GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

April 9, 2013

'Digital Dogtown' in ruins

Nearly all of Eagle Scout's 'Digital Dogtown' hit by vandals

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — A Gloucester Eagle Scout bent down Monday to pick up a splintered wood post that lay next to Dogtown’s welcome sign, the remnants of a project that after 250 hours of volunteer work had acted as the scout’s major community service and leadership work and Dogtown’s first-ever system of digitally connected trail markers.

City and state leaders recognized 17-year-old Gloucester High junior Alan Davis at a Court of Honor Ceremony on Sunday, and Davis had hoped to follow up the special ceremony by slicing a red ribbon at the foot of his Dogtown design. But, when he and family members realized vandals had apparently hacked apart the project, destroying almost all of the 19 marking posts, which featured 12 individual sites, Davis realized there was little left for which to cut the ribbon.

”It’s depressing; it makes me angry,” Davis said. “It’s like I almost expected one to be vandalized, but not all of them. It just makes me want to fix it more.”

Around Easter, family friends had hiked through Dogtown and told the Davises how they had enjoyed the markers, each of which provides a map that guides you to the next interesting site and the nearest exit along with a QR code that, when scanned by a smartphone, connects hikers to a website with thoughtfully researched historical information, additional maps, fun facts and a chronicle of the area’s history.

”People are out in the woods, and they can get the information right there. It’s all information available at the library ... but it becomes an interactive experience,” said Alan’s father, Roger Davis, a teacher at O’Maley Middle School.

But two weeks later, the Davis family trekked out to survey anticipated weather damage to the signs and found the vandalism, some signs burnt, others covered in graffiti, some hacked apart, leaving wood chip sprinklings, and still others just pulled entirely out of the ground and missing.

“We had thought it wouldn’t be a hard fix, just spray some polyurethane on here and there,” Davis said. “Now I’m working with the city again to see how I can work to keep it from being vandalized or make it easier to repair.”

Davis hopes to resurrect the tour posts by late summer or early fall, a year after he, with the help of other Scouts, first completed the project. The Eagle Scout has spent additional hours recently researching and brainstorming methods for creating sturdier posts that would be less subject to vandalism.

From the get go, Davis had worked with the city’s Open Space & Recreation Committee and Department of Public Works, incorporating their suggestions into his creation. The committee had suggested wooden posts that would blend with surroundings. With wood donated by Timberline, Davis crafted the posts and Seaside graphics donated the prints of the maps and QR codes that top the posts.

Davis donated two maps of Dogtown to the city, one for police and the other for the fire station, to help emergency personnel locate people on the frequent occasion that a hiker gets lost in the densely wooded area.

Mayor Carolyn Kirk and her family enjoyed a Thanksgiving walk through “Digital Dogtown” this past fall, and in a column she wrote at the time Kirk, credited Davis with creating an enjoyable trove of information.

“As we looped back to our cars, we were invigorated by the walk...,” Kirk wrote in her Mayor’s Desk column published in the Times last Nov. 23.

Davis, who grew up with Dogtown right in his backyard, thought up the “Digital Dogtown” idea about a year ago, inspired by a similar project he saw in a Florida national park. He researched Dogtown’s history, with the help of school teachers, librarians and local museum employees and compiled the information for each plaque, diving into interesting bits of history along the way.

Davis and his fellow eagle scout 17-year-old Zach Schultz laughed Monday at the idea that the forest around them could have became an anti-ballistic missile site as in tentative plans once upon a time, as Davis learned from research. Davis also told the tale of the last man who lived in Dogtown; removed by emergency personnel, the man met his death a week after leaving the woods.

The kind of enthusiasm the teens displayed has been instrumental in preserving the land over the years, Alan’s father said.

”That’s the way you protect the place, is to have somebody appreciate it,” Roger Davis said.

Schultz one of those scouts who had helped Davis along with the project pointed out that as more people learn about the project, even more of them might want to chip in on repairs, calling it a “huge and great project.”

”A lot of people have worked and helped on it,” Davis said, agreeing with his friend. “It’s not trying to take away from the nature or from people that want to come here to camp out. It’s supposed to help. We want to put it back in a way that doesn’t offend or disturb anyone.”

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.