Swan Creek Park is a little bit easier to navigate thanks to signs posted by Boy Scout Austin Kapelski, who recently attained the rank of Eagle thanks to his efforts.
Kapelski achieved scouting’s highest award at 15, a task that often takes other scouts until they’re 18, their last year of eligibility. Friends and family members credit Kapelski’s ambition, determination and leadership as keys to his success.
Kapelski’s scouting career started when he was 6. He came home with a flier one day and told his parents he wanted to join the Cub Scouts, and he soon joined Pack 555. His father, John, who’d been a Cub Scout but lost interest and didn’t pursue it further, said his son took enthusiastically to scouting.
When he was 7, Kapelski learned about the rank of Eagle Scout, and he was energized by the thought of advancing to that level.
When he advanced to Boy Scouts, he found himself bouncing from troop to troop. He first joined Troop 274, than 595. Although he enjoyed his experiences and made friends, something bothered him.
“I noticed, at both troops, there were some kids who were getting their Eagle, and some that were not,” he said.
About that time, he learned from his friends from Pack 555 that many of the kids with whom he had been in Webelos wanted to stick together as scouts. Along with those scouts, he founded the new Troop 555.
Kapelski’s father stepped in to be the scout master to fill the void with adult leadership.
Immediately, Austin excelled. He won merit badges quickly and took on different roles in the troop.
Although they were involved in Austin’s scouting career, both John and Austin’s mother, Tracy, insisted it was their son’s drive that excelled him up the ranks.
“We helped him formulate a plan,” John said. “All we did was keep him on track.”
When it came time for his Eagle project, Austin’s first proposal was to install a wheelchair ramp at the Waller Road Grange, where Troop 555 meets. He quickly learned that doing so would have been a long, expensive process and would require extensive structural changes. The project was scrapped.
That’s when a Metro Parks employee told him about the needs at Swan Creek Park.
The area had fallen into disrepair. Many trails were overgrown or had been washed away by the elements. There was a massive restoration effort to restore the park, and Austin was asked if he would help.
His task was to erect new signage to help visitors navigate the park. He enthusiastically took on the project.
With equipment and materials the park supplied, Austin assembled a group of volunteers to undertake the task. He managed a work crew of 18 volunteers — a mixture of scouts, friends and family members — to post signs and maps throughout the area.
Fellow scouts said Austin’s management skills and initiative make him stand out.
“He’s a really good leader and a role model to a lot of our younger scouts,” said Trey Vanderkinter, one of Austin’s troop members.
Austin recounted a scout jamboree in which Vanderkinter had difficulty climbing a rock wall. He recalled several other scouts laughed as he struggled with the climb.
Austin shouted words of encouragement to Vanderkinter and talked him through the climb.
Vanderkinter’s father, assistant scout master Dave Vanderkinter, said Austin has been a phenomenal mentor for his son and for other scouts, and he has always been impressed by the teenager’s competence in the four years he’s known him.
“I was honored when he called me up one night and asked me to present him to the Eagle board,” Dave Vanderkinter said.
John Kapelski said he’s incredibly proud of his son’s accomplishment.
“At 15, he’s got a better understanding of scouting and scouting values than a lot of 17- and 18-year-olds do,” he said.
Although he’s now at the top of the ladder, Austin isn’t quite done with scouting.
“I want to stay in a little longer and help other scouts become leaders,” he said.
He also wants to become more involved with the Order of the Arrow, the national honor society of the Boy Scouts. He said his focus on attaining his Eagle didn’t leave much time to be involved in the esteemed group.
Austin will officially receive the Eagle Scout award during a ceremony on Sunday at the Waller Road Grange.
Kevin Knodell is a freelance reporter for the Herald.