Three new hand-made wooden benches are now available for hikers to rest and take in the scenery as they walk the Alma Hiking Trail.
Cole Custer, a 16-year-old Alma resident looking to move to the rank of Eagle Scout, organized and supervised the project.
With the help of 30 Boy Scouts from Troop 133 in Alma and Cole’s own Troop 7 of Fort Smith, Cole designed, built and installed the three benches at intervals along the trail.
Cole chose to add the benches to the trail as his Eagle Scout project after taking an older cousin hiking and finding there were no appropriate places for the cousin to rest, he said.
"We really liked hiking there, and we noticed you could either sit on poison ivy or remain standing," Cole said.
Alma Hiking Trail is 3.6 miles and lies within the wooded area around Lake Alma. Visitors to the trail can see different types of vegetation, wildlife, creeks, a waterfall and remnants of an old homestead.
All three benches are located at advantageous spots along the trail; the first is about quarter-mile in, the second about a half-mile in at the spur that leads to the waterfall and the third about a mile in at the homestead site, said Cole’s father Johnny Custer.
Though his troop is in Fort Smith, when it came time to do his Eagle Scout project, Cole and his father decided to do something for Alma, he said.
"We wanted to do something in our hometown that would last a long time," Cole said.
After posing the idea to Harry McWater, who organized the rehabilitation of the trail last year, Cole presented his plan to a Scout board for approval.
Cole had to wait more than a month for approval, and his presentation had to not only provide a description of his project and show that it would have a lasting impact, but that he had considered costs, safety, labor and necessary tools.
It took a total of 250 volunteer man hours to complete the project over a period of three main work days, with Cole, his dad and brother doing a little extra work in between, Cole said.
Cole supervised and coordinated the work of four separate teams to which he designated specific jobs, had to learn flexibility in adjusting his plan and was required to solicit donations to help with building and installing the benches.
By completing the project, Cole was given a lifelong learning experience, he said.
"I really learned how to lead all these different people and I learned to cope with the obstacles we had," Cole said.
McWater was impressed with Cole and the results of his project, he said.
"I was somewhat skeptical at first, but he proved me wrong, very much so," McWater said. "He did a very excellent job, from the concept, the planning, getting together the money… and finishing it from beginning to end."
Cole, currently a Life Scout, is waiting for a board review to confirm his project complete and move him up in rank. Regardless, Cole is proud of his work, he said.
"I think it really can impact people because it gives people a spot to rest and that may encourage them to go out and hike the trail," Cole said.
McWater agrees, and said the benches add a "finishing touch" to the trail.
"I think the benches will be there for years to come," McWater said.