Scout organizes spruce up project at Mount Soledad Park for Eagle project

By Emily DeRuy

The entrance to Mount Soledad Natural Park got a facelift on Saturday, Aug. 13, from a team of Boy Scouts and their friends and families. Organized by Nick Vandendriesse, a 17-year-old in La Jolla’s Troop 506 for his Eagle Scout project, the volunteers spent hours clearing walkways, repairing benches and refurbishing the faded sign at the entrance to the park.

“A local spot to hike is hard to find these days and I am happy to make an effort to preserve one,” said Vandendriesse, a senior at La Jolla High School and captain of the lacrosse team.

Vandendriesse and his volunteers worked to clear overgrown trails that previously forced joggers and people with strollers and pets into oncoming traffic. By paring back weeds and invasive plants, the group preserved the natural plant life of the park. Rebuilding weathered benches and painting the entrance sign also enhanced the area. Vandendriesse developed the project in an attempt to bring the appearance of the park into alignment with the purpose of the park: to honor war veterans.

“Local visitors and travelers from all over the world come to enjoy the view and military memorial honoring men and women who served this country,” Vandendriesse said. “The repairs will make the entrance to the park more noticeable and will reflect the honorable purpose of Mount Soledad.”

The park has ties to the military that reach back over 100 years. Long used by airplanes and ships for navigation, as well as serving as part of the military’s early-warning defense system in World War II, it was first used as a memorial site in 1914.

In 1954, a controversial cross was dedicated to honor Korean War veterans, and in 2006, the memorial was transferred to the federal government as a National Veterans Memorial. The site now boasts an American flag and six concentric walls with the names and photos of veterans who have served in any branch of the military.

Hiking and camping have played major roles in Vandendriesse’s Scouting experience, making the revitalization of Mount Soledad a natural choice for his Eagle project. A Scout since 2005, he worked his way through the ranks and merit badges that pave the way to the Eagle.

The badges signify proficiency and awareness in a variety of areas, including first aid skills, citizenship, and environmental responsibility. Once a Scout has met all the prerequisites, including serving in a troop leadership position for six months, he has the opportunity to plan and lead an Eagle Scout project, a service project that benefits a religious organization, school or community.

After developing the idea for his project, Vandendriesse met with and gained the approval of the City of San Diego and the La Jolla Parks and Beach Committee in June. In July and early August, he spent time recruiting volunteers and gathering supplies, before executing his project on Aug.13. An Eagle Scout board of review will determine in the fall whether Vandendriesse has satisfied all the requirements needed to obtain the Eagle Scout rank, the highest in Boy Scouting.

Boy Scouts of America, which celebrated its 100 year anniversary in 2010, has not made the road to becoming an Eagle Scout easy, and only about five percent of all Scouts earn the award. Troop 506 is working to increase that statistic. Chartered 48 years ago at La Jolla United Methodist Church, where the Scouts still meet on Monday evenings, the troop has helped 71 young men become Eagle Scouts. Of the 37 active Scouts registered to the troop, more than half are expected to earn the Eagle Scout ranking.

“Boys may join Scouts at the age of 11 and have until the age of 18 to achieve the rank of Eagle,” said Rebecca Cosford, advancement chairperson for Troop 506. “Of our Scouts who were active in 2004, 69 percent have achieved this rank, and during 2010, 10 of our Scouts advanced to the rank of Eagle.”

Simon Andrews, assistant Scoutmaster, said the experience of becoming Eagle Scouts leaves boys like Vandendriesse with far more than the plaque and pin they receive upon completion of their board of review.

“The purpose of our Eagle projects is community service, and the experience each Scout gets when he has to plan the project, coordinate with community and city officials, budget and raise money to fund the project, motivate and supervise crews to assemble tools and materials, and to do the work is an extremely valuable life experience,” Simon said. “It inspires the rest of us to do what we can to assist.”

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