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Scouting legacy at SDN lives on: Eagle project adds viewfinder at Sioux Falls overlook

Teenager stands next to a viewfinder at Great Bear Recreation Park in Sioux Falls
Ian Klinski stands next to his Eagle Scout project — a viewfinder overlooking downtown Sioux Falls at the top of Great Bear Recreation Park in Sioux Falls.

By Ian Klinski, Sioux Falls Roosevelt junior

I remember hiking at Great Bear Recreation Park in Sioux Falls when I was younger. There was a sense of discovery as my parents didn’t know much about the trails, and we just kept hiking and exploring without a map.

At the end of a flat trail to the southwest of the lodge, we came upon a steep hill. Naturally, we were curious about what was at the top of it, so we hiked and carried our stuff up there. When we reached the top, the landscape opened from a heavily treed area to an open field with sunshine and green grass. Facing west, you can see downtown Sioux Falls from a bench and a sign pointing out downtown landmarks.

It felt like we’d uncovered a secret, almost. There aren’t signs directing people to it, and we didn’t see anyone else there, either.

We went back there several times over the next few years and discovered easier ways to get to the city overlook. At one of those visits, we hiked up to see a man preparing a blanket and picnic for a proposal.

Viewfinder at Great Bear Recreation Park
The viewfinder is at the top of Great Bear at a location that has been a spot for many engagements over the years.

Later, my parents shared the story of stumbling upon the marriage proposal with Danny Howd, a family friend of ours whose kids were in Scouts with me and my brother. He told us that he proposed to his wife, Kendra, at the exact same spot. Eventually, Danny shared a hypothetical Eagle Scout project idea with us: install a viewfinder at the top to better see the city skyline.

I loved the idea as soon as I heard it, but at that point I was a couple years away from starting my own Eagle Scout project. Once I got to where I could plan it, I asked Danny for permission to take on his idea and for his help to get it done.

For the past three years, I’ve been in various planning stages: working with the city and Scouts for approval, researching and ordering the viewfinder and fundraising for the expensive piece of equipment.

One of those fundraising asks came about from SDN Communications, where my dad, Michael, works as a digital marketing specialist.

Mark Shlanta with his four sons, all of whom are Eagle Scouts.
Mark Shlanta with his four sons, all of whom are Eagle Scouts.

He started there in April 2023. While learning more about SDN, he saw that the company had a history of supporting Scouts and Scout projects under the leadership of then-CEO Mark Shlanta, who was an Eagle Scout along with his four children. Mark died before my dad started working there, but a photo of him with his four kids in their uniforms and Eagle Scout neckerchiefs made an impression.

My dad got me a meeting with SDN Communications Vice President of Sales and Marketing Ryan Dutton and then-marketing manager Andrea Leesch, where I explained my project and made my pitch.

SDN signed on almost immediately with the idea that the contribution would be in honor of Mark and his legacy to both SDN and scouting. Mark volunteered for Cub Scout packs and a Boy Scout troop in Sioux Falls, and he received a national scouting award for his efforts.

The Cathedral of Saint Joseph in Sioux Falls is shown the perception of a viewfinder.
The viewfinder at Great Bear gives hikers a better view of the cathedral and other downtown Sioux Falls landmarks.

Almost a year later, we hiked back up to that secluded spot at the top of Great Bear with fellow scouts and family, dug holes for the foundation and installed the viewfinder over a period of two weekends.

On Sunday afternoon, the work was complete and I took the first look through it, giving an enhanced view of the cathedral, clock tower and new buildings on the Sioux Falls skyline. We will return in a few weeks to install a step for kids to access it better.

Great Bear Recreation Park satellite map
The Great Bear parking lot is shown at the top right, with directions to walk up to the viewfinder area.

I hope it becomes a destination of sorts and encourages people to get out and hike the nice trails of Great Bear. And I hope it inspires other kids to continue in Scouts and work on their Eagle projects.

I never met Mark, but a passion for Scouts and its mission is something we both share in common, and I’m happy my project can continue his legacy.

A plaque commemorating an Eagle Scout project at Great Bear State Park.
The plaque on the viewfinder at Great Bear Recreation Park.