James Kopsa was visiting a friend when he noticed a faded sign on a telephone pole in the Elkhorn area.
The 14-year-old could barely make out what was on the sign and didn't know what it meant. But after talking to his dad and doing some research, he decided to repair the sign as his Eagle Scout service project.
The red, white and blue signs dot the country from New York to San Francisco, marking the Lincoln Highway, the first road to cross the United States. The highway was rerouted in Nebraska, and what remains in Elkhorn is a portion of the original route, the Old Lincoln Highway.
In many places, the “L” signs were painted on telephone and power poles and have faded over the years.
But thanks to the Elkhorn-area teenager, 34 of those signs now have a fresh coat of paint along a stretch of highway that includes historic downtown Elkhorn.
James and a handful of volunteers took on the project this month, just ahead of an increase in traffic expected next year.
“The project came at the perfect time,” said James, a member of Boy Scout Troop 26.
Next summer marks the 100th anniversary of the Lincoln Highway. People will travel the highway from the east and west to meet in Kearney for a big celebration. It will be in conjunction with the 2013 Lincoln Highway annual conference.
“This project is something I enjoyed,” James said. “It is something people can connect with.”
Elizabeth Chase, director of the Nebraska Main Street program, said the freshly painted signs should be a point of pride for the Elkhorn area. People from all over the country will drive the route next summer, she said, and will see that the area cares about the Lincoln Highway.
James said he spent several months planning the project. He had to get permission from agencies such as Omaha Public Power District and the Nebraska Department of Roads. Chase provided a how-to article.
On Oct. 6, James and 16 volunteers prepared the poles, getting nails and staples out, then sanding and priming them. James and a smaller group applied a fresh coat of paint over the next few days.
The paint was donated by a Sherwin Williams store, and businesses in the Elkhorn area pitched in to cover other costs.
James said he has a few more requirements before he reaches the rank of Eagle Scout.
“I hope to earn it this year,” he said.
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