hornaday award

BSA Hornaday Award Program – William O’Brochta’s Story

This is the second in a series about the BSA Hornaday Award Program. In this segment, author William O’Brochta tells about how he learned about the Hornaday Awards and his efforts to earn the Hornaday Awards. William eventually was awarded the Hornaday Silver Medal and Badge and the Hornaday Gold Badge.

Previous articles in this series:

BSA Hornaday Award Program – William O’Brochta Tells His Story

Conservation excellence need not mean obscurity. In 2007, the William T. Hornaday Awards for Distinguished Service to Conservation received only a small mention on the National Scouting website. Fortunately, that was enough to spark my interest. I had just completed my Eagle project and earned the rank early in my Scouting career, at the age of thirteen. Looking for something else to do in addition to racking up Eagle Palms I came across the Hornaday Awards. The Hornaday Badge, with its one project requirement and five conservation related Merit Badges, was an attractive and, I thought, simple enough award to earn. As is the case with most of the Scouts I help with Hornaday today, my Eagle project was unwittingly environmentally focused and fit pretty well into one of the Hornaday project categories. I figured applying and getting a Hornaday Badge should be straightforward, thus I resolved to complete the requisite three additional projects and four additional Merit Badges for the William T. Hornaday Silver Medal, the highest conservation honor in Scouting.

Started in 1914 by the famed and somewhat infamous Dr. William T. Hornaday, first Director of the Bronx Zoo and the man credited with singlehandedly saving the American Bison population, the Permanent Wild Life Protection Fund, was always about conservation; it morphed into a Scouting program in 1937 after Dr. Hornaday’s death. Initially geared toward all-star financial contributors, the Boy Scouts greatly modified the award requirements to place emphasis on actual conservation work, seeking to fulfill Dr. Hornaday’s vision that “unusual prizes are only to be won only by unusual services.” Today, one hundred years later, the seven-tiered Hornaday Awards Program remains faithful to that focus. For Scouts, Merit Badges and Eagle sized projects with heavy emphasis on research, education, lasting impact, and conservation prowess are the name of the game; one project is required for the Hornaday Badge, three for the Hornaday Bronze Medal, and at least four for the Silver Medal. Scouters can receive the Hornaday Gold Badge or, very rarely, the Gold Medal for service to conservation for three to more than twenty years. All Units who involve sixty percent of their Scouts in a Hornaday project can receive the Hornaday Unit Award Certificate as recognition and non-Scouters are sometimes recognized by the Hornaday Gold Certificate. With Hornaday it is all about rarity: an average of 1.5 Silver Medals per year awarded in the Nation means earning Hornaday is more than 15,000 more rare than earning the Eagle rank. That and the 1,500 hours invested in a typical Silver Medal effort makes Hornaday one’s job for two hours a day for the average three year time it takes to earn.

Armed with strong enthusiasm I set out to find someone who knew something, anything, about the Hornaday Awards Program. That became exceedingly difficult because, as I later learned, a Hornaday Badge had never been awarded in my Council and the only Silver Medal was granted twenty years ago. Though I did eventually find some Scouters with a working knowledge of the Hornaday Awards Program, I was constantly greeted with the fact that the general Scouting body was unaware of these awards. As I completed my Hornaday Badge and had it approved by my Council’s Conservation Committee and began looking toward a Silver Medal, the lack of information on the requirements for this award and, more importantly, anyone with first hand knowledge of the award process was quite surprising. Further, I quickly found that my Council, being located in one of the most outdoor friendly sections of Virginia and indeed the country, was years ahead in terms of both the implementation of conservation policies at our Scout Reservation and promotion of the Hornaday Awards.

Being the first Scout in my Council to work on Hornaday projects in years made it very difficult for those with whom I was working to understand what I was doing and what the standards are for such projects. Virtually all aspects of my earning the Silver Medal, from project design to final review by the National Hornaday Committee, were wrapped in mystery. I have come to believe that my five projects got me the Hornaday Silver Medal in 2010 partially because I was able to hit an invisible target.

There were plenty of bumps along the way: confusion about project categories, the importance of fundraising, and the impact projects were supposed to have; all of which resulted in my completion of an additional project. As the only Scout actively involved in the Hornaday Awards Program, I was invited to join the Council Conservation Committee to help teach others about these awards. What I really would have appreciated when I was going through the process of completing Hornaday projects was some sort of guide that told me how projects have been successful in the past and showed me the steps to take for my projects. Unfortunately, no one involved in my projects could find that type of information. Some had put out information on the Hornaday Badge and National had some brief descriptions, but I figured a step-by-step document would be most helpful.

Thus, in order to attack this issue and start promotion of conservation awards and programs, the BRMC Hornaday Awards Guide was born. Now in its third edition, the eighty page Guide was the first comprehensive, step-by-step Hornaday manual in the country and it has been downloaded and used by thousands of Scouts and Scouters. Unlike many other publications, the Guide is meant to be read cover-to-cover and used throughout the entire Hornaday process. It includes examples and project write-ups. And it has dramatically increased Hornaday awareness and participation in the Council and Nation, being also the training document used at the 2013 Jamboree Hornaday Tent. Our strategy of creating a comprehensive guide and then building presentations, one page handouts, and videos off of it and distributing these items many times over within the Council led directly to the half dozen Scouts working on Hornaday Awards last year. Half of the reason that so few Hornaday Awards are earned is because they present a large challenge and this aspect should in no way be diminished. My goal is to use the Hornaday Guide to raise one of Dr. Hornaday’s crowing achievements to more prominence, addressing the other half of the reason so few awards are earned: lack of awareness.

William O’Brochta’s Hornaday Projects included creating a habitat for insects and plants to live while providing a place for school kids to interact with animals (Fish and Wildlife Management). William conducted research showing that “green” laundry detergent has less harmful effects on the environment when compared to regular laundry detergent (Air and Water Pollution Control) and implemented an energy conservation program (water, gas, recycling) for families moving into Habitat for Humanity houses in a small remote town in the Country of Hungary (Energy Conservation). He researched and selected plants to control soil erosion at Claytor Lake Aquatics Base (Soil and Water Conservation); a second project at Claytor Lake created new habitats for fish, which also helps to stop further erosion and prevent shifts in the soil makeup of the lakebed (Fish and Wildlife Management).

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