Freedom High School junior Nick Guggemos loves to camp out, ride his mountain bike on rugged trails and spend time outdoors soaking up all nature has to offer.
Guggemos, who has advanced to the rank of Life Scout at Boy Scout Troop 180 in Tampa Palms, feels obligated to protect the environment for Scouts and other nature lovers to enjoy for generations to come.
The 16-year-old avid hiker and fisherman chose to do his part in the community he calls home.
In his campaign to become an Eagle Scout, Guggemos is tackling the problem of litter, especially when it comes to polluting the 80 lakes and ponds in Tampa Palms Areas 1 and 2.
"My project is to inform the community that throwing trash down a [storm] drain doesn't get filtered out," Guggemos said. "It ends up in our ponds."
He is focused on labeling area storm drains off-limits to dispose of trash, chemicals and other unwanted items.
On a warm, sunny morning Aug. 11, Guggemos and a dozen volunteers gathered at Hampton Park on Tampa Palms Boulevard West to begin the mission.
The volunteers were mostly members of Troop 180, some troop parents, Guggemos' father, Edward, and his 12-year-old sister, Jennifer, who is a Girl Scout.
Guggemos led a 30-minute training demonstration armed with a metal brush to scrape the sidewalk clean, a hand-held dust broom to wipe away debris, and a tube of adhesive to affix the metal plates to concrete slabs.
He assigned the volunteers to work in four three-member teams. Tugging a red wagon filled with supplies, each group, led by a site captain, fanned out in Hampton Park and on Tampa Palms Boulevard to add the decorative metal plates on or near storm drains throughout the area.
Like Guggemos, many of the Scouts seemed committed to protecting the environment and wildlife.
"People should be putting their trash in the trash can or recycling bin," said Tyler McDonald, 16, of Tampa Palms.
Sam Bryant, an Eagle Scout from Tampa Palms, agreed. "It's a good thing for the community," the 16-year-old Freedom High School junior said. "We all benefit because we live here."
Three hours later, 84 markers were in place.
The volunteers tagged 76 storm drains from the intersection of Tampa Palms Boulevard East and Penwood Drive in Tampa Palms Area 1 to Tampa Palms Boulevard West and Ebensburg Drive in Tampa Palms Area 2. They also added eight signs at Hampton Park.
The Tampa Palms Community Development District picked up the cost to buy the drainage markers to assist Guggemos with his project.
Guggemos has championed his Eagle Scout project for the past year.
He hatched the idea last summer after talking to Troop 180 Scout Master Dave Bryant and a former assistant scout master. The project proceeded after Guggemos received the blessings of Tampa Palms CDD consultant Maggie Wilson and Tampa Palms Owners Association.
"It's a good project for the community," Dave Bryant said. "But what he is being evaluated on is his leadership and management success."
Guggemos goes before the Eagle Scout review board in September.
Edward and Dawn Guggemos couldn't be happier with their son's commitment to Scouting. They attribute their son's high grade performance and the friends he met, in part, to the program's wholesome values.
"Scouting exemplifies the characteristics we admire most in youth programs," said Edward Guggemos, who has been a constant companion to his son during the project.
Guggemos sketched two marker designs for the project. One was a round disc, featuring an image of a water-spewing fountain in an area pond. The second design displayed a rectangular shape, with a snapshot of an alligator.
Site Essentials, an Odessa company that makes site amenity products, turned Guggemos' sketches into durable nickel-based plates, with the warning "No Dumping, Drains to Pond."
Wilson sees the markers as tools to showcase the importance of protecting local bodies of water from litter.
"Some citizens don't realize the storm drains are not a part of the sewer system," Wilson said. "They are directly tied into our ponds and the river."
Guggemos said he owes a debt of gratitude to his family, fellow Scouts, his Scout master and Tampa Palms community leaders.
Area leaders originally suggested Guggemos may want to place the Boy Scout Troop 180 moniker on the drainage signs, but the honor roll student had a different idea.
"I didn't feel it was about us," Guggemos said. "It was about the community."