The first thing Milana Nostrand noticed about Shacktown Falls was its natural beauty. Water cascades down in wide stairsteps before settling into a peaceful pool 10 feet below.

The second thing she noticed was all the litter.

“It would be a great place to take a walk if people had not thrown their trash everywhere,” she says. “It would’ve been the perfect place to spend your day.”

Rather than lamenting the state of this serene spot, Milana and her fellow Scouts got to work. The members of Troop 219 of Oak Ridge, N.C. (Old North State Council), adopted Shacktown Falls through a partnership with the nonprofit group Waterfall Keepers of North Carolina.

Troop 219 visits its waterfall at least once a quarter to pick up trash, dismantle unlawfully placed fire rings and clean off graffiti. For her Eagle Scout project, one of the Scouts is going to build an educational kiosk about the waterfall. She’ll even include the Outdoor Code, which encourages everyone to “be considerate in the outdoors.”

“I think it’s important to adopt a waterfall because we want to keep these outdoor sanctuaries clean,” Milana says. “They are home to lots of wildlife that we should keep safe. By adopting a waterfall, you can make a difference.”

The (now clean) pathway to Shacktown Falls.

About Waterfall Keepers

Kevin Adams is the founder of Waterfall Keepers of North Carolina, which was formed in 2020 to protect the hundreds of waterfalls in the state.

Before launching the nonprofit, Adams was one of the top waterfall photographers in the country. Publications of his photos brought crowds of people out to see lesser-known waterfalls in the state, including Troop 219’s Shacktown Falls.

Unfortunately, this resulted in those beautiful places being trashed. So Adams decided to give back, starting Waterfall Keepers as a way to protect these natural spots and educate adults and kids about the environment.

In addition to its regular visits to Shacktown Falls, Troop 219 also participated in Waterfall Keepers’ inaugural Waterfall Sweep on March 20. On its Facebook page, Waterfall Keepers says the sweep, which welcomed participants from Troop 219 and other service-minded local groups, yielded 3,000 gallons of trash, 24 tires, two couches, a recliner “and a bunch of just plain nasty stuff.”

“We have seen an incredible amount of passion and commitment from both young and old and in all areas of the state,” Adams says. “But the excitement we’re seeing from the kids, including in Troop 219, is most encouraging. They will be the future of Waterfall Keepers and all the other enterprises that make the world a better place.”

Leaving it better than they found it

For Milana, a Life Scout, the concept of leaving a place better than she found it can be explained with a brief example.

“If you ate a snack that had a wrapper and you made sure to throw your wrapper away, but you see an old wrapper on the ground from someone who did not throw theirs away, then you would pick it up,” she says. “This would be leaving a place better than you found it.”

Riley Mannella, another Life Scout in Troop 219, says she was surprised to see so much litter in such a beautiful spot. Eradicating those carelessly tossed items makes Shacktown Falls more enjoyable for everyone.

“Shacktown Falls is right next to a road. It’s a great place that’s easy to access to enjoy natural beauty,” she says. “It’s important to adopt a waterfall because if no one picks up trash, it impacts the environment negatively.”

This lesson became even clearer to the Scouts of Troop 219 when they were picking up trash and noticed some snails in an old aluminum can.

“We helped pull them out and threw away the can, but sadly, the snails were already dead,” Milana says. “It was so sad to find that the trash that people were throwing out really does have a negative impact on the environment.”

Earth Day, every day

Every year on April 22, we humans recognize Earth Day — a chance to celebrate our one and only home.

But Riley believes we shouldn’t forget about the planet on the other 364 days each year.

“Every day should be like Earth Day, because we should think every day of trying to help the Earth,” she says. “One of the first things you learn from Scout outings is to leave no trace.”

When Riley’s mom, Ellen, an assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 219, hears that, she can’t help but feel good.

“I am proud and inspired watching these Scouts serve,” she says. “I know they are making a positive impact and will continue to do so throughout their lives.”

Thanks to Mike Matzinger for the blog post idea!

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