Park Rapids Scout camp pays tribute to fallen soldier
PARK RAPIDS - Andrew Nelson began exploring Camp Wilderness's 2,400 wooded acres as a child.
His "smiling, calm, all-American" character created friendships among his young peers, later establishing rapport as a staff member, at 16.
Now, Camp Wilderness is home to a lasting tribute to the former Eagle Scout and fallen soldier, Staff Sgt. Andrew Nelson, killed in combat a year ago in Iraq.
"It's fitting that this should be the first place they will see," his former Scoutmaster, Ron Schneider, said of the welcome center now greeting the 1,700 Boy Scouts and 800 Cub Scouts arriving - en masse - at the camp throughout the summer.
After building the Cub Scout camp two years ago, check-in became a traffic disaster, camp ranger Andy Kietzman said.
"When Andrew died," Schneider explained, "his mom (Suzanne Nelson of Fargo) wanted to make a contribution to the camp."
Arriving at Camp Wilderness from Moorhead since he was 10, Andrew returned for winter, spring and fall events,
The welcome center, with photos of a smiling child holding fish and a somber soldier serving his country, now directs Scouts and families to their appointed destination.
"This camp was part of Andrew Nelson. It's fitting he should be here to welcome Scouts," Scout executive Mark Holtz told a group of family, friends and members of the Patriot Guard and 82nd Airborne Division at Saturday morning's dedication.
Schneider, who spearheaded the welcome center initiative, agrees. "They will remember the cute, black-haired kid who always actively helped out."
Volunteers, he said, arrived in number, splitting into groups to complete work on the building. A logger on site offered to log and saw the lumber originating from the camp.
The center, sporting a patriot red roof, will be solar powered.
"It was a huge labor of love," Schneider said.
And Andrew, posthumously, provided the necessary stop sign. "I don't know where he got this," Schneider said, chuckling.
"Andrew was a leader in his troop; I knew he'd be a leader within his unit," Schneider said of Nelson who was 23 when he was killed Aug. 29, 2007.
He served three tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.