Eagle Scout’s hard work, tenacity yield accessible nature trail near St. Robert Bellarmine Church


Ethan Beattie named the recently completed meditation and nature trail near St. Robert Bellarmine Church in St. Robert in honor of St. George — patron saint of Scouting.

He could as aptly have named it for St. John the Evangelist, whose symbol in ecclesial art is the eagle.

The 0.2-mile trail through the woods between the rectory, a picturesque sinkhole and the parish cemetery was Ethan’s Eagle Scout project.

He wanted to make it available and useful to as many parishioners as possible, which turned out making it substantially more laborious and time-consuming than he originally planned.

“There were times when I prayed, ‘God, please help me get through this. Please help me complete this, and let it be perfect for the church and what the church needs,’” he said.

Family helped. Friends helped. Fellow parishioners helped.

“My father came out every time we worked on it,” Ethan noted. “It was a very ambitious project for a group as small as mine when we got started. But we got it done over a period of time. And it’s definitely worth it.”

Becoming a leader

Ethan is a lifelong Pulaski County resident and St. Robert Bellarmine parishioner.

His road to Scouting’s highest honor began in first grade, when he joined the Cub Scouts.

He continued into Boy Scouts and worked his way up through each rank.

The highest rank focuses on leadership.

“By the time you’re an Eagle Scout, you need to be able to display leadership in every aspect of your life,” he stated.

The largest requirement for the Eagle rank is a work-service project, which itself challenges and helps develop the scout’s organizing and supervising skills.

“You help manage everything,” Ethan said. “You have to set it all up and let everyone else who’s working with you know what they need to be doing.”

“Sometimes, it’s hard to find people who can be there when you need them,” he noted. “But you’re always grateful for those who do come, and when they do, you have to be ready to lead them.”

“This better be good”

Father John Groner, now retired, was pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish and of St. Jude Parish in Richland when Ethan started planning.

“He had been asking for a scout to put in a nature and hiking trail that starts near the parking lot,” Ethan recalled. “He wanted more members of the parish to become active and go out a little bit into the wilderness.”

Fr. Groner also wanted people to know about an impressive sinkhole on the church property and be able to get close to it.

“So he was very supportive when I talked to him about doing this,” said Ethan.

The scout wrote up a proposal that included the scope of the project and how he planned to carry it out.

“You include things like all the materials you need, how much it will cost, who will help you, whether it measures up to the standards of the beneficiary — things like that,” he said.

In terms of cost, he added: “I was very fortunate that almost all of the materials I needed for the trail were donated.”

Once the regional Scouting authority approved his proposal, he pulled together a team and got to work.

He had already mapped out the course the path would follow, “so the first day, we made the trail,” he said. “We cropped some branches and dug up some rocks.”

It turned out well but wasn’t accessible enough, especially to people who have difficulty walking.

“The problem was, part of it was on the side of a hill,” Ethan explained. “So the next task was to level it out.”

The awkward location precluded bringing any heavy equipment to the worksite.

“We had to do it by hand, with shovels and hoes and a big pry bar,” he said.

The local terrain is full of rocks, “so it was a really fun exercise,” he noted.

Some days, he had friends, fellow scouts or fellow parishioners to help.

On others, it was just him and his dad.

“At some point during any hard job, someone is going to think, ‘This better be good when it’s finished!’” Ethan noted. “Well, what I told myself was, ‘If we’re putting this much into it, it IS going to be good!’

“And when I think of the people who probably wouldn’t have been able to use the trail if we hadn’t leveled it out, I know that every second we put into making it accessible was worth it,” he said.

Ethan collaborated with Waynesville businessman Tim Berrier of Lone Elk Printing to print and laminate signs to welcome people to the trail and identify various trees along it.

Parishioner Jerry Snobl donated red cedar lumber for the signs.

Members of Boy Scout Troup 150, Cub Scout Pack 149 and Girl Scout Troop 70588, all in St. Robert, built and donated birdhouses for the trail.

Answered prayers

Ethan prayed for help and direction throughout the project, and he believes the Lord answered him.

“I think God gives us strength,” he said. “When I first started, I thought we could do this in a couple of meetings. A year later, I was still working on it.”

Now that the trail is completed, Ethan knows it was done right.

“In fact, it’s one of the things I’m most proud of,” he said.

He chose to name the trail in honor of Scouting’s patron saint in part to call attention to Scouting itself.

“It seems to me that Scouting has kind of waned,” Ethan stated. “Membership has gone down a little. It’s been a great experience for me, and I’d like more people to know about it.”

He said he hopes using the trail helps people find “a bit of peace.”

“It’s a great place to go out and just meditate,” he said.

He once adjourned to the trail himself to clear his mind after a bad experience.

He found everything quiet and covered with snow.

“Being out there and far away from everybody was definitely cleansing,” he said. “That was really nice.”

Fr. Murphy hopes to bless the trail sometime this spring.

The new season’s arrival has brought a colorful cavalcade of blossoms to the trees and shrubs along the trail.

Ethan has heard about parishioners already taking it upon themselves to help maintain sections of it.

“Part of the idea is that this is a gift to the church,” he said. “I’m happy to see that other parishioners are helping to maintain it now that I’ve turned it over to the parish.”

“Once an Eagle Scout ...”

Ethan will officially age-out of Scouting when he turns 18 this month, but generations of Scouting lore affirms, “Once an Eagle Scout, always an Eagle Scout.”

After graduating from Waynesville High School this spring, he’s looking forward to attending Missouri State University in Springfield in the fall.

“I’m going to start off with music,” he stated, “but it’s a good school to find out what it is you want to keep pursuing. They have wildlife and conservation, and I also enjoy film and theatre, and music. So right now, everything is on the table.”

Everything, that is, except his faith.

“I plan to get active in Catholic Campus Ministry,” he stated.

He recently met Bishop Edward Rice of Springfield-Cape Girardeau while attending a fish fry at the O’Reilly Catholic Center on campus with his brother, who is an MSU student.

“The bishop’s a great guy,” he noted.