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Hikers, bikers benefit from Belle Vernon senior's Eagle Scout project

| Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014, 5:33 p.m.
Eagle Scout candidate Garrett Harkins and his dog Holly take a break in the Adirondack shelter he constructed along the Great Allegheny Passage in Rostraver.
Eagle Scout candidate Garrett Harkins and his dog Holly take a break in the Adirondack shelter he constructed along the Great Allegheny Passage in Rostraver.

He has not fired a bazooka ... yet.

But, for his Eagle Scout project he has built an Adirondack shelter for overnight campers.

As a victim in a disaster day program, which simulated a bombing in a public venue, he was flown on a C130 transport from Pittsburgh to Westover Air Force base in Massachusetts.

As Garrett Harkins begins his senior year at Belle Vernon Area High school, he already has some good stories for show-and-tell.

Chuckling, Harkins recalls his introduction to Scouting when, as a first-grader, he received a pamphlet detailing the organization's objectives and programs.

“It looked interesting, especially the picture of the kids playing with a bazooka on the pamphlet's cover,” he recalled.

“Actually, I thought they were playing with a bazooka. They were really playing tug-of-war, but it looked like a bazooka to me and I thought it would be neat to shoot a bazooka.”

While he has yet to fire that bazooka, he has enjoyed the organization's numerous activities, from the ever-popular Pinewood Derby competition to the recent completion of his Eagle Scout project, the designing and construction of an Adirondack three-sided shelter with a roof and a floor, located in the hiker-biker area of Cedar Creek Park for overnight campers traveling on the Great Allegheny Passage adjacent to the Youghiogheny River in Rostraver Township.

Rick Brown, who became scoutmaster of Harkins' Troop 1543 of Belle Vernon earlier this year, after serving as assistant scoutmaster for three years, had no second thoughts about Harkins' ability to deliver on the project.

“Garrett's organizational skills and leadership qualities are two of his strengths,” Brown said. “He will take charge, and he makes sure things get done. Garrett is an active Scout and our senior patrol leader. In fact, this is the second time he has served as senior patrol leader, a position that emphasizes those leadership qualities. He is helpful to younger scouts and teaches what they need to know. He always has time for our younger scouts. As scoutmaster I am proud of his accomplishments.”

When Harkins decided on his project, he explained to Brown what needed to be done and took charge in every aspect, Brown continued. “Much thought and work went into the project and he did a really good job with the shelter. It will be well-used,” Brown added. “Garrett is eager to participate in all scouting events, such as hiking and biking, including biking from Meyersdale to Washington, D.C., and recently from D.C. to Cedar Creek Park.”

All that stands between Harkins and receipt of the award is submittal of paperwork, followed by the Eagle Board of Review.

Once approved for the project, Harkins received funding from the Rotary Club and Champion Lumber in Champion Pa donated rough cut lumber for the siding. Construction commenced in early May and the physical work was completed on June 14. Assisting Harkins with the construction were his father, Ken; fellow scout Jonas Cramer and his father, David; and 30 members of Cub Scout Pack 1590 from Rehoboth Church in Rostraver, who helped unload and carry the lumber. Other scouts also participated in construction of the shelter, which involved some 185 man-hours.

Bob Hand, former president and now one of three directors of the Westmoreland Yough Trail chapter of the Greater Allegheny Bike Trail, noted that “the stick-and-frame style shelter was sorely needed at that site. Garrett did an especially good job with the project. He completed it in a timely manner and also made improvements and upgraded the camp site. I'm very pleased with his work. Garrett is a personable individual and will be a good Eagle Scout.”

Through Scouting, Harkins has become a member of the Civil Air Patrol's Squadron 602, based at Allegheny County Airport. In conjunction with the CAP, Harkins has participated in the International Air Cadet Program, hosting two members from the United Kingdom via the Student Exchange Program.

“Hosting the students from the UK was a remarkable experience,” Harkins said. “Being with them gave me a first-hand look at their lives in the UK and enabled us to share our CAP experiences.”

Participating in the disaster drill gave Harkins an up-close-and-personal look at how an organization such as the Civil Air patrol, and other similar organizations, respond during emergency situations. Offered the opportunity to sit in the plane's cockpit en route from Pittsburgh to Massachusetts gave him a “perfect view of everything. It was an amazing experience.”

At Belle Vernon Area High School, Harkins is a member of the Leopards swim team, competing in the 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter freestyle, medley relay and 400-meter freestyle relay events. He also plays trumpet in the Symphonic Concert Band. Outside of school, Harkins is an altar server at the Church of St. Ann in Rosatraver, a member of the Youth Group at Gospel Alliance Church, and is employed by Hazelbaker's Canoe Rental in Dawson.

Enrolled in all accelerated classes, robotics has been his clear-cut favorite, he said. In fact, even though he completed all course requirements last year, he “will repeat the class this year even though it will be a noncredit class for me,” he explained. “That's how much I enjoyed the class. We use remote-controlled robots, which are equipped with cameras and an LCD display.”

Thanks to his robotics' and Civil Air Patrol experiences, Harkins is looking at the Air Force Academy, as well as the ROTC programs at Penn State and Virginia Tech for his post-secondary educational opportunities.

“I'm exploring computer and electronics or mechanical engineering careers,” he said. “I would like to design battlefield equipment, incorporating robotics and aerial drone issues involving troop support, using drone concepts.”

Les Harvath is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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