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June 26, 2019  |  

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From left, Michael Gullien, Patrick Sheahan, and Noah D’Ambrosi working on D’Ambrosi’s eagle scout project: a bird-viewing platform on Old Saybrook Land Trust land off Ingham Hill Road. Photo by Julie D’Ambrosi

From left, Michael Gullien, Patrick Sheahan, and Noah D’Ambrosi working on D’Ambrosi’s eagle scout project: a bird-viewing platform on Old Saybrook Land Trust land off Ingham Hill Road. (Photo by Julie D’Ambrosi )

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Noah D’Ambrosi checks out his in-progress eagle scout project: a bird-viewing platform on Old Saybrook Land Trust land off Ingham Hill Road. Photo by Aviva Luria/Harbor News

Noah D’Ambrosi checks out his in-progress eagle scout project: a bird-viewing platform on Old Saybrook Land Trust land off Ingham Hill Road. (Photo by Aviva Luria/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)

Binoculars, Benches, and Birds Make Slip of Land an Old Saybrook Destination

Published June 11, 2019

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On a small parcel of land belonging to the Old Saybrook Land Trust (OSLT), just off the southern end of Ingham Hill Road, Old Saybrook High School junior Noah D’Ambrosi is building a bird watching platform as his eagle scout project.

The land, which the OSLT acquired in March 2014, overlooks and includes brackish tidal wetlands of the Oyster River that provide crucial habitat to many species, including fish and birds.

“In the wintertime, a lot of water fowl and different types of ducks will come in,” said John Ogren, an OSLT board member and a former scoutmaster of Old Saybrook’s Troop 51. “It’s open water and they’ll migrate down when the water [in the north] freezes over. There’s good protection, so in the wintertime there are ducks that we don’t normally see.

“It varies season to season,” he continued. “A couple of years ago, we saw 37 different species in a matter of about an hour and a half.”

The OSLT is leaving much of the brush untouched, Ogren explained.

“It gives good protection for the birds that we don’t normally see in people’s backyards,” he said.

On the first Sunday in June, D’Ambrosi; his parents, Julie and Mark D’Ambrosi; and four other scouts from Troop 51 gathered under the shade of the oak and maple trees to install the platform’s posts and floor joists. The floor boards would have to wait for the next work day.

“We were planning on doing it today, but we didn’t have too many hands and we only had one tool to put the nails for these in,” D’Ambrosi said. “So that will be the next time.”

D’Ambrosi decided on the project last year, after Ogren brought him out to the spot and talked about its environmental significance. A platform would create a slightly elevated perch for nature lovers, enhancing the view and providing a level surface on which to place a tripod for a camera or spotting scope.

Ogren explained to him that “[i]t would be nice to have something like this because, as a bird watcher, there’s apparently [many] different types of birds here,” said Noah D’Ambrosi. “It’s a really good place, especially in the wintertime. When the shrubbery and the leaves clear up, it’s a really nice view.

“There’s been kind of like a cliché of doing benches for the town and I guess this one sparked my interest a little more,” D’Ambrosi added.

He hasn’t entirely avoided constructing benches, though: Two of them are incorporated into the plan for the platform. It will also have a ramp for wheelchairs, making it ADA accessible.

“We’re planning on having some sort of railing in the front—not to block out the view. Some sort of cable railing,” D’Ambrosi explained.

A lot of learning has happened along the way. D’Ambrosi, with the help his advisor, Bill Hart, as well as Ogren, drew up the plans for the project about a year ago. Land trust board member Bob Lorenz helped him navigate the process to obtain a building permit from the town.

Actual building began last winter with the installation of concrete tube forms in the ground for posts to elevate and support the platform. The scout has learned some tough lessons on building in the process.

“We tried getting a lot of the work done before the winter, but because of school and all that, I couldn’t get a lot of work days in,” D’Ambrosi said. “We put [the forms] down and it started raining and they got destroyed.

“We re-did it and on that same work day we put in cement,” he said.

There are now two round posts at the front end of the platform and two shorter blocks toward the back, accounting for the downward slope of the ground toward the marsh.

“This is public space, so that went into his planning, too, to have this end low, so that if somebody needed to come in a wheelchair, they could,” explained Julie D’Ambrosi.

The cement blocks in the rear keep the platform off the ground to keep the wood from rotting, she added.

Noah D’Ambrosi has had to learn to manage the project, as well. On this particular Sunday, the work he hoped to do conflicted with a long-standing troop overnight at Bushnell Farm. He managed to recruit some scouts at the event.

“I’m trying to learn how to plan in advance,” he said.

Funding is also an issue. D’Ambrosi plans to approach a couple of local civic organizations, hoping they’ll be able to chip in, and he’s set up a GoFundMe page with a goal of $1,800. So far, he’s raised about 43 percent of that.

D’Ambrosi has had plenty of inspiration for attaining eagle scout. His older brother, Luke, built 10 bat houses around town to counter the depletion of the bat population due to white-nose syndrome. And Troop 51’s percentage of eagle scouts appears to be more than 10 times the national average. Ogren said another former scoutmaster found that, since the early 2000s, 45- to 50 percent of the troop’s scouts have become eagle scouts. The national average, according to a Baylor University study, is around four percent.

Once the platform is completed, the area will “become a little destination point” where “people can go and just walk there and sit for a while,” said Ogren.

“I went out there one time and there was a family of raccoons right over my head—babies and mom. You can always find something out there,” he said. “It’s a little hideaway right in the middle of town.”

The fundraising page for D’Ambrosi’s project can be found at gofundme.com by searching for “Noah D’Ambrosi.” Any excess funds will be donated to the OSLT.

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