
Another neighbor, a retired Coast Guard officer, helped Hawken braid the ends of the rope handrails.
In all, according to Lynnette Hawken, Joshua’s mother, the project will end up requiring more than 1,000 volunteer hours.
And Joshua pitched in the money he’d been saving for a bicycle (with which he would like to complete the Seattle-to-Portland ride next year, although his mother is considerably anxious about the idea) for gas money for the crane operator.
What’s next for Hawken
Hawken is running out of things to achieve. He’s earned the highest environmental award there is. He’s completed not one, but four Eagle projects. He holds 75 merit badges.
His father says it’s time for Hawken to take a break.
“He’s finished the nuclear science badge and doesn’t have a fishing badge,” he said. “He needs to be a kid.”
Hawken, who gets good grades, as well, will be a high school freshman this year. This winter he will learn advanced wilderness rescue techniques. He may get into high school sports, he said.
Within a few years, it will time for college. When it comes time to make a career choice, Hawken will be unusually equipped to decide, his mother noted.
“I work with the school district and I see kids who are 17 or 18, and they don’t know what they want to do and they don’t have a lot of life experience,” she said. “But he’s got 75 badges and that’s 75 experiences. It gives him a huge opportunity to say, ‘I thought I would like this, but it’s not my thing,’ or, ‘I really like this.'”
One thing Hawken knows he likes is contributing to the community.
“It’s really cool,” he said. “You can see how things progressed; you can learn how much of an impact you make.”