Hampton Eagle Scout's project gives North Park birds a safe nesting place

Deborah Deasy
| Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Wally Gaida, 17, took on a big job when he offered to build a nesting platform for fish-eating ospreys at North Park.

The Hampton High School senior spent more than 100 hours clawing through clay with hand tools to dig a 6-foot hole for the 24-foot tall nesting platform.

“I had to go into the hole and use a little gardening spade and a bucket to get everything out,” Gaida said.

Motorists, walkers and bikers can view the nesting platform from Babcock Boulevard, between Pearce Mill Road and the intersection of Wildwood and Ingomar roads.

The platform tops an old telephone pole on tiny Point Island, about 40 feet from the shores of Marshall Lake.

“I check it every time I drive past it,” Gaida said. “It's called an osprey platform, but really, it's for any bird of prey.

“Ospreys particularly would like it because it has an open view of the lake,” Gaida said. “So they can sit there ... and see into the lake, and go get fish.”

Gaida constructed and installed the platform — with help from about 33 fellow Boy Scouts and fathers — to earn his Eagle Scout rank, the highest rank bestowed by the Boy Scouts of America.

“I didn't know how challenging it would be,” said Gaida, son of Walt and Becky Gaida of Hampton and a member of Boy Scout Troop 344 of Salem United Methodist Church in Pine.

“There were a lot of geese on the island. We had to work around them. A lot were nesting. They're mean,” he said. “I was fortunate. No one on my project got attacked by geese, and no one got hurt at all.”

It took multiple pulleys and a lot of Scouts' muscle power to upright the 600-pound, 30-foot pole for the nesting platform. Volunteers lashed the pole to empty 55-gallon drums, and then floated it from the shores of Marshall Lake to Point Island.

North Park naturalist Meg Scanlon suggested the site — and the project. Gaida opted to build the osprey nesting platform project from a wish list of possible bird housing projects also suggested by Scanlon.

Gaida began plotting the project in October 2011 and completed it in May 2013.

“We're always pleased to have any kind of Scout project that benefits wildlife,” said Earl Dingus, assistant naturalist at North Park.

Gaida said he hopes to see ospreys nesting on the platform next spring. He put sticks in the platform's chicken wire to mimic a starter nest.

Dingus confirmed osprey sightings at North Park.

“Every so often, they do come around,” Dingus said. “That's one reason we wanted the nesting pole.”

Gaida's project carried an approximately $5,000 price tag, including materials and about 400 hours of donated labor, according to his father.

“I'm really proud that he got his Eagle (Award),” said Walt Gaida, who also earned the Boy Scouts' highest rank when he was young.

“Being an Eagle, I know the difficulty in doing a project as a high school kid and putting the time in, with all the athletics and clubs that you're involved in.”

At Hampton High School, Gaida co-captains the school's roving Ultimate Frisbee team. He also is an altar server at St. Catherine of Sweden Roman Catholic Church in Hampton.

Gaida organized a car wash to help fund his osprey nest-building project, and got additional financial help from Lowe's and Home Depot.

Gaida also got Allegheny County officials to approve the project and organized the fellow Boy Scouts and adults who helped with the project.

His advisers included Nick Navarro, assistant Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 344 in Pine, and Jim Miller, an adult leader of Boy Scout Troop 17 at Parkwood Presbyterian Church in Hampton.

“The thing that really helped me is that my dad is an Eagle Scout. He got 66 merit badges, and I had to beat him,” Gaida said. “That's why I stayed in ... I ended up getting 130 out of 136 (merit badges.)”

Gaida first joined the Boy Scouts of America as a first-grader at St. Bartholomew Roman Catholic Church in Penn Hills.

Last month, state Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-40) and state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R-28) spoke at the Court of Honor ceremony hosted by Boy Scout Troop 344 at Salem United Methodist Church to recognize Gaida.

He plans to major in biology at the University of Pittsburgh, Allegheny College or Ohio University. He hopes to eventually become a physician.

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or ddeasy@tribweb.com.

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