ERWIN — Did you know that Venus doesn’t have any moons? Did you know that Mars is 141,600,000 miles from the Sun?
If you didn’t, a walk on Erwin’s Linear Trail might be just the ticket for you, thanks to soon-to-be Eagle Scout and aspiring astrophysicist Sheldon Kappel. On Saturday afternoon, he was putting the finishing touches on his Eagle Project on the trail. His project, for Troop 35 at First Christian Church in Johnson City, consisted of constructing an informative linear scale model of the solar system, with each foot of distance representing 1 million miles.
“You see that? I just traveled a million miles,” Sheldon announced with a smile while taking a side step.
The 15-year-old Science Hill High School student calls it “The Planetary Trail” and has worked hard for the last 10 years to go from Cub Scout to Eagle Scout, a journey that only carries a 2 percent success rate, according to Igor Kappel, Sheldon’s father. A successful completion of the project, and if it meets the criteria of the Scouts, will help him graduate to that top Eagle Scout level.
Sheldon’s biggest task with organizing and putting together the project included getting special permission to construct on Erwin’s trail, line up materials and manpower to carry out the construction, and making sure that every step of the way was documented correctly so he could present the finished product to his elder Scouts.
He started by making a Powerpoint presentation to the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen, earning himself a right to move forward. Then he presented the idea to his Scoutmaster, which also got a thumbs-up. After that, it was getting Lowe’s and Hampton Masonry to give him materials at cost, which saved the entire project an immense amount of money. With all those hurdles behind him, Sheldon thought the construction would be the easier part.
He admits he was wrong, saying everything, including the ground, was much harder than he anticipated. He even had to dial up 1-800 numbers in regard to calling before digging requirements. That being said, he doesn’t regret picking such a project.
Because Sheldon’s passion lies with quantum and theoretical physics, astronomy, the project accomplished everything he set out to do: help the community, educate others, give him a chance to hone and show his organizational skills, all while it relates to outer space — his favorite topic.
“He’s loved space for a long time,” his mother, Laura, said. “We wanted him to be excited about his project.”
And, excited he was. He and his fellow Scout workers helped Igor and their troop leader Michael Duncan with the construction of the black posts with red planets atop each. Each post has a card with information on each of the planets. Sheldon said he hopes the trail will be utilized by local science classes to teach about the solar system and how truly impressive it is.
Sheldon’s interest came from his early days as a star gazer.
“This is kind of mushy stuff, but it started when I would look up at the stars in the night sky and think how cool it was,” Sheldon said. He speaks in delight of his favorite scientists like Carl Sagan and Michio Kaku, and says he enjoys watching TED Talks in school.
His father says he’s already started looking into the astronomy program at Virginia Tech.
Even though the Kappels will need to go back once the poured concrete dries and put the Sun, the centerpiece of the project and the solar system, in its proper place, they’ve already attracted onlookers.
Sheldon was asked by two women who were walking on the trail about his project, and he told them all about his project and what it offers.
“Thank you for answering my questions,” Joyce Edwards said with a smile, as she and her sister, Jane Foster, continued down the trail with their dogs, Gypsy and Daisy. They said they were excited that the project would bring educational opportunities to the Linear Trail.
The Kappels, including Sheldon’s sister, Amalia, 13, were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. They lived in Slidell, La., and after being displaced by the hurricane, had moved back to Laura’s hometown and the hometown of his grandparents, Jack and Reny Higgs.
Correction: An earlier version of the story referred to the Sun as being the center of the Universe and has since been corrected.