Max Yardley poses in front of his Eagle Scout project, a bridge he built over Ligonee Brook. Photo by Michael Heller.
By Mara Certic
Maxwell Yardley has been a boy scout from the beginning. He was one of the members of Sag Harbor Troop 455 who stuck with it from the early days of camping through the community service and leadership exercises required to qualify to become an Eagle Scout.
But with six months to go before the deadline for meeting his Eagle Scout requirements—his 18th birthday in March—Max was still without a suitable project.
That’s when he learned about an old cast iron culvert, a remnant of the days when the Long Island Rail Road ran a spur line to Sag Harbor, that crossed Ligonee Brook and the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt’s hope that it could be replaced with a proper bridge.
“I had originally worked with Dai Dayton to find an idea of something I could use for my project,” Max said. “She had given me a packet that had previously been put together that the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt had wanted to get completed and that was one of the things on the list.”
The project, he explained, involved removing the heavy culvert that dated back to the days when West Water Street was dominated by a bustling train station, and replacing it with a bridge that would be suitable for equestrians as well as pedestrians and allow the safe passage of spanning alewives from the bay into the pond.
The Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, a volunteer group whose goal is to maintain and preserve the area that stretches from Ligonee Creek to Sagg Pond in Sagaponack, have benefitted from Eagle Scout projects in the past. According to Ms. Dayton, a Sag Harbor scout project last year built barricades in the park to keep out motorized vehicles.
“We have a lot of projects that we try to accomplish,” Ms. Dayton said. “We had had a report done on Ligonee Creek because there are a lot of blocked-off areas.” The old culvert, she explained, once allowed for the safe passage of alewives and other aquatic creatures from the bay and into Long Pond. In recent years, however, a build up of different materials blocked culvert, which “made it virtually impossible [for alewives] to get back and forth,” Max said.
A month and a half after choosing his project, Max received approval to build this footbridge from the Southampton Town Trustees, the Boy Scouts of America and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
“When he got his very ambitious project approved, he took the initiative to have an architect draw it up,” said local contractor Patrick Witty, Max’s uncle and mentor on the project.
Thomas Heine of the eponymous architectural firm was that man. “He didn’t really know how to construct it or how to put it together. So we worked together to use a plan with basic building materials and how to get them to the site in the woods,” Mr. Heine said.
“We didn’t do the work for him,” said Mr. Witty. “We just steered him in the right direction.”
Throughout the construction process—from planning, to collecting materials, to grading banks and setting footings—Mr. Witty provided the young scout and the volunteers from his troop with support and explanation.
“I was really just making him understand how every thing works,” he said.
Long Pond Greenbelt’s popularity among equestrians adds another dimension to the project. “A lot of people do take their horses there.” Max said. “Both Dai and I wanted to make sure that those people were still able to use the path just like everyone else was.”
Because of that, not only was a stronger and sturdier bridge required, but a higher railing was necessary as well. “It made it much more complicated but in the end it was worth it,” he said.
The project was completed on December 28, around the time of this winter’s first blizzards. “There were a couple days working on it that were bitterly cold,” Mr. Witty said. “It was a struggle to stay warm. But every day that we got there, there was a substantial progress made.”
“Max really stepped up to the challenge,” he said. “And we’re very proud of him for it.”
Max, who will graduate from Pierson this month before joining the U.S. Marine Corps, completed his project a full two months before its deadline.