Phillip Perea wants to become an Eagle Scout. So he built a 550-ft. walkway to help increase scientific surveillance and protect rare wildlife in a swamp in Aiken County.

Perea, of Aiken, attends the Governor's School for Science and Mathematics in Hartsville, South Carolina. A Life Scout member of Troop 115 of St. Mary's Help of Christians, he has been working toward becoming an Eagle Scout for four years and worked on his project – a swamp jumper trail – during trips back home to Aiken County.

"I built a 550-foot boardwalk throughout the swamp that herpetologists could use to survey plants and animals," Perea said. "You can take students on the trail, too."

Eagle Scout is the highest rank that can be achieved in Scouts BSA (formerly Boy Scouts of America), and reaching the rank of Eagle Scout is a long-term commitment. Among the many steps that must be taken to earn the title, all aspiring Eagle Scouts must complete a service project that benefits the community in some way.

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Phillip Perea, left, and Whit Gibbons install the swamp jumper trail at a swamp on Gibbons' property in Salley.

The swamp jumper trail Perea built and installed (with help from his fellow troop members) for his service project allows people to navigate the swamp more easily. The trail is made of boardwalk segments that move up and down with the water levels of the swamp and are easy to reposition.

"The swamp jumpers also add a habitat for the animals," Perea said.

Building supplies for the trail was donated by Lowes and Home Depot, Perea said.

Perea's project reflects his interest in science, particularly ecology. The swamp he built his trail on, which is located in Salley, boasts rare species of salamanders, plants, bobcats and amphibians. The biodiversity of the environment has been part of ongoing studies carried out by numerous organizations, such as the University of South Carolina, SCDNR and the S.C. Association of Naturalists.   

"I think it gives a lot more awareness for rare species that are able to be surveyed from walking over each of these boardwalks," Perea said. "It allows scientists to know what’s out there."

The swamp is located in land owned by Whit Gibbons, a renown herpetologist, author and educator. Gibbons is a retired ecology professor at the University of Georgia and former senior ecologist at the Savannah River National Laboratory. 

"My goal was just to use it (the swamp) to learn from the land," Gibbons said. "In other words, what animals are there? What plants are there? I have a lot of kids, college students and field trips that visit. We do inventories of the biodiversity."

Perea, Gibbons and Troop 115 installed the swamp jumper trail in Salley this month. Perea is now one step closer to becoming an Eagle Scout.

"I think it was important, what they did," Gibbons said. "It’s going to allow for students and children … access to the property. That way we can walk through an area of the swamp where it’s not really easy to walk through. It’s made it accessible to people who may not enjoy walking through briars and mud as much as some other people do."

Kristina Rackley is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard.