WIMAUMA — Fourteen-year-old Colton Lewis has a soft spot for Little Manatee River State Park. He’s been visiting the refuge since he was a little boy.
So earlier this year, when he decided to shoot for Eagle Scout, the park was high on his list of project sites. In June the youngster, then 13, approached Kathy Moore, president of Friends of the Park, and asked what he might do to help.
“He didn’t want to do anything small like build picnic tables or repair bridges on our hiking trails,” she said. “He wanted to do something big, so I suggested it would be nice for the park to have a new gated entrance to the events field. He liked that idea.”
After obtaining approvals from Dave Mortus, scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 661, the Gulf Ridge Council and Christi Burch, manager of Little Manatee River State Park, Colton set off in his usual determined fashion to get the job done.
“Most scouts go for their Eagle rank when they’re 16 or 17,” said his mother, Tammy. “But Colton is an overachiever. When he loves something like scouting, science and religion, he is totally focused. But can I get him to pick up his shoes? No.”
“It’s not unheard of but it is a bit unusual,” said Mortus of Colton’s decision to go for Eagle at such an early age. “But he’s very driven, intelligent, and learns quickly. He was very serious about doing it.”
The boy had his reasons.
“I wanted to get my Eagle rank before the girls and the cars so I wouldn’t get distracted,” he said, matter-of-factly.
As is required, Colton designed and supervised the entire project to show his leadership skills.
He solicited $2,698 in cash and in-kind donations, writing a solicitation letter himself and taking it to 18 businesses from Brandon to Bradenton. He pitched the project while his mother waited in the car. Eleven companies — including Beef ‘O’ Brady’s and The Home Depot in Ruskin, and Sam’s Club and Ace Hardware in Riverview — said yes. Woody’s River Roo in Ellenton offered to do a fundraiser with Colton over Labor Day by dedicating a menu item to him and donating some of the proceeds. As part of the deal, which netted $576 for his project, the teenager was required to go on stage and make a presentation to customers.
From his collections, Colton had to cover all of the costs associated with the project, including materials for the gate and breakfast and lunch for the 30 volunteers who helped him build it.
Rodney Potter, owner of Pro Build in Bradenton, mentored Colton through the logistics and provided wood at a deep discount, delivering it free of charge. Once that process was completed, actually building the gate took two days. Altogether the project consumed a total of 263 man hours. It was finished on Sept. 15.
“I feel really relieved it’s finally over,” Colton said. “It seemed a lot easier on paper. Overall, I’m very pleased with my project, and I’m grateful to my sponsors, donors and volunteers for helping me. I couldn’t have finished without them.”
Colton’s Board of Review, where he will discuss his career in scouting, his Eagle project and answers questions in an oral exam of sorts, is tomorrow.
“He’s nervous about it,” his mom said. “He wants it to be perfect.”
The eighth-grader at St. Stephen Catholic School lives with his parents, Harold and Tammy, in Sundance. He likes to hunt and fish with his dad, ride four-wheelers, play Xbox, and groom and feed his mom’s horses. In many ways he’s a typical teenager.
But there’s a lot more to this kid than meets the eye.
Although it takes only 21 merit badges to qualify for Eagle Scout, Colton has 51, about half for science-related endeavors. Last year, he won first place in physics at his school’s science fair; and then went on to win county, regional and state contests in physics and astronomy. He was invited to enter the Broadcom Masters nationwide science fair and finished in the top 300 of 6,000 entrants in all science categories.
In school he’s commissioner of religious affairs, serves on the student council, is a member of the National Junior Honor Society and is president and lead science instructor in the 4-H Club. He’s also chaplain’s aide for his troop.
“Colton is certainly driven, not the kind of person where good enough is good enough,” said teacher Sharon Hall. “Three years ago when I first started teaching him, we decided to do a play in language arts class. He not only acted in it but also, as is typical, ended up directing it. He gives his whole heart to everything he does.”
Even at his young age, Colton believes in giving back.
He’s a regular altar server at his school and at Prince of Peace Catholic Church in Sun City Center and serves at funerals at St. Stephen Catholic Church, because he feels “it’s the greatest gift he can give to someone who’s passed on,” his mother said.
“He actually asked me to do it,” she said.
He also worked a full season of Buddy Baseball from last January through May, where he was buddy to a physically disabled child under age 8. His role was to make sure the youngster didn’t get hurt and learned the game of baseball.
So his Eagle project is simply one more act of service in Colton’s busy life, and park officials are appreciative.
“The old metal gate at our special events field was rusted, in disrepair,” said Burch. “The new one is aesthetically pleasing and much safer for allowing big RVs and horse trailers to get off Lightfoot Road into the park. Colton has improved access for many of our visitors.”