CHURCH HILL — The last two months of Nathan Michalik’s junior year at Volunteer High School were a washout due to the COVID-19 shutdown, so he chose to use that time to replace another washout that occurred near his home at Laurel Run Park.
This past weekend, Michalik — assisted by friends Jack Cannon and Joshua White, and his dad Dr. Richard Michalik — completed construction of a new footbridge over Laurel Run Creek along the walking trail that leads up Bays Mountain.
It’s the bridge that crosses the creek right before you reach the old cabin and outhouse. The old bridge, which was already slated for repairs due to rot, was destroyed by flooding in February.
By last Friday, park director John Young and his assistant Larry Lester had poured the new bridge's footers and placed utility poles as the bridge support beams.
That set the stage Friday and Saturday for the remainder of the bridge to be constructed as Michalik's Eagle Scout project.
When an Eagle Scout candidate takes on a big project like this, part of the process is the fundraising.
Due to the economic downturn created by the COVID-19 crisis, Michalik and his dad decided not to ask for donations — and to pay for the bridge materials out of their own pocket.
Fortunately, Builders First Source offered a discount for the project because it was charitable work.
Michalik lives about 3 miles from the park. He told the Times News on Wednesday that he cares about the park, and he wanted to do something that was needed.
“Every Eagle Scout needs a project,” Michalik said. “That's the main step to getting Eagle, and it needs to be something that's beneficial and will be around for a long time. It can be morally beneficial, like one of the other scouts painted a beautiful mural in downtown Kingsport, or it can be physically beneficial.”
Michalik added, “I just wanted to do something that was of the utmost importance and necessity at the time, and this is what came to mind.”
He started planning the design on April 7, and he arrived for actual construction this past Friday having already pre-cut the lumber. The goal was to make this bridge sturdy and capable of withstanding the next big flood.
“We started out by laying a bunch of 2x6s on top (of the utility poles),” Michalik said. “That's the sturdiest thing we could think of for walking planks. We added 2x8s on the sides. Those are our runners, and there's one in the middle. We got those as level and as straight as possible so when you walk on these 2x6s there's no bow, and no chance for a break down the line.”
He added, “On the sides we have 4x4s that are notched and sit half and half on the 2x8s and the 2x6s, and in those are three structural screws that hold about 1,600 pounds each. There's even brackets on the inside so there's no chance of them getting rocked over.
Michalik is a member of the VHS cross country team and is currently in training, but when he has a break he will clear out the lumber from the old bridge, which is still lying in the creek.
Young said the Hawkins County Highway Department is supposed to come pick up the two I-beams used to build the previous bridge. They were bent after being hit by a tree during the flood and couldn't be reused on the new bridge.
Michalik and his crew are to be commended for their work, Young added.
“They done a fantastic job, and they worked hard,” Young said. “They worked in the rain. It didn't matter. They done a good job, and I think there will be a lot of years of good use, and a lot of people are going to enjoy it.”