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Scouts team up with ski resort to benefit birds

By John Hollenhorst | Posted - Jul. 24, 2017 at 7:55 p.m.


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DEER VALLEY — Some Millcreek Boy Scouts have teamed up with Deer Valley Resort to help out some birds — not snowbirds, but actual birds, such as swallows and ospreys, that hang out at the resort in the summertime.

The setting is probably not the image that most people have in their mind's eye when they think of a ski resort: paddleboarders, kayakers, bicyclists and thirsty dogs taking a swim.

But that's what can be seen on a typical summer day just a short walk down the hill from Deer Valley's base ski facility. There's not a skier in sight, just four scenic ponds surrounded by people, condos, ski lodges and nature.

"It's primary goal is to be, in the summertime, a water-holding basin for the snow-making operation for the winter," said Anthony Bartholomew, who manages the lodges at Deer Valley.

Bartholomew figured something could be done to enhance the natural wildlife qualities, and he thought of beefing up the bird potential. He pitched the idea to the mother of Brian Keller, a Scout who was looking for a project to help him earn his Eagle badge.

"She pitched it to Brian, and he did all the rest," Bartholomew said. "He created the budget and the diagrams."

Keller designed four birdhouses for swallows and two nesting platforms for ospreys. He recruited several of his fellow Scouts to help build them at his home in Millcreek.

Keller said he sees his Eagle project as a way to improve a place that's open to the nonskiing public.

"It's kind of a place for people to gather," he said. "It's a good community spot, and it's in a really beautiful location."

Once the Scouts finished the nesting platforms and birdhouses, Deer Valley's mountain operations team pitched in to help install them. They had to use a traditional Scouting skill — canoeing — to get to one location, an island in one of the ponds.

"It's going to take a few trips across," said Deer Valley's Garrett Lang as he prepared to paddle a nesting platform, two tall ladders and a sizeable crew of Scouts and resort workers to the island.

They installed the platforms on high poles to improve the habitat for ospreys. The so-called "fish eagles" sometimes pluck trout for dinner right out of the ponds.

"They need a high perch to build a nest," Keller said. "So this will allow them to have a good location next to where they get their food."

The birdhouses were designed to improve the accommodations for swallows, he said.

The tiny birds can be seen flitting all around the Deer Valley ponds. The fast-moving birds are a delight to see on the wing, but they can be annoying if they set up a nest in the wrong place. To be specific, they nested in the rafters of a large gazebo near the ponds. That made the gazebo an unpleasant place for humans due to nesting materials and other bird-related substances dropping from on high.

"The swallows were just nesting in the gazebo and making a huge mess," Keller said. The new birdhouses "will allow for them to nest other places so they don't have to go into the gazebo."

The Boy Scouts' bird project fits into a broader marketing strategy at Deer Valley: providing recreational open space in summer, not just skiing in the winter.

"We're continually looking for ways to enhance the guest experience," Bartholomew said. "Here we have 10 acres that has been and always will be dedicated to public use."

Keller believes better habitat for birds makes it better place for humans, too.

"People can see the birds," he said, "and kind of enjoy themselves and have a good time."

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John Hollenhorst

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