Schooled Scouts get Merritt badge

2/3/2013
BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR
University of Toledo law professor Frank Merritt will be hon­ored this week by the League of Ohio Sports­men as the ‘Con­ser­va­tion Ed­u­ca­tor of the Year.’
University of Toledo law professor Frank Merritt will be hon­ored this week by the League of Ohio Sports­men as the ‘Con­ser­va­tion Ed­u­ca­tor of the Year.’

As a youth, Frank Merritt was not involved in Boy Scouts. During the past quarter century, he has been a committed scout leader, and a crusader in the field of outdoors education.

The ultimate Merritt badge would be those thousands of scouts who have learned about environmental issues, forestry, astronomy, and a library full of other subjects from this professor at the University of Toledo’s college of law during summers at Camp Frontier.

“Frank brings a huge realm of knowledge to us. He is the cornerstone of our ecology program,” said Chris Reynolds, facilities director for the Erie Shores Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Merritt will be honored by the League of Ohio Sportsmen as the “Conservation Educator of the Year” when the group holds its 105th annual convention Friday through Sunday at the French Quarter in Perrysburg.

“I’ve always enjoyed seeing people learn through the outdoors,” Merritt said. “You get a certain sense of reward from seeing young people learn about science, the stars, about oil spills, or learning to recognize birds, trees or insects.”

Each summer, shortly after Memorial Day, Merritt moves out to the scout camp, located in the extreme northwest corner of the state, near Pioneer. He spends most of the next nine or 10 weeks at the 1,100-acre facility, essentially bestowing an appreciation of the outdoors to scouts from 11 to 17 years of age.

A new group arrives at the camp each weekend, and during the course of the summer more than 2,400 scouts will cycle through the camp. Many of them will hear the gospel of the outdoors, according to Merritt.

“He either teaches or directs many or our programs related to soil and water conservation, fishing, archeology, bird study, geology, astronomy, and numerous other topics,” Reynolds said. “Frank deserves a lot more credit than we are able to give him.”

The various outdoors-related courses put scouts on track to qualify for merit badges in a multitude of disciplines. And how much does the average scout know about the outdoors and its myriad areas of study when they arrive at summer camp?

“Their awareness is not as high as I’d like, but not as low as you might expect,” Merritt said. “It depends a lot on where they grew up and what school system they are in. Some scouts come in and can walk right through the course, while some are shocked by the material, especially when we talk about issues such as global warming, acid rain, and oil spills.”

Merritt says he’s had a lifelong interest in the outdoors, but that his involvement increased significantly when his son became involved in cub scouts in the 1980s. The group needed a den leader, so Merritt signed on, then ended up following his son through the Boy Scout ranks.

In the summer of 1996, when the ecology director at Camp Pioneer left in the middle of the busy summer season, Merritt was asked to finish out the schedule. He has been a fixture at the camp ever since.

“Overall, I’m encouraged. There is definitely an interest in the outdoors, but of course that’s a select group of kids,” Merritt said. “I enjoy teaching them, and I want to see them leave with a better appreciation of the complexity of the natural world and, hopefully, a good respect for it.”

Reynolds said that Merritt’s long-term involvement in scouting’s education programs has allowed that area to be a significant strength of the Camp Frontier experience.

“Our areas that succeed well are the ones that have a cornerstone — a constant from year to year that keeps the standard at a high level,” Reynolds said. “For us, Frank does that very well.”

Merritt, who has been on the faculty at UT since 1977, has no plans to turn in his pocket knife and fatigue green shorts and take back his summers.

“I guess I’ll keep doing it until the doctor tells me I can’t,” said Merritt, whose recovery from recent underwent cardiac surgery is going well.

At this week’s convention, the organization will also honor John Agner of Ottawa, who has been active in hunter education for 50 years and involved in conservation in Putnam County for nearly as long.

Agner is the group’s choice as The League of Ohio Sportsmen’s Olympian. He taught his first Ohio Hunter Education course in 1963, at the age of 21.

“I guess I’ve taught thousands of kids from all over the state,” said Agner. “Kids from the country, inner-city kids, kids from all over the place."

Agner has been involved with the Boy Scouts for more than 35 years, and he said one of his proudest accomplishments has been taking youths who have never handled a shotgun before, and with just an hour of instruction a day during the week of summer camp, being able to teach them to shoot at a skill level where they can hit 25 straight clay targets.

“I had one or two kids every year that could do that,” he said. “They came to me with no experience, so there were no bad habits to break. It was really rewarding to see their progress.”

Agner said educating scouts and other youths about the outdoors and how to properly respect and use firearms became a fixture in his life a long time ago.

“This is not a job, it’s a way of life,” he said. “It’s much more than just a commitment. Once you get involved with teaching kids, it just keeps building, and you can’t really stop.”

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.