Save the Planet, Earn a Medal

At the end of a 10K race, most people are probably happy to hit the showers. But some people—those who’ve been bitten by the running bug—are just getting started. They consider 10 kilometers to be little more than a warmup for a half-marathon, a full marathon, or even an ultramarathon.

The same thing is true with Boy Scout service projects. Most Scouts are happy to complete the projects required to reach the Eagle Scout rank and then move on to other pursuits. But for a few elite Scouts each year, those projects are mere warmups for the ultimate prize: the William T. Hornaday Silver Medal. Dubbed “an Olympic medal bestowed by the Earth” (with an assist by the Boy Scouts of America), this award recognizes truly outstanding work in the field of conservation.

To earn the Silver Medal, a Scout must complete nine conservation-related merit badges (Energy, Environmental Science, Fish and Wildlife Management, Forestry, Public Health, Soil and Water Conservation, and three electives) and then plan, lead, and carry out four significant projects in natural resource conservation or environmental improvement. To ensure a well-rounded experience, the four projects must fall into four different categories, such as energy conservation, fish and wildlife management, air and water pollution control, and hazardous material disposal and management.

The key word in the project requirement is “significant.” In 2016, a Washington Scout named Jack McManis earned the Silver Medal after spending more than 1,500 hours on his projects, which included ridding an area of invasive plants, stabilizing an eroding hillside, improving habitat for ground-dwelling wrens, and installing a 12-barrel system to capture rainwater for a school’s garden. A few years earlier, a Virginia Scout named William O’Brochta spent a similar amount of time creating habitat for insects and plants, conducting research on the benefits of “green” laundry detergent, implementing energy conservation measures for people moving into Habitat for Humanity houses, and researching and selecting plants to control soil erosion at his Scout camp.


Fortunately, the Hornaday program also includes award that are somewhat less challenging. For the Bronze Medal, a Scout must earn six conservation merit badges and carry out three service projects. For the Hornaday Badge, a Scout must earn five merit badges and carry out a single service project. (The projects at these levels still must be significant; they just don’t have to be as numerous.)

Adults and Scout units aren’t left out of the fun. Adult Scouters who have been active in conservation efforts within Scouting can earn the Gold Badge (at least three years’ service at the council or area level) and the Gold Medal (at least 20 years’ service at the regional or national level). Packs, troops, teams, and crews can earn the Unit Award for completing a conservation project in which 60 percent of the members participate. And the BSA can present the Gold Certificate to an individual or organization that has made outstanding contributions to youth conservation education for at least three years.

The Hornaday awards honor Dr. William T. Hornaday (1854-1937), who was director of the New York Zoological Park and founder of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. An active and outspoken champion of natural resource conservation, Dr. Hornaday is credited with helping save the American bison from extinction.

In 1914, Dr. Hornaday created the Wildlife Protection Metal to encourage his fellow Americans to work for wildlife conservation and habitat protection. After his death, the award was renamed in his honor and became a BSA award. Since then, that single award has expanded into the series of awards Scouts, Scouters, and units can earn today.

Dr. Hornaday once said that “unusual prizes are to be won only by unusual services.” That statement accurately describes the awards that now bear his name.

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