Although renowned for its breathtaking wildlife and scenic forests, Patapsco Valley State Park had a flaw -- ugly trash bag dispensers.
Dispensers in the park held grocery-store-sized plastic bags so visitors could take their trash with them when they left the park. But the design of the dispensers made the bags look like wet dish rags, which could be unappealing to users, said park naturalist Offutt Johnson.
"With 200 bags hanging on a hook, it's not the prettiest thing in the world," he acknowledges.
Andy Dorsch, 18-year-old son of Milton and Barbara Dorsch, took on the task of correcting the beauty problem by making Ellicott City's Hollofield area trash bag dispenser blend in with the rustic park environment. In the process, the Troop 462 life Scout is trying to earn his Eagle Scout badge -- the highest rank a Boy Scout can reach.
"What he did was kind of an unusual project for an Eagle Scout," Mr. Johnson said.
Many area Scouts trying to earn their Eagle badges choose Patapsco Valley State Park for their projects. Usually, they coordinate tree-planting projects or improve park trails.
Mr. Dorsch, though, wanted to revamp a dispenser in a way that would entice more people to use it. The original dispenser was a rectangular frame with one hook attached to the top from which the bags hung -- functional, yet elementary.
After consulting with park technician David Fischbach and making several trips to the drawing board, Mr. Dorsch created an attractive dispenser that was even more functional. He took the top off the frame, put on a peaked roof with shingles and fastened double prongs to the back of the box. The finishing touch was a splash of cedar wood stain.
The bags now lie more evenly and can be removed individually without others coming along.
"I hope it will catch your eye," said the Catonsville resident. "Driving along, you'll see a rustic-colored bag dispenser, and it will persuade you to help pick up that trash."
The litter dispensers are a part of Patapsco's trash-free program, in which park users take their trash with them when they leave. Two years ago, all state parks went trash-free. At Patapsco, trash bins were removed and trash-free bag dispensers were installed in the 15,000-acre park.
By having individuals take their trash with them, the park reduced disposal costs, and picnickers no longer had to contend with smelly bins beside their tables.
Patron compliance has been high with the new program, said Gary Burnett, assistant park manager.
Written on the bags are details about the state's trash-free park program. With Mr. Dorsch's design, it's easier for patrons to read the bags before pulling them off the dispenser.
Mr. Johnson hopes that the other dispensers around the park can be improved upon. He encourages Scouts to follow Mr. Dorsch's lead and design their own dispensers.
"Out in the weather, with 1,000 people pulling on it, it has to be rugged," he said. "It's a challenge to do it. But what Andy did was a 100 percent improvement."
Patapsco may be happy with the dispenser make-over, but Mr. Dorsch must wait to hear from Boy Scout headquarters if he passed the test.
The project has taken him 10 months to complete, with a cost to him of $200. The state paid for the final model. He finished his project June 22, but Eagle Scout projects must be completed before a Scout turns 18.
The Catonsville High School graduate's birthday was April 21. He asked for a project extension from headquarters, but has yet to hear if the extension was granted and his Eagle badge was awarded.
"Even if I didn't get it, I finished the project," Mr. Dorsch said. "And I feel like I did a good job on it."