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John Markowski, 16, is undertaking an Eagle Scout project he’s termed “Save the Shack.” He intends to raise $12,000 and organize volunteers, materials and manpower to replace the Grass Island shack’s damaged roof and deck and repair other components to make it structurally sound once again. (Photo by Pam Johnson/Guilford Courier )
Another view of the weather damaged structure. Pam Johnson/Guilford Courier )
Viewed from a distance, the Grass Island Shack's iconic silhouette is a shoreline favorite. Pam Johnson/Guilford Courier )
John Markowski catches boat a ride with the town Dock Master to visit the Grass Island Shack for his Eagle Scout project, Save the Shack. Pam Johnson/Guilford Courier )
Eagle Scout candidate John Markowski, 16, is on the path to saving one of Guilford’s most iconic shoreline structures.
With approval from town leaders, John has established “Save the Shack,” an ambitious project that intends to raise $12,000 to purchase materials needed to shore up the damaged Grass Island shack. The project also involves gathering and managing volunteers to help with construction and establishing a fund to provide for future maintenance needs.
The little red shack is owned by the town and sits on a spit of beach (not an island) across from the Town Marina. The current structure was once privately owned and erected in 1930, after a fire burned down a circa-1900 summer cottage on the grounds. In the 1950s, it was nudged up the beach to higher ground to avoid rising waters. In 1963, the shack and its perimeter of land were given to Guilford. In 1996, a volunteer committee, calling its effort “Save Our Shack,” rallied to raise $10,000 to help reinforce pilings and repair the building, including replacing the roof.
Now, it’s time to once again rally to save the shack, says John.
“Winds from the past two hurricanes have kind of twisted the structure,” says John of damage wrought by storms Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012. “The central core of the building is actually okay, but we have to take off the roof, take off the deck, straighten things out, and then put on a new roof and a new deck.”
In addition to the damaged roof and deck, there are missing floorboards and other fixes needed, right down to a new coat of paint to cover graffiti and spruce up the entire shack.
It’s the precarious state of some of the structure that has the town most concerned, however. This summer, the deck, which surrounds all sides of the shack, was closed off with temporary fencing, and “No Trespassing” signs were posted on the building. The town allows residents to visit Grass Island as an outdoor passive recreational site.
“You can certainly visit; the town didn’t have a problem with that,” says John. “The town had a problem with people going on the roof. What started the whole thing with fence going around it was when two young adults posted a video on Facebook, dancing on the roof. That sparked the question of: How safe is the shack?”
The fencing went up around the time John was casting about for a worthwhile Eagle Scout project, one that would have a lasting impact on his hometown. Currently a Life Scout with Guilford Troop 471, John is a junior at Guilford High School.
“When the fence went up around the shack, that started a big uproar in town because so many people love it and they were worried about what was going to happen to it,” says John.
He thanks his Eagle Scout advisor, Oliver Bishop, for encouraging him to fix the shack as an Eagle Scout project. John began by meeting with First Selectman Joseph Mazza in September, who suggested lining things up through town channels by meeting with the Parks & Recreation Department and the Town Facilities Department.
“When I met with the facilities manager and we came out to look at the shack, you could tell over the years that people have gone out there and patched up a hole here, and put down some new deck boards there,” says John. “It doesn’t need another Band-Aid. The structural fixes need to be done right.”
John’s dad (also named John) is offering his input as a professional general contractor. A local architect has also offered assistance to make sure the structure is properly repaired without losing its well-known, much-painted, and often-photographed silhouette.
“When I mentioned to anyone that I was going to make the Grass Island Shack my Eagle Scout project, they immediately knew what I was talking about,” says John, who did some research to learn more about the scenic structure. “It’s really cool. I’ve been hearing it’s the second-most painted and photographed building on east coast, second to a lobster shack in Maine.”
Once he received a green light from the town, John began to lay out the goals and milestones he’ll need to reach to get the job done.
“It’s a huge project, but I don’t really find it overwhelming because of the support that I have,” says John. “I’ve also been meeting almost on a weekly basis with the town to give them updates, and for them to give me updates.”
The project is currently in the fundraising stage. John recently created www.savetheshackguilford.com with access to a GoFundMe page, and has set up an associated Facebook page to raise awareness and solicit contributions online. In addition, checks, payable to “Save the Shack Fund” may be mailed to Guilford Town Hall, attn. Finance Department, 31 Park Street, Guilford, CT 06437. As of press time, nearly $1,000 had been raised.
“I’m also getting some nice comments from people,” John says. “One lady wrote in that she and her husband would love to come out and help paint it. Right now, I’m keeping tabs on everyone who’s contacting me. The idea is to be doing fundraising in the winter months, and as soon as the weather gets nice, go out and do the work,”
In addition to receiving encouraging comments from folks who are making donations or otherwise supporting John’s “Save the Shack” effort, he’s also getting some pro-bono offers of professional services, and hopes to have more.
“I have already heard from a guy who is willing to donate his time and has the experience to put on the roof,” says John.
He’d also like to find a marine contractor, or other commercial entity, willing to loan the use of a small work barge for loading and delivering materials and hauling away debris. John hopes to have construction underway by spring 2016.
“We’re going to need boats, we’re going to need to get power to it,” says John. “This is going to be a huge project, but with the support I have from my troop, my family, and my community, I’m confident that I can get it done.”