Magazine article American Forests

Wetlands & Wal-Mart

Magazine article American Forests

Wetlands & Wal-Mart

Article excerpt

Jason Spanel, 14, loves woods and wetlands, but that's not too surprising--he has spent much of his young life learning about them from his father, Mike Spanel, a wildlife biologist for the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois. What makes the high-school freshman honor student from Eldorado, Illinois, unusual is his intense interest in preserving the environment and his desire to "take back" abused land. Jason's efforts have resulted in the establishment of the J.L. Markham Wetland Restoration and Interpretive Site. The project turned a muddy 3.6-acre temporary water-retention basin' adjoining a Wal-Mart parking lot into a flourishing wetland where 100 different types of plants grow and a dozen bird species make their home. The Wal-Mart store is in Arrowhead Point shopping center in Harrisburg, about seven miles west of Eldorado.

"The spillway for the parking lot lay right along the highway, and it was a mess--bare mud with trash lying all around," said Jason, whose scout uniform is peppered with badges, including the 50-Mile award, Arrow of Light, and Snorkeling. "My first thought was how much better it would be for the shopping center's business if something nice were there instead." The area seemed "perfect for a wetland, maybe even with bird boxes and a nature trail, where people driving by could stop for a look--it might even attract some shoppers to the center," he added.

Jason, a member of Eldorado Boy Scout Troop 137, was then hoping to become an Eagle Scout, the organization's highest rank, and he needed a project. Developing a wetland seemed like a "great project," and his father offered to suggest appropriate plants.

"I went to talk with the Wal-Mart manager, Tim Henson," said Jason, "and he said I'd have to contact the shopping center developer, Joseph Markham."

The letter to Markham was the first of what turned into a major paperwork operation-more than 200 letters, now photocopied and assembled in a thick binder along with the responses.

"Mr. Markham agreed to turn me loose," said Jason. "My dad challenged me to be creative and think big, and to think of all kinds of ways to accomplish my goal."

Henson suggested that Jason apply for a grant from the Wal-Mart Foundation to help with funding. Within a few weeks a check for $350 had arrived. Since then, donations from a variety of sources increased his funds for the wetland to $2,000.

"Besides the cash, other help has come from many different areas," Jason said. …

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