Eagle Scout project creates sensory trail, bench dedication

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

Race Vickerey hugs Michael Engel after a bench dedicated to Engel's son, Daniel, that was placed in an outdoor area at Truman Elementary School, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. The project was spearheaded by Race Vickerey as a way to get his Eagle Scout badge.

The playground of Truman Elementary School has a new adjacent sensory trail thanks to Norman Boy Scout Race Vickrey.

Vickrey led about 18 fellow scouts from Troop 219, of Goodrich Methodist Church, in his Eagle Scout project. The boys picked up shovels and rakes at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, and worked together all day to create the outdoor classroom. An oval trail surrounds the wooden plaza and garden area beside the Truman playground, which the troop also cleaned up.

The area inside the surrounding path includes four wooden sensory boxes for Truman teachers and students to utilize for educational purposes, such as placing sensory adaptive materials and teaching tools inside. Vickrey said he hopes these boxes can help students with special needs.

The oval trail is padded with mulch and wood chips, and 100 surrounding railroad ties. Vickrey said the area is for kids to run, walk, crawl or play.

Saturday they also trimmed a smaller area with bushes and trees, and created a small trail underneath to give it what Vickrey calls a Narnia vibe.

Around 3 p.m. Vickrey called for everyone to take a work break for the dedication of a new bench, which was installed in celebration of Dan Engel who was an Eagle Scout with Boy Scout Troop 777 led by Dr. Hal and JoAnne Belknap. The bench was funded by Mike and Shannon Vickrey, Race's dad and mom, and was created by Bill Hull.

Race Vickrey thanked the troop, parents and his football friends for their hard work on the trail and clean up Saturday, and his dad said a few words about his memories of Engel.

"This won't be easy, because Dan was an exceptional young man and he left this earth at a young age, but he made an impact on everybody he met and he was a good kid," Mike Vickrey said. "I have known him since he was in second grade when I was his cub master."

The bench included a plaque that reads, "In Celebration of Daniel Joseph Engel, 1988-2016. Student from Truman Elementary School, Eagle Scout from Troop 777, BSA. 'A friend to every person he met.'"

Dan is the son of Debra and Michael Engel, and Saturday his dad came to thank the troop for the bench and dedication. Engel was a Boy Scout from Cub to Eagle Scout.

"Dan loved his time in scouting, and it was just a series of unfortunate events that led to his passing so young," Michael Engel said. "He would be very proud today to see that people still remember him, and this is really kind."

Race Vickrey, 17, is a junior from Norman High School, was a student at Truman Elementary and has been planning his Eagle project for several months. He said he knew Dan since he was five years old and wanted to include the bench in honor of him, and with the trail and clean up he wanted to provide students with a safe and calm space outside.

"At first it was kind of tough, because I have school, football and then work, but then when I got out here and everybody starting working together it didn't seem like a lot," he said. "I think this trail provides Truman with another learning experience, because the teachers can teach the students about plant life and gardening."

Work on the trail concluded around 5 p.m. Saturday, and the troop cleaned up the area so it will be ready for students and teachers to use Monday. Vickrey said he hopes to later add bird houses as well, because he wants nature and gardening to also be the areas focus.

Alison Petrone, Ward 3 council member, said Vickrey is an impressive young man and thanked him Saturday morning for his contributions to the quality of life in Norman. She said his project perfectly showcases the city's motto, "Building an inclusive community.

On behalf of the the City of Norman, Petrone said it was her honor to present Vickrey with a "Certificate of Exceptional Service" for his Eagle Scout project as the city's formal recognition of his incredible accomplishments.

"[Vickrey's] empathy, hard work, and dedication to his goals are a powerful testimony of living a life in service to others and overcoming adversity," Petrone said. "Truman Elementary school children will utilize this area for many years to come thanks to one very dedicated high school kid who dared to dream big."

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