Country Day School Senior Ricardo “Danny” Nieves attained the highest rank a Boy Scout can reach at a ceremony held Saturday night at the Howard M. Wall Scout Camp, along the south shore near Great Pond Bay.
Accomplishing what less than four percent of Scouts do nationwide, Danny made Eagle Scout, the ninth person from St. Croix’s Troop 227 to do so since 2001.
More importantly, though, Danny also helped save some of St. Croix’s prehistoric past in Salt River in doing so.
When the time came last March for the now 18-year-old to choose a service project, he decided to get his hands dirty and help out the National Park Service.
“Being a native Virgin Islander, I always wanted to do something for my island,” Danny said. “I used to work a lot in Salt River so I wanted to focus on something there.”
For nearly 25 years, a partially excavated, 2,000-year-old archaeological site had remained open to the elements in the Judith’s Fancy section of Salt River, the result discovered by accident when a multimillion dollar hotel development went bad. The land was then purchased by the NPS, and has sat, more or less untouched, ever since.
According to archaeologist David Goldstein, who works for the NPS on St. Croix, Danny’s task of organizing a crew to help backfill the site was a huge help to not only the local park service, but to all Crucians whose history he was helping preserve.
“We know that this was the remains of a village,” Goldstein said. “The locations and kinds of burials we found demonstrate very clearly that this was an Arawak-type settlement. They buried people in the central plaza and not in the houses. The kinds of garbage we found around the site demonstrate that this was a large village settlement.”
Goldstein said backfilling the site (archaeology speak for putting the dirt back in the holes already dug,) 23 years after things had been dug up, was important because climate change and rising sea levels were making it more vulnerable.
“We did everything we could to protect the resource for the future so we could come back and investigate when we actually have better resources to do those investigations,” he said. “There was no way that our park service could arrange or structure or dedicate either human resources or time to do that. It was a huge help.”
For the learning component of his project, Danny put together a display case at Fort Christiansvaern. It will move to Salt River next year. The display contained artifacts dug up at the site that Danny later matched with whole or entire artifacts already in hand by the NPS. The experience even became personal for Danny as the artifacts were thought to be of Taino Indian descent.
“My great-great-grandmother was a Taino Indian from Puerto Rico,” Danny said. “The picture in the display case is of her.”
For Scoutmaster Toby Tobias, seeing Danny reach Eagle Scout doesn’t surprise him one bit.
“I’ve been working with Danny since he’s been a Cub Scout, almost nine years. It’s wonderful to see these individuals go from being boys to becoming young, responsible men,” Tobias said. “Danny has great leadership qualities and a strong moral character. He’s a wonderful family person and has great communication skills, and I look forward to his ability in the future.”
What the future holds for Danny is still up in the air. He’d like to attend the California Maritime Academy next year near San Francisco, and is interested in studying mechanical engineering and architecture. Regardless, though, the National Honor Society member and varsity soccer and volleyball player will always be a Scout at heart, even if Saturday’s Eagle Scout ceremony is what he referred to as a Scout’s “graduation.”
“I just can’t get away from it. It’s been a part of my life and I can’t just leave. It’s something I want to continue in the future,” he said. “It’s one of the best things anyone can do. You learn a lot. You get to experience a lot. You make tons of friends. The memories you get, I just can’t even begin to explain how much fun you can have.”
An Eagle Scout himself, Tobias seconded all that, and even went a step further.
“Once a Scout, always a Scout,” he said. “Scouting builds men for the future. We are mentoring our future leaders, developing leadership skills and developing strong moral skills that they’ll take with them throughout life.”