NEW PALESTINE — The badge rests on the left side of his Scouting uniform by his chest. It occupies a prominent place because of its importance.
Every Boy Scout covets the Eagle Scout badge, the highest honor a Scout can earn. But Scouts must earn it before they turn 18.
Zak Johnston, a member of Boy Scout Troop 244 in New Palestine, worked right up to his 18th birthday to earn the rank of Eagle Scout, an honor he wasn’t sure he’d be able to get done on time.
But thanks to hard work, help from fellow Scouts and some good luck with the weather, Johnston earned the honor shortly before graduating from New Palestine High School.
“I was relieved and proud, all at the same time,” Johnston said. “It came out looking much better than I had thought.”
Johnston built an 84-foot wooden boardwalk in the Jacob Schramm Nature Preserve, located at County Road 600W, one mile south of U.S. 40 and Mt. Comfort Road.
Installing the wooden walkway atop concrete blocks deep into the nature preserve challenged the incoming college freshman.
Building sections of the walkway outside of the preserve before teaming up to lug the heavy wooden sections into the forested area taught Johnston and his helpers their limits, he said.
“I learned there are lots of things I can do on my own, but there will also be things I can only do with the help of other people,” Johnston said.
Johnston raised just over $800 for the project while $400 came from the Hancock County Community Foundation.
His mother, Debbie Johnston, is thankful for the many opportunities, activities and life skills her son has been able to learn and be a part of during his many years in scouting, she said.
The Eagle Scout project was one of his toughest and most rewarding projects he’s done, he said. He finished it in the midst of preparing to graduate from high school, getting accepted into college and other school activities.
“I am very proud of all he’s accomplished, especially in the past two years,” she said.
Debbie Johnston watched her son grow from somewhat of an introvert into a confident young man through various scouting opportunities, she said.
“He’s surer of himself and has become quite responsible,” Debbie Johnston said.
Though she worried her son wouldn’t get his project completed on time after getting so close, she and his Scoutmaster, Mark Crawford, had faith he would stick with his commitment despite the odds mounting against him.
“When Scouts first come in, they are all gung-ho and ready to go, but as they get older, other things begin to occupy their attention and sometime finishing a project can be difficult,” Crawford said.
He said many times if a Boy Scout doesn’t earn his Eagle Scout rank by the time he gets a driver’s license and gets into other things, he may never earn it.
Still, a little more than 90 percent of the Scouts in Troop 244 have earned their Eagle Scout Badge, Crawford said.
Johnston said he’s learned about time management dur-ing the course of the past year.
He and his crew worked at the Nature Preserve right up to the last evening before his 18th birthday, Feb. 20. As soon as he finished putting in the last screw on Feb. 19, he went straight to his Scoutmaster who noted Johnston completed his project with just a few hours to spare.
“Once I got it done I realized this project was pretty cool,” Johnston said. “Knowing there will be people who get to see what I did, maybe they’ll look up to it.”
Zak Johnston, 18, of New Palestine, finished his Eagle Scout project with hours to spare before his 18th birthday.
In addition to being a part of Scouting since he was in first grade, Johnston participated in New Palestine High School’s Crimson Heat show choir and had a part-time job.
He plans to study performing arts in college at Indiana Southern University beginning in August with the hopes of becoming a musical performer.