By Karina Gerry
A Centereach High School senior and Eagle Scout has dedicated much of his time to protecting Long Island beaches and wildlife.
Aidan Donnelly, 17, joined his local Boy Scout troop when he was in fifth grade after he was inspired by his older cousin’s Court of Honor ceremony, the highest rank a Scout can earn. Donnelly saw all the volunteer projects his cousin was involved in and wanted to make a difference as well. Now an Eagle Scout himself, Donnelly has planned and been the leader of four different wildlife projects since 2014.
“I really can’t describe it,” Donnelly said. “I just love seeing my projects make a positive difference. I love seeing the difference I was able to make through my projects and knowing I’ve helped the beach and so many people.”
Donnelly has been volunteering since he was nine years old, when he joined an educational program at West Meadow Beach called Beach Rangers, a program that teaches young kids about West Meadow Beach and the ecosystem there. He credits Beach Rangers and the cleanups he participated in as inspiration for the many wildlife projects he has started.
“I was pretty sad the first time to see how much garbage was left at the beach,” Donnelly said. “Which sort of sparked my interest in wanting to help out. So, I did beach cleanups every year from then on, and once I got into Boys Scouts, I got my troop involved in the cleanup.”
Through his Eagle Scout project, which he completed in 2015, Donnelly led, designed and planned the building and installation of an osprey nest platform at West Meadow Beach, when he was just 13 years old. In order to complete the project, Donnelly had to work with local politicians, such as Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), who recognizes him as a true asset to the community.
“I was pretty sad the first time to see how much garbage was left at the beach.”
— Aidan Donnelly
“Aidan has an obvious sense of loyalty and duty to his community,” Cartright said. “He goes above and beyond in all that he does, and his dedication is reflected in academic honors, high achievements in scouting, and his organization of community activities. In my role as a town council member I have met hundreds of outstanding young people in our community, but Aidan is exceptional even among that elite group.”
Out of the many projects he has been involved in, Donnelly said he felt particularly proud of his most recent one — a fishing line resource recovery/ recycling project that he just completed this past December. The project is a countywide sustainable fishing line recovery and recycling project that is installed at West Meadow Beach, Stony Brook Harbor, Port Jefferson, Caleb Smith State Park Preserve, Deep Pond Conservation Area, Lake Ronkonkoma, South Haven County Park, Bubbles Falls, Rattlesnake Brook near Oakdale and West Brook Pond. The project required Donnelly to work with many outside sources, such as community members and an out-of-state recycling facility.
“I needed to find somewhere that would take the line and recycle it,” Donnelly said, “rather than it ending up in the trash or in landfills. I did find a Midwest company, and they sent me postage-paid shipping boxes to give to the organizations.”
Bill Schwalback, scoutmaster of Donnelly’s BSA Troop 362, has known him since 2016 when his son joined the troop where Donnelly was serving as troop guide. He has seen the growth and drive of the 17-year-old since then and notes that Donnelly has always jumped on the opportunity to take on a leadership role and enjoys passing on his knowledge to others.
“Aidan does not deflect an opportunity to teach others,” Schwalback said. “He thrives on the ability to share his knowledge and his passion with others, and it is great to see a young adult fill with pride when he sees something to completion and knows that it will make a difference to the targeted population or species.”