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Whitefish grad builds pavilion to earn Eagle Scout

by WHITNEY ENGLAND
Whitefish Pilot | August 30, 2023 1:00 AM

Natural wood pillars combined with steel roofing and an intricate sign make a new pavilion at the Whitefish Airport stand out to passersby.

A picnic table sits on a concrete slab and the pavilion provides much-needed shade and a comfortable place to hang out at the airport off East Second Street.

This pavilion called the Welcome Center was built by Whitefish High School Class of 2023 graduate Ryan Economy. The recent grad created the pavilion for his Eagle Scout project which he completed in the summer of 2022.

Economy says he had the idea for the project in fall 2021, but thought it might be too much to take on as he only had eight months before turning 18 — the Eagle Scout project must be completed before the scout turns 18 and ages out of the Boy Scouts of America program.

But he soon decided it was a project worth taking on despite the time frame and the potential cost to complete it.

“I was looking for something smaller, maybe,” Economy remembered. “But then I was like, no, I’m just going to knock this one out because I’m going to be pretty proud of it when it’s done.”

He says the space offers a nice place to hang out with surrounding views of the mountains. Before he built the pavilion, there was nothing there to even label that the grassy airstrip was an airport. Now when the Montana Pilots Association hosts fly-ins — gatherings at various airports for aviation enthusiasts to socialize and network — there is a place at the Whitefish Airport to welcome people.

"I think it brings an awesome area for people to hang out when they want to come here to Whitefish,” he said. “It’s a good chill-out spot for pilots.”

THE PROJECT took about six months to complete. In October 2021, Economy began the project with the help of a few friends, his father and Greg Roberts, the owner of Whitefish Property Management. Economy says Roberts was the mastermind behind the planning and helped tremendously.

“He was the biggest mentor that I could ever ask for to help out with this,” Economy said of Roberts. “He was a brain with unlimited knowledge on all of this kind of stuff. He was there for every step.”

That October, the small crew began digging 7 feet below ground due to the high water table in Whitefish. As snow began to fall, Economy says nearly everything that could go wrong did, but they were able to get the 14-foot pillars placed and the concrete poured before winter.

In May, Economy and his manual labor crew were back at it. They assembled the rest and completed it in time for Economy to present his project and earn his Eagle Scout. The pavilion was assembled entirely by hand without the use of any heavy equipment.

He estimates the project would have cost around $12,000 but he had a host of donations from people and businesses around the community. Nearly all the supplies were donated by companies such as WBC, Glacier Steel, Accutech and many others.

ECONOMY DECIDED to build the Whitefish Welcome Center due to his personal connection with aviation. He comes from an aviation family, with his father working for the Federal Aviation Administration and the Air Force and his mother is a flight attendant. He grew up flying into the Whitefish Airport as a kid living in Southern California. The family split time between there and Whitefish until moving to Whitefish full-time in 2021.

“(We) flew into here all the time. This is where our childhood flying place was that we used to come to,” Economy said. “I thought it would be really cool to contribute back to what the airport gave us and to build this structure, let people know who don’t fly what it is.”

Economy enjoys aviation now just as much as he did when he was younger. He is actively working on obtaining his private pilot license and would like to fly for several different organizations in the future.

He says he loves aviation because it's a rare experience that is unlike any other.

“The best way I can describe it is, once you get the bug you can’t get rid of it,” Economy expressed. “It’s such a fun experience that most people in this world can’t experience — a birds-eye view in a small airplane.”

Economy says he highly recommends the scouting program and is glad to have stuck with it through the years. He started as a Cub Scout in the first grade.

The Eagle Scout is the highest rank of the Boy Scouts. Only a small percentage of scouts earn the rank.

“It just takes a lot of time and dedication and you’ve got to have time management and perseverance,” he said of the Eagle Scout. “You’re really like a mentor wherever you go, looking for what you can do to help others.”

photo

The new pavilion at the Whitefish Airport. Whitefish High School graduate Ryan Economy built the structure with help of friends and family for his Eagle Scout project last year. (Whitney England/Whitefish Pilot)