Whether visitors come to Locust Grove Nature Center in Potomac for a nature walk or a camino de naturaleza, Mark Farrar has a trail guide for them.
The 16-year-old Winston Churchill High School junior came to Locust Grove in August 2003 to arrange his Eagle Scout Project — a major community effort that is one of the final steps in earning the Boy Scouts’ highest rank. The staff suggested things such as building bird boxes and doing trail maintenance.
“Those things just seemed a little bit easy for me,” Farrar said.
Then they mentioned the idea of making a self-guided trail guide. “They said, ‘That’s probably not something an Eagle Scout could do,” Farrar said. “But I offered to do [it] because I wanted to challenge myself.”
So he did. In English and Spanish.
“We’ve had an interest in some time in having a nature trail at Locust Grove. It was one of those things where our own staff limitations prevented us from getting to that point,” said Steve Findley, director of the nature center. “We recognize that there is a fairly significant portion of the population that likes do kind of a self-serve nature study.”
As for the idea of a bilingual guide, “We obviously were recognizing the changes that have taken place in our community,” Findley said. “We have a larger Spanish speaking population than we used to have, and [we] need to serve some of the people in that community.”
Farrar was a perfect match. His mother is Venezuelan, and Farrar speaks both English and Spanish at home.
He took the job. “Everything else seemed … well, not long lasting,” he said.
FARRAR AND FINDLEY started meeting to plan out the trail. “He took me around the trail to tell me about what’s around the trail, and what’s interesting that I could write about in the guidebook,” Farrar said.
They made a preliminary plan of where to put the numbered posts, which correspond to information in the trail guide.
Over the next year, Farrar spent 73 hours on the project: making improvements to the trail, cutting and painting the heavy wooden trail posts and designing and writing the guide.
The guide describes the plants and animals visitors may find along the trail and explains basic ecological concepts.
“It’s all easy and simple to understand,” Farrar said.
Farrar didn’t do the work alone. In fact, Eagle Scout projects are required to incorporate other volunteers. The project is not simply meant to demonstrate individual effort, which scouts have the chance to do while earning merit badges. “It has to show leadership ability,” Farrar said. “The ability to coordinate things.”
Farrar said he involved 25-30 other volunteers who put in an additional 211 hours of work. Farrar wrote and designed the English version of the guide, but the job of translating went to Spanish language students tutored by Sylvia Farrar, Mark Farrar’s mother.
“Assuming is bad when you’re in leadership positions,” Farrar said, of his experience coordinating the project. “You can’t just expect people to do things. “I learned it’s hard work, of course,” he said, “but it’s also fun.”
“Mark has done all the things that boy scouting asks of him and I think he has at the same time enjoyed and grown in the process,” said Farrar’s Scoutmaster, Geoffrey Wolfe. “So I predict great things for Mark.”
FARRAR IS PART of Scout Troop 1434, which meets Thursdays at Seven Locks Baptist Church at 11845 Seven Locks Road. This year — his fifth with the troop — Mark is senior patrol leader, the highest scout position in the troop.
“He’s a talented and skilled leader,” Wolfe said. He will formally become an Eagle Scout in a special ceremony Oct. 23.
The nature trail is open for use, and both versions of the trail guide are available at the information desk inside the nature center.
Findley says the nature center has not traditionally attracted large number of Spanish-speaking visitors, but he hopes the bilingual guides will help to change that.
“Part of the reason we have not had a larger proportion of that population coming there is because we have not been able to serve them as well,” Findley said. He added that the nature center is in the process of setting up a new Web site, which will include pages in Spanish.
Farrar’s advice to visitors: “I would say check it out soon, before fall really kicks in. Soon the leaves won’t be there and the flowers won’t be blooming anymore.”