Nick Swanz’s Eagle Scout project is easy to see if you are at the intersection of Sherburne County roads 38 and 19 in Baldwin Township.
Standing against woods near the southwest corner of the intersection is a large metal sign that says “Young Park.” The sign is on the northeast corner of the 80-acre park.
The top of the sign is 8 feet above the road level and in the center of a landscaped mound of mulch spread around some evergreens, ornamental grass, perennial flowers and three large boulders.
The stainless steel letters contrast against the rust-colored, 4-by-8-foot quarter-inch steel backing plate and also stick out because of metal spacers between the letters and the backing plate.
Swanz, 14, completed the project in early August at a cost of $2,600. Baldwin Township is paying $1,600 of that, and Swanz was able to get the rest of the funds donated.
Swanz said he appreciates the donations in the project. They include Ben Pettibone, owner of Pettibone Nursery and Landscaping in nearby Blue Hill Township, donating consulting services; Brand Manufacturing in Princeton, donating the cutting of the backer plate; and Craig’s Restoration in Durant, Iowa, donating material, labor and shipping of the steel letters.
The rust effect on the steel back plate was achieved by spraying a solution on it consisting of muriatic acid in which copper shavings had soaked.
Swanz said he got the idea for the project from a discussion during a Baldwin Township board meeting on what is needed at Young Park. He was attending the meeting last year as a requirement for earning his “citizenship in the community” Boy Scout badge. Swanz returned to the township hall last January and brought up the same question about needs at Young Park and heard one of them was signs.
Swanz did the project as a member of the Boys Scouts’ Lone Scout program after leaving area Boy Scout Troop 16. Swanz got the endorsement of the Baldwin Township Park Board and the Baldwin Board of Supervisors.
Swanz met with the township’s park board to select a location for the sign and once that was approved, obtained the needed county setbacks, had utility locators check for possible underground cables, mowed and weed-whipped the site and sprayed weed killer to prep it.
Making the sign included designing it and creating profiles for cutting the materials. Plasma cutting was done to make the back plate, while high pressure water jet cutting was used to cut out the letters.
Final installation of the backing plate and assembly of the sign came on Aug. 11.
Swanz said it was a neighbor who inspired him at age 9 to set a goal to become an Eagle Scout before age 15. The neighbor had done that and Swanz said he decided he wanted to be just like the neighbor. Swanz will turn 15 on Sept. 22 and he thought he would get his project approved as meeting all the Eagle Scout requirements by the Central Minnesota Council of Boy Scouts of America.
Eagle Scout projects have always been about leadership. Even though the aspiring Eagle Scout has hands-on work in the project, the objective is for the Boy Scout to organize and manage groups of workers in the project. Swanz’s written report shows he did that, even setting up a meeting in advance of the work to go over safety precautions.
Swanz said he’s had many great experiences in Boy Scouts besides the Eagle Scout sign project. He mentioned one of his requirements was to have a minimum of 21 merit badges and he earned 35 of them. He said his cooking badge is his favorite. One of his high points as well in Boy Scouts was attending the Boy Scout National Jamboree in Virginia last year.
Swanz’s father, Lawrence Swanz, said the sign project was especially challenging for his son because he was putting in 10- to 12-hour work days during the summer in Hanlontown, Iowa, while coordinating the Eagle project to keep it going.
“It speaks volumes of his character,” Lawrence Swanz said, adding that Nick “went above and beyond the minimum requirements as he moved up the ranks in Boy Scouts.”
Nick Swanz talked about what he found most difficult in being a leader in the Eagle Scout project. It was “making sure I took the lead,” he said.
“Guess it was hard for me as I didn’t always know what I was necessarily supposed to do next,” he said.
He said that as a result, his father and another adult gave him “gentle, friendly advice,” and let him “stumble about first to see if I could figure it out on my own. Sometimes I did … sometimes I needed the extra help.”
Seeing the project take shape and having the help of all the volunteers was what Nick Swanz called the most rewarding part of being a leader in the project.
“I learned that it takes a lot more effort than one really thinks to manage a group of people,” he said. “Also, that there are many steps involved that one doesn’t necessarily think about, … from the initial conception of the project to planning to executing that plan.”
Some examples of things that he realized had to be planned was how to get the needed water to the site and disperse it for making the concrete anchors for the sign posts, determining how many bags of concrete mix were needed, and how to lift the sign in place and brace it until the cement had set.
“Being a leader means you have to have accountability and have a plan in mind and be able to execute that plan,” Nick Swanz said. “You also have to deal with the what-ifs when they arise. Because no matter how well you plan, things don’t always go as you had hoped or planned for.”
Baldwin Township Supervisor Tom Rush, who is the supervisor board’s liaison to the township’s park board, said that all of the supervisors “love” the sign.