Not many high school sophomores can say they’ve orchestrated major infrastructure improvements on public land — but Joseph Haas can. At age 14, Joseph (now 15) spearheaded the installation of four sturdy new bridges at Sinkyone Wilderness State Park.
Joseph and his family have a special connection with Sinkyone. Though they live six hours away, the family has visited the park every spring for over a decade. Joseph’s father, Ken, was introduced to Sinkyone by a friend who found comfort there after losing a brother. Ken recognizes that there is something profound about the park:
“It’s amazing how spiritual that place is. People go out there and never forget it. There’s something about it that is just a little bit different from any other state park I have been in.”
Sinkyone’s 7,500 acres are home to old-growth redwoods, some 10 feet wide.
Joseph and his sister Amanda have grown up exploring and playing in the scenic splendor of Sinkyone Wilderness State Park. They forged a bond with nature there, and are both now active in the Scouts.
When Joseph decided to pursue Eagle Scout status by completing a service project, he knew he wanted to help out at Sinkyone.
The service project is one of many rigorous requirements for a Boy Scout to earn Eagle Rank — the ultimate scouting achievement. The scout manages the project from start to finish, gaining administrative approval, raising funds, and coordinating volunteers. Joseph asked Park Ranger Josh Ertl what he could do for Sinkyone, and when Ertl mentioned replacing bridges, Joseph knew that was the project for him.
This was an extremely ambitious project for a Scout to take on, and Joseph had plenty of challenges — but with the help of Camp Host Carla Thomas and Ken, an engineer, he overcame them. Joseph received California State Parks’ approval to replace four bridges on the trail from Needle Rock to Jones Beach. With Carla’s assistance, he secured the $8,000 for materials from California State Parks. The crowning accomplishment was assembling a phenomenal team of volunteers: members of the Whale Gulch Volunteer Fire Department and Southern Humboldt Technical Rescue Team, California State Parks staff and volunteers, Boy Scouts from Newcastle Troop 13 and the Haas family all gave their time and energy to the project.
Together the team contributed more than 1,500 volunteer hours. They carried three and a half tons of lumber – by hand – down the winding trail to the building sites, where they meticulously constructed the bridges.
Joseph, who wants to be an engineer someday, says the project was even harder than he had expected, but that it was worth it. He learned that success “came down to how you communicated and how we got everyone to work together.”
Three of the bridges are memorials, dedicated to former Camp Host Mike Rydjord, Whale Gulch Fire Chief Archie Umina, and Briceland Fire Chief Tim Olsen. One of Joseph’s favorite parts about completing the bridge project was meeting Tim Olsen’s family at the dedication, and learning that his widow walks that trail several times a week.
The new bridges will keep the trail sound and connected, allowing visitors to traverse Sinkyone’s rugged terrain. But their function goes much deeper, helping people to connect with the unique sense of peace that this wild and beautiful park offers, knowing they are safe and supported along their way.
Joseph recently submitted his project to the Golden Empire Council of Boy Scouts and in spring 2016 will learn if he has qualified for Eagle Rank. He also submitted his project to the National Eagle Scout Association to be considered for the Eagle Scout Project of the Year, an award which provides an education scholarship to the winner.
Joseph’s tremendous accomplishment makes him an inspiring supporter of the redwood forest.
Members of the bridge project volunteer team have continued to work together on improvement projects at Sinkyone – including two more bridges!
Learn more about Sinkyone Wilderness State Park.
All photos are courtesy of the Haas family.