Simon Gutierrez and his parents, Veronica and Luis Gutierrez, stand next to Simon's newly installed message board at the Green Turtle Hammock Nature Preserve at Mile Marker 81. KELLIE BUTLER FARRELL/Contributed

Newly poured concrete anchors the wooden beams supporting an empty, unassuming glass display case. This recently installed message board welcomes guests to the Green Turtle Hammock Nature Preserve in Islamorada. 

“I wanted to add something here,” said 17-year-old Simon Gutierrez. “I thought of a bulletin board to spread information.”  

Gutierrez is a Coral Shores High School incoming senior and a Boy Scout. This message board is his final project required to earn the coveted rank of Eagle Scout. 

“It’s like the flagship accomplishment of any Scout,” said friend and fellow Eagle Scout candidate, Keegan Wittke. For his Eagle Scout project, Wittke built a large enclosure for the Florida Keys Wild Bird Sanctuary.

The Green Turtle Hammock Nature Preserve is home to the non-profit Florida Bay Forever. Executive Director Jeff Baumgartner is excited to put Gutierrez’s project to good use.

“Looking forward to getting some good information on that board and to bringing some folks in to learn about Florida Bay,” said Baumgartner.

Simon Gutierrez proudly stands in front of the message display case he built for his Eagle Scout project. Once the cement dries, the temporary support beams will be taken down. Photo: KELLIE BUTLER FARRELL/Contributed

Gutierrez joined the Cub Scouts when he was 6 and became a Boy Scout in the fifth grade. He has dedicated 11 years to the program. Becoming an Eagle Scout has required persistence, and for this last challenge, a lot of jumping through hoops. 

“It’s not just about building something. It’s about submitting a plan, getting sponsorship, meeting people face-to-face, building the project and then writing up a final report,” said Gutierrez.

“We had to sit down and talk about what size he wanted to do, what materials he needed,” added his father, Luis Gutierrez.

As the plan to build the message display case took shape on paper, Gutierrez then had to secure support from the community to make his idea a reality.

“I made my project plan which included the supply section and tool section and that’s where I got donations from Forest Tek and funds from Forest Tek,” said Gutierrez.

Forest Tek Lumber generously offered up supplies. Many others in the community donated time and expertise. Islamorada Village public works director Andrew Engelmeyer provided the technical know-how.  

Gutierrez’s co-worker at Island Grill, Josh Welch, heard about the Eagle Scout project while Gutierrez was working at the restaurant as a busboy. 

“I saw him doing his paperwork and I told him I grew up in the Boy Scouts, my brother’s an Eagle Scout; if he ever needed financial support I could get it for him,” said Welch.

Gutierrez’s mother, Veronica, owns Veronica’s Art and Glass Studio in Tavernier. She donated the glass case for the message board. She says her son has always been a self-motivator. 

“This year he has been involved in so much that I couldn’t keep up with him,” said Veronica with a laugh.

Besides working on his Eagle Scout project and working at Island Grill, Gutierrez is on the Coral Shores High School track team, setting two school records last year. He is also busy looking into colleges; he hopes to study finance in the future.

Gutierrez still needs to write a final report about this experience before he can become an Eagle Scout. 

As he put the finishing touches on the message display case, Gutierrez shared his sense of accomplishment for a job well done.

“It’s satisfaction,” he said. “I’m glad it actually worked out.

Kellie Butler Farrell is a journalist who calls Islamorada home. Kellie spent two decades in television news and also taught journalism at Barry University in Miami and Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE. She loves being outside, whether spending time on the water or zipping down the Old Highway on her electric bike, Kellie is always soaking up the island lifestyle. Kellie and her husband own an electric bike rental company, Keys Ebikes.