The Chippewa Valley Air Show is a big deal. It takes months of planning before it even starts. It takes hours upon hours to set everything up.
And then there’s the event itself. On the ground below, thousands of visitors mill about the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport in Eau Claire, Wisc., interacting with exhibits that include a Huey helicopter, F6F-5 Hellcat, C-47 Placid Lassie and KC-135 Stratotanker. In the sky above, aircraft such as the F-16 Viper, P-51 Mustang and Blue Angels jets zoom back and forth across the sky.
And when it’s all done, there are more hours devoted to tearing everything down and cleaning everything up.
And in the midst of it all, there are more than 100 volunteers holding everything together, most of them Scouts and Scouters from the Chippewa Valley Council.
The Chippewa Valley Air Show is part Scout fundraiser, part public event, part recruiting opportunity, and 100% fun.
“It takes an incredible amount of planning and organizing to pull it off,” says Chippewa Valley Council Scout Executive Tim Molepske. “It is amazing to watch everything come together through a lot of coordination with volunteers who know what to do and put in a lot of hard work.”
A perfect match for Scouts
The Chippewa Valley airport has been hosting an air show since the 1980s, but it wasn’t until 2008 that the Chippewa Valley Council got involved. Tim Olson, board president at the time, had experience working on air shows. When he approached the council leadership with the idea of becoming the event’s sponsor, it seemed to be a match made in heaven.
The 2008 show was awarded the Blue Angels “air show of the year” award, according to the airport’s website.
Since then, the show has grown and evolved, and the Scouts have been there every step of the way. More shows followed in 2010, 2015, 2018 and 2022.
At each event, volunteers are called on to help secure sponsors, work out contracts with performers, sell tickets, physically set up the event, and help as needed during the two-day airplane extravaganza.
Proceeds from the show not only benefit the local council, but also more than 60 other area nonprofits.
“Our objective is simple: to put on a great event for our community that helps raise awareness of Scouting,” Molepske says.
And a camporee as well
Of course, it’s not a true Scout event if there isn’t camping. The council hosts a camporee in conjunction with every air show. Scouts camp on the airport grounds not far from the airfield.
When the air show gates open in the morning, the Scouts switch into volunteer mode. Some might help visitors find seats. Others might answer questions or provide directions to guests who have never been there before.
And then there’s the Scout Zone — an area where troops and packs set up Scouting-related displays and activities that are open to the public. It’s a great way to market the program to an audience that’s aware that none of this would be happening without the Scouts.
One troop sets up a rope bridge and helps escort children of all ages across it. Others will demonstrate Scout skills and coordinate other fun activities.
“It’s a lot of Scout-related displays and demonstrations,” says camporee chair Chris Lee, “and they are extremely well attended by the public.”
When the last air show visitor has left in the afternoon, the Scouts return to their campsite to prepare their evening meals, and to get ready for their guest speaker.
At the most recent event, the speaker was a Blue Angels pilot who is also an Eagle Scout. The man took his time to answer questions, sign autographs and talk about how being in the Navy has affected his life.
“I can say without any hesitancy that these times are met with rapt enthusiasm and generous respect,” says Lee.
A winning partnership with the community
The air show is a big part of the Eau Claire community. Volume One, a magazine based in Eau Claire, calls it “a flock of fantastical flying, ground show displays, and more. It’s the perfect kickoff to a sunny summer break.”
Local TV stations give it plenty of coverage.
But when the Blue Angels have left town, all the displays have been removed, and all the folding chairs put away, it could be the local Scouts who benefit the most.
L.E. Phillips Scouts Reservation features outdoor opportunities for Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA, along with parents and even members of the community who aren’t Scouts.
The camp’s shower house and dining hall were funded in large part from proceeds from the air show.
“It’s very rewarding to go out to Camp Phillips and see something our youth get the benefits of,” Molepske says.
Do you know of a big event like this one in your community that relies heavily on Scouting volunteers? If so, drop us a note in the comments, or send us an email and tell us all about it.