The Island Eye News

Bringing Nature Back To School

By Jennifer Tuohy, Island Eye News Editor

Photos by Steve Rosamilia

AJ Schmidt and Vance Powers drill the new signs onto wooden posts.

Thank goodness for Eagle Scouts,” says Holly Blair, Coastal Programs Coordinator at Sullivan’s Island Elementary School. “It’s hard to get things done otherwise.”

One of Andrew Killough’s signs. The QR code can be scanned to send the visitor to the rail’s website and more information on the nature surrounding them.

It’s a Saturday afternoon in August and Blair is standing with an armful of pizza boxes observing the grounds of the school, which is teeming with teenage boys who will descend upon her as soon as they get a whiff of her lunch offering.

Andrew Killough, left of the sign holding paper, at the dedication ceremony for the SIES Nature Trail in 2008. Today Killough’s Eagle Scout project is installing new signs on the newly revitalized trail.

This crew has been here all morning working on projects around the grounds of the school that many of them attended as children.

“My project allows SIES to have one more unique attribute that many schools would otherwise not have the privilege of having. It also encourages the study of different wildlife and plant life on the island.”
Andrew Killough

The boys, members of the Boy Scouts Troop 502, chartered by the First United Methodist Church on the Isle of Palms, are working toward their Eagle Scout certification, and to achieve it each needs to devise and complete a project that will benefit the community. The newly built SIES is a natural target for their efforts, and today the boys are here to help Andrew and Daniel Killough as they work on creating an outdoor classroom under the oaks and bringing the nearby nature trail into the digital age with fancy new signs.

The SIES Interpretive Nature Trail, which winds its way from the school grounds through the maritime forest and along the beach, was originally created in 1985 by then teacher Judith Reese, who put together a detailed booklet on the trail complete with her original pen and ink illustrations. An Eagle Scout installed the original signs on the trail for his Eagle project in 1985. After Hurricane Hugo in 1989, the trail was neglected as the school moved temporarily off island and all of the information on the signs was blown away. In 2008, island-based Cub Scout Pack 59 revitalized the trail, but since the school relocated to Mount Pleasant during the demolition and construction of the new building, access to the trail had been blocked and it was quickly reclaimed by Mother Nature.

When the school re-opened last year the Town of Sullivan’s Island cleared the trail for use once again. However the interpretive signs were long gone, leaving only wooden posts in the ground.

Andrew Killough was one of the Cub Scouts who helped clear the trail in 2008, and he decided to come back to the trail behind his old school for his Eagle Scout project.

A member of the last class to graduate from the original beachside school, Andrew is now 17. The tall, gangly Wando junior is incredibly focused when I meet him at the trailhead on a hot August afternoon. “Can you interview me at lunch?” he says when I introduce myself.

We’ve got a time crunch.” Hovering around him are boys of various ages—including AJ and Colin, both from IOP who also helped plant the sweetgrass on the trail in 2005—waiting for his instructions. Michael Schaff, a sophomore at Wando who spent last weekend installing the 10 benches and a demonstration table that he built under the school to provide Mrs. Blair with a sheltered outdoor classroom, is back to help Andrew.

Mrs. Blair wanted to see a restoration of the trail, so I decided I would facilitate the project since I had previous knowledge of the trail,” Andrew said. “My project allows Sullivan’s Island to have one more unique attribute that many schools would otherwise not have the privilege of having. It also encourages the study of different wildlife and plant life on the island.”

Using funds raised from friends and family, Andrew has designed and constructed three brand new trailhead signs to welcome the children and visitors (the trail is accessible to the public from the beach side), and 15 small signs dotted along the trail at points of interest. Each sign includes a QR code linking visitors to access the trail’s website for information about what they are seeing. He was able to reuse the original posts, installed in 1985, so there was no need to dig in this protected area. He is especially proud of the technology component of the project.

Students can use the camera on the school’s iPads to take a picture of the QR code. This will redirect to a website made specifically for the school’s nature trail.” This also means the information can be updated without the need for new signs.

His brother, Daniel, a freshman at Academic Magnet and a 2012 graduate of SIES, also took up the cause of revitalizing the natural area behind his former school to make it more useful to the current students.

He raised the funds to build three picnic tables made of recycled plastic that will be placed in an outdoor classroom in the forest. Saturday, he led a group of volunteers in clearing out an area under the oak trees where the tables will go, which was knee deep in poison ivy.

When the SIES students roll back into school this month and finally get to take full advantage of their school’s incredibly unique and frankly, amazing, location, they will have these former students to thank.

Sign Up For Scouting
School has started. Are you prepared? For 105 years the Boy Scouts of America has assisted boys to “Be prepared!” The time is now to join area Packs, Troops and Crews to “Be prepared…for life.” Island families have three programs to consider for their boys (and girls 14+): Cub Scouts for boys ages 7-10, Boy Scouts for boys ages 11-17 and Venturing for boys and girls ages 14-20. Each program meets the child on his/her respective path to adulthood with friends, adventures, education and values.
With fun and discovery at every turn, Cub Scouting makes the most of where you boy is in life right now. Cub Scouting provides a foundation they can stand upon to embrace opportunity, overcome obstacles and embrace discovery. To learn more or to sign up for Cub Scouts (boys ages 7-10) on IOP or Sullivan’s, visit Pack 59’s Scout Night on Wednesday, Sept. 9 at 6.15 p.m. at SIES, or email or visit
There are two Boy Scout Troops (boys ages 11-17) on the islands Troop 59, which meets at the Stella Maris Catholic Church on Sullivan’s (contact Richard Dukes,,, and Troop 502, which meets at the First United Methodist on IOP (contact Stan Huff,,
For boys and girls aged 14-20, Crew 502 meets at First United Methodist Church on IOP, contact Shelly and Albert van Overeem,