When Trevor Burke of Dallas, Texas, had to organize a public service project in order to earn his Eagle Scout rank, he decided the best way to help his community was to preserve its natural environment.
Burke, now an Eagle Scout in Scout Troop 570 from the Circle 10 council who earned the maximum number of 23 Eagle Palms, all 139 merit badges and Eagle Scout of the Year for 2018 and 2019, has a passion for environment preservation and restoration. So in the spring of 2015, he organized his project to protect the endangered Blackland Prairie, a 300-mile long ecosystem that runs from the Red River in North Texas to San Antonio.
“There was a couple of projects that other Eagle Scouts were doing around the Blackland Prairie and so I helped their Eagle Scout projects and did service hours with them at the Blackburn Prairie,” Burke says. “When I talked to Bob Mione [the Meadow Nature Preserve Manager of the Connemara Conservancy of the Connemara Meadow in Allen, TX.] about my own Eagle Scout projects and only after doing my own Eagle Scout projects, I sort of realized the intensity of how endangered it was and gained a true motivation and passion for protecting the Blackland Prairie.”
Burke, who recently graduated from the St. Mark School of Texas in Dallas, plans to pursue a degree in engineering at Southern Methodist University. He first visited the prairie when he was 11 and has a vivid memory of the trip that would become one of his greatest achievements.
He says it looked and felt like nothing like any other natural scene or preserve he ever visited.
“The first thing I remember when I went there was the soil,” he says. “As soon as I put my feet down, that’s the first thing I noticed. The soil was entirely different. It was kind of a spongy feeling and it’s black. It’s weird because I don’t know how to describe it. It’s dense. The soil itself is very unique. It’s just dense, thick and very spongy and it’s almost like a clay. It’s very, very claylike in the sense that it’s heavy and kind of thick. And then when I looked out there, there was the grassland and it has huge, tall grasses there. The seeds on them are kind of like cotton candy and it’s kind of layered on each grass and it’s like little dandelions with little hairs of that and they are just everywhere.”
The project became much bigger and made a larger impact than Burke initially planned. He spent more than 150 hours planning and organizing more than 25 volunteers to help clear acres of pecan trees that could fuel devastating wild fires. He even raised a flock of quails in the living room of his family’s house to repopulate the species in the prairie.
“After doing this project, I learned more about the ecosystem I was protecting and after learning how in danger it was and everything else, I became inspired and motivated to protect and preserve the life on the prairie,” Burke says. “So after doing that one project which was removing what was endangering the ecosystem, that allowed the grass and habitat [to grow] and after ally establishing an ecosystem for these birds, I wanted to help move wildlife and that’s why I got involved with the birds.”
Burke and his volunteers also used the wood to build natural habitats for the native rabbit population.
“It’s sort of brush clumping or grouping as it’s called so we kind of stacked them like Lincoln Logs,” Burke says. “We just kind of layered them on top of each other. In this sort of group, rabbits just can find their own little path that they want. They have protection from hawks and other predators.”
His work to preserve and restore natural environments don’t stop with the Blackland Prairie. He’s also organized projects to remove invasive species and restore the native wildflowers of the Twelve Hills Nature Center in Dallas and reduce erosion of the Connemara Conservancy with a rock apron blanket that also directs water to the Blackland Prairie that was funded with a grant from the Scooby-Doo Doo Good environment initiative.
“I think it’s important for our own human existence,” Burke says. “It’s important to preserve all this and everything else in nature because it represents a whole ecosystem of knowledge, a whole study of science about our world, life and everything else.”
Burke’s work has also earned him some well deserved recognition and chances to spread his passion and message for environmental conservation to bigger communities and our most influential leaders. He’s won the President’s Environmental Youth Award, the 2019 Prudential Spirit of Community Award, SeaWorld/Busch Gardens’ 2018 Environmental Excellence Award and the 2017 and 2018 Youth Outdoor Inspiration Award. He was also selected as one of 12 delegates to 2019’s Report to the Nation as the Boy Scout Delegate to meet and deliver a report on the Scouts’ nationwide activities and public works projects and congressional members including President Donald Trump, Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas)and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and members of the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and the Interior.
He’s also very dedicated to his country and heritage through his work with other groups such as the Children of the American Revolution and the Texas Society of the Children of the American Revolution where he serves as a state president. Burke says these groups along with the Scouts provide him with a solid path to traverse in his life.
“Principles in Scouts, the Scout Oath and the Scout Law represent principles you can live your life around and I think that’s very important whether youth know it or not,” Burke says. “It’s something that you are attached to and it’s something that can lead them on the right path, a path of good living for the rest of their life.”
Burke also wrote and delivered some memorable keynote speeches at the 2019 EarthX Conference and the TEDxKids talks at SMU in 2018 to help spread his message of and passion for preservation.
“By talking to them about my experience and my reach that I’ve had, I could hopefully inspire and show them that you don’t have to be a 30 year old person to make a difference right now. You can make a difference right here. You can make a difference doing whatever your interest is around you.”
Burke says making a difference doesn’t require organizing a massive preservation project. They can do simple things around their home like preserving water supplies by taking shorter showers and making sure faucets don’t leak or drip. They can even beautify their neighborhood by planting native grasses.
“They require less water and they are designed for the ecosystem, the habitat that is native to Dallas because that’s what they are designed to do,” Burke says. “In addition, they require less water, it saves you more money and it’s just better for the environment.”
He hopes his work and words will inspire people to preserve our natural environment and ecosystems with the same passion that’s fueled his success and impressive volunteer projects.
“It’s important to be able to preserve this stuff so we can appreciate it and explore its wonder as well as experience it. When you go to a park and see trees everywhere, there is a certain feeling of the summer breeze on your face, looking out and seeing the green grass, the clear stream of water nearby. There’s an innate joy in that. I think it’s important we protect and preserve that.”