Scout's honor and then some

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It's no small feat to attain the rank of Eagle Scout. But Akul Seshadri did it one better when he also earned the Hornaday award.

Seshadri, 16, a member of Woodbury Boy Scout Troop 60, accepted the dual honors Aug. 28 at a ceremony at the Lutheran Church of Peace in Maplewood, the charter organization for the troop.

If you've never heard of the Hornaday award, which recognizes outstanding conservation efforts, it may be because it's rare as tigers in the wild.

About 4,700 Hornaday awards have been given out since their inception in 1915, according to the Boy Scouts of America. Last year, there were just fewer than 800 new Eagle Scouts in the Northern Star Council, whose territory includes 21 counties in Minnesota and four in western Wisconsin.

But only two Hornaday awards were given that same year.

"Akul is in very unique company," Troop 60 scoutmaster Mike Bradley said.

Seshadri earned his Hornaday for an erosion control project on public trails at Pilot Knob, a 33-acre natural site in Mendota Heights that overlooks Highway 55. He began the project as part of his Eagle Scout requirements but expanded the scope when he learned about the Hornaday award from Bob Elliott, a member of Northern Star Council's Conservation Committee.

"It just so happened I was doing an Eagle Scout merit badge on conversation and I found out I could do some more work for the Hornaday award," Seshadri said. "There's a very big research part for the Hornaday where you have to research solutions."

He chose Pilot Knob Hill as his project through consultation with Great River Greening, a conservation organization that restores natural habitats in the Twin Cities Metro. He worked with Sean Wickhem, a project manager for the organization.

The trails were full of hollows and deep grooves from rain runoff, but Great River Greening had no money to repair them, Wickhem said. As a non-profit, they rely mostly on volunteer work and have limited resources.

"Akul was pretty much on another level as far as maturity and being able to handle the project," Wickhem said. "It was really, really impressive."

Working for the Hornaday award added a whole other list of requirements. Seshadri essentially assumed the roles of researcher, engineer, teacher and construction project manager. He had to research the causes of erosion and submit several solutions to Great River Greening.

Seshadri supervised 41 volunteers who worked a total of 438 hours to clear vegetation and install nine gravel "water-bars" across the Pilot Knob Hill trails. The bars resemble speed bumps and are made of gravel, dirt and rock-dust. They divert the water during heavy rains.

Seshadri also designed and built wooden open top culverts that were embedded in trenches perpendicular to the trails.

The Hornaday awards were named for William T. Hornaday, director of the New York Zoological Park and founder of the National Zoo in Washington. Part of their purpose is to raise public awareness of responsible stewardship of the land, rivers and wildlife. In keeping with that mission, Seshadri was also required to document and share his experiences with the public, which he did through displays and a YouTube video: youtu.be/2_Ny0LqcagY.

He also had to return to Pilot Knob Hill to check on his work.

"The actual work days where we did the building of the erosion control on the trails, that was in the end of August 2015," he said. "After that I had a couple of follow-up visits throughout the year when we went back to see if everything was going well," he said.

They conducted checks in October after heavy rains and again after the spring thaw.

The trails were intact, he said.

The Eagle Court of Honor and Hornaday Award Ceremony was attended by Seshadri's grandparents, who were visiting from India. His grandfather had brought his Boy Scout neckerchief from India that he wore over 50 years ago. At the ceremony, he gave it to his grandson.