Trail Upgrade Is Town’s First Female Eagle Scout Project

Jackson Eagle Scout Kaiya Burgess stands beside a sign that welcomes hikers to Swamp Loop Trail. (Photo courtesy Burgess Family)

  JACKSON – Kaiya Burgess is the first female scout in the township to earn her Eagle Scout award as part of Scouts BFA (under the Boy Scouts of America).

  Scouts BFA has boy and girl troops which work together as a link. Jackson Troop 204 is made up of boys while Troop 402 is made up of girls. The two troops work together on a variety of community projects and other activities throughout the year.

  “I did a trail cleanup at the Swamp Loop Trail located at the Forest Resource Education Center (FREC) over on Don Connor Boulevard,” she said.

   “It is now a whimsical trail open to the public to walk along, filled with gnomes and outdoor decor, with a picnic table and small bench,” she said. “We cleaned up the trail from an unused trail that was full of bushes and stuff you couldn’t get through.”

  “We added a picnic table, a nice bench plus the gnomes,” she added.

Volunteers help Kaiya Burgess bringing a picnic table to a trail. (Photo courtesy Burgess Family)

  FREC provides an opportunity for people of all ages to learn and discover New Jersey’s trees and forests. As the only forestry education center in New Jersey, it has nine miles of trails on 900 acres for recreation such as fishing, horseback riding, and hiking.

  “Kaiya and her team showed up ready for action, working hard to clear the Swamp Loop Trail of downed branches, skillfully widened the trail, and conducted much needed weeding,” said Mary Evangelista, Resource Interpretative Specialist at FREC.

  She added, “Kaiya’s project will continue to mean a lot to the Forest Resource Education Staff and visitors for years to come.”

Antarctic Scout Trip

  Kaiya also discussed her scout trip to Antarctica with The Jackson Times, saying “we actually travelled with three scouts and two leaders from New Jersey to join the remaining 34 scouts and leaders from across the country to create the first American group of scouts to go to Antarctica ever. We joined scouts from California, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Texas and Canada.”

  “It was a unique and thrilling experience. It was a three-week trip starting with everyone meeting in Texas to fly to Buenos Aires together. Spending two days there exploring the city and meeting some local scouts was really cool,” she added.

  Kaiya said, “we even took private tango lessons. Then we flew to Ushuaia, Argentina. It’s a fishing town on the edge of the southern tip of Patagonia called Tierra del Fuego. It was fun going on a hike through the park area from a spot called “Fin del Mundo,” a tiny little post office at the end of the world where Argentina meets Chile near Cape Horn.”

Kaiya Burgess, 17, of Jackson, stands near a penguin during her visit to Antarctica as part of a project with several fellow Scouts BFA members. (Photo courtesy Burgess Family)

  “Then we set sail on the Plancius, a 235-foot boat, on a 2.5-day journey across the Drake Passage, the roughest seas on Earth,” she added. “Things got more fun once we sailed into Antarctic waters and started exploring islands along the Antarctic peninsula. The highlights were seeing a ton of penguins up close and personal and a variety of seals all over the place.”

  “The greatest moment was kayaking through ice floes and having a minke whale surface only a couple feet away from me. Staring eye to eye with a whale was surreal. The lessons learned on this journey were getting to know cultures from not just Argentina, but all over Europe and Latin America from the crew on the boat, coming to understand just how big the world really is.”

  She chose to join Scouts BSA as “girls were allowed to join Scouts BSA on February 1, 2019. I had previously been a Girl Scout, but the program always seemed like such a watered-down version of what my older brother had as a Boy Scout.”

  “I didn’t want to continue with them after winning a ton of cookie sales awards. With Scouts BSA, I learned peer leadership development, wilderness survival techniques, orienteering, first aid, swimming, lifesaving, environmental sciences, nature study, geology, rappelling and climbing, spelunking, woodcarving, leather working, art, astronomy, rocketry, scuba diving, hiking, canoeing, rowing, oceanography, and citizenship of the community, nation, world, and society as a whole,” she said.

  Kaiya said, “scouting actually developed my interest in art. I now feel confident speaking with people, giving instructions, helping others and taking care of myself in any number of situations. I feel like I know myself better now.”

  Her father Chris Burgess who is also involved with Scouts BSA said he couldn’t be prouder of Kaiya “for all she has chosen to do. Scouting is the single greatest program available for our youth today. From kindergarten through college, it develops our children into the upstanding citizens we hope our future holds.”

Jackson Eagle Scout Kaiya Burgess, 17, kayaks through the waters of Antarctica (Photo courtesy Burgess Family)

  Kaiya will be graduating from Jackson Memorial High School this June. She is an art major and is planning to go to college to study art and psychology and to become an art therapist.

  As for scouting, “once you reach 18, you’ve ‘aged out’ of Scouts BSA, but Venturing and Explorers are available until 21. At this point, my scouting involvement has turned to helping my little sister begin her journey as a Lion Cub in Cub Scout Pack 204 as a kindergartener.”

  Following publication of this article in the January 27, 2024 edition of The Jackson Times, readers contacted Micromedia Publications informing us that the gnomes placed within the trail (and possibly other items as well) to enhance its beauty through her project had vanished from the trail.

  The Jackson Times reached out to the NJDEP to confirm this information and to inquire what had occurred. NJDEP Senior Press Officer Caryn Shinske responded to concerns that the trail may have been vandalized stating, “I can confirm that this is not an issue of vandalism.”

  It is believed that the gnomes provided by Kaiya for the trail will be returned to her as individuals had been repeatedly moving them from their original locations.