Lakefield teen builds wilderness blind for Sparks Park
LAKEFIELD -- Step by step, the Prairie Ecology Bus Center's office at Sparks Park on the north side of Lakefield is growing into a public nature area for people to enjoy hiking trails, wildflowers, the flowing waters of Lone Tree Creek, chirping birds and croaking frogs.
And now, thanks to the efforts of a local Boy Scout, the park has a wildlife blind in which nature lovers can view their feathered friends and curious critters without causing a spook.
John Vrchota, 17, of rural Lakefield, began constructing the 8- by 12-foot enclosed structure, complete with 10 viewing windows, in his dad's shop in February. Spring and summer rains delayed delivery of the blind to the site until mid-August.
"I like nature and being out in the wilderness," said Vrchota, who is a senior at Jackson County Central High School.
He had another reason for building the blind, too. Vrchota is working toward the highest honor given in the Scouting program -- the Eagle Scout award. In order to earn it, he was required to do a project that would benefit an organization and serve the residents of his community.
Choosing the Prairie Ecology Bus Center (PEBC) as the benefactor was the easiest decision, followed closely by the type of project he was going to do.
Vrchota had some ideas, but when he approached PEBC's executive director Chrystal Dunker about a year ago, he learned that a wildlife blind topped her wish list.
"We had a picture of a simpler one and scaled it up to make it more permanent," said Vrchota of the finished project.
He visited wildlife blinds at Wolf Lake near Windom and the Prairie Wetlands Environmental Area in Worthington for ideas, and then offered his own tweaks to come up with a design that would work best in Sparks Park. His dad, Don, who works in construction, was also an excellent resource.
Dunker said the new wildlife blind will enhance the experience nature lovers get during their visit to the park.
"We're hoping to have birding programs out here and we're hoping people will walk through the park," she said. "There are a number of people who come out here to walk their dogs."
Depending on the season, Dunker said people will see turtles, frogs, blue herons, green herons, wood ducks, kingfishers and an array of song birds. Dragonflies are also found in high quantities this time of year.
The park already hosts the Jackson County Birdwatchers group once a month.
Dunker said the public is welcome to use the wildlife blind at any time, and encourages people to bring their books and field guides along and spend a while in nature.
"This project fits really well with the long-term vision for this park," Dunker said. "Amenities like a wildlife blind ... take us one step closer to what this park will become."
And that's good news for an outdoors enthusiast like Vrchota. His parents, Don and Bonnie, are both members of the Jackson County Birdwatchers.
Like most Scouting projects, Vrchota enlisted the help of his fellow troop members and local volunteers. He also sought donations of materials to construct the wilderness blind. The project cost an estimated $1,500 for materials, with donations offered by the Kiwanis and Lions organizations from both Jackson and Lakefield, the Jackson American Legion, Jackson County Birdwatchers, Lakefield Knights of Columbus, Jackson County Pheasants Forever, Jackson Building Center, Lakefield Lumber, Sohn Electric, Dale and Marless Cuperus, Paul Graupmann's State Farm agency and Vrchota Construction.
Vrchota has been a member of the Scouts since first grade, when he joined the Cub Scout pack in Jackson. In the fifth grade, he moved into the Boy Scouts and is a member of Troop 80, also in Jackson. The Scoutmaster of Troop 80 is Wendell Sohn.