What does it take to soar with the eagles?
Courage? Of course. And a love of the outdoors, no doubt. Feathers won't hurt either.
But for Matthew Merritt, the key was a fresh coat of paint.
The 17-year-old Gresham resident needed a capstone project for his tenure with the Boy Scouts of America. Something that shows he's truly earned his wings — along with 36 merit badges — and is ready for the rank of Eagle Scout.
Enter the lifeguard station on the Sandy River at Glenn Otto Community Park, on the Historic Columbia River Highway in Troutdale.
This time last year, the shack-like structure had peeling paint and a waterlogged roof. The east wind had stolen a handful of shingles, too.
Along with a crew of about 20 scouts, siblings and parents, Merritt refurbished the disheveled shed on Saturday, April 15. The total cost of the effort was around $700.
"The lifeguard shack is used by the AMR (American Medical Response) rescue teams who keep the community safe," Merritt says. "It's important for anyone who goes into the river, because they store the lifejackets in there."
The first step in the multi-month project, which began in February, was just getting a tarp over the tarpaper and waiting for the ceiling to dry out.
When the work party gathered last month, they shucked off the old shingles, then tacked up new material and also repaired the flashing and touched up the molding.
Finally, the crew stripped paint off the wooden walls, and restored them to a gleaming firetruck red.
Merritt donated the new signage on the lifeguard hut, and another inscription thanks the hard-working scouts for getting the job done.
"It was difficult, but I had everything planned out ahead of time," Merritt says. "So it was an easy way to go through my schedules."
Currently finishing his junior year at Barlow High School, Merritt tells The Outlook his favorite subject is a metals and machining class.
The blade work is satisfying because "it's hands-on … and I can make stuff accurately, without making mistakes," Merritt notes.
After graduation, he hopes to study the same skills at Mt. Hood Community College.
For the record, Merritt's least favorite subject is English, though he's enjoying the current assignment, reading "The Catcher in the Rye" by J. D. Salinger. It's an oft-banned book, which adds to the thrill, he notes.
So, are all adults phonies?
"Yes," he replies with Salingeresque terseness.
Merritt has been a member of Gresham's Troop 544 since the first grade. His father, Wes Merritt, was a scout too. Matthew Merritt now has badges in everything from archery to cooking to citizenship of the world.
He says scouting has changed how he sees and interacts.
"For example, to put up a tent. (Before) I'd just put it up on any old spot," Matthew explains. "Now, I figure out where the best place would be: uphill, no low spots and no rocks."
His mother, Mary Merritt, says scouting is more than an excuse to get outdoors. The family already rides ATVs and enjoys excursions at Sand Lake Recreation Area on the Oregon Coast. Time spent together is the real benefit of Boys Scouts of America (BSA).
"Sometimes that gets the connotation of Babysitters of America. But it's not about that," she says. "A scout can't do it on his own. He needs the support of his family."
And she adds: "His merit badges speak for themselves."