From the deck of Sun Top Lookout in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in Washinton, a hiker can see miles of surrounding forest country with Mount Rainier sparkling in the distance.
Thanks to a prospective Eagle Scout with a big heart, that view is now available to everyone after he led a team of volunteers to build a wheelchair ramp up to the observatory.
Darren Baptiste from Auburn can remember when he decided he wanted to become an Eagle Scout, as well as when he decided to turn his enterprising gaze to helping disabled or wheelchair-bound people enjoy the same things he takes for granted.
The 15-year-old was at a Cub Scout meeting and encountered a wheelchair-bound Eagle Scout, who was doing just that. Fast forward to Baptiste’s final push toward the highest rank and he decided to sign off his application with a significant initiative of building a wheelchair ramp on the Sun Top Lookout.
John Hearing, a Forest Service volunteer who’s overseeing other accessibility projects and who chairs the Snoqualmie Fire Lookouts Association, told Russell Leung at the Seattle Times (paywall) that the Sun Top Lookout was uniquely suited for Baptiste’s idea.
“We get a lot of visitors up there,” Hearing said, estimating 3,000 hikers visited the lookout last year who get to use a parking lot that places them extremely close to the gorgeous view. “But people with mobility issues couldn’t get up there; they couldn’t make that last 150 feet to get to the lookout.”
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With Hearing’s help, and volunteer labor from other scouts and some of Baptiste’s family, they embarked on a project that would involve some geometry, carpentry, and leading a team, which he admitted wasn’t easy.
The ramp was originally planned to be 14 feet long but had to be more than doubled in order for the project to work.
Building the ramp wasn’t exactly in line with Baptiste’s career prospects—he wants to become a commercial airline pilot—but his mother Melanie Baptiste says he’s always been a hands-on person.
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“He loves to fix things, he loves to do things with his hands, he loves to build things. So this has been right up his alley, but it’s been challenging for him and I can’t wait for him to see it finished,” she said. “I think it’s something he’ll be able to look back on and just feel a great sense of accomplishment.”
With the ramp, and just a couple more merit badges, Baptiste’s long journey toward the goal he set for himself will be complete, saying “I stuck with it, kept trying and got through all the hardships.”
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