For the sixth consecutive year, the Open Space Institute (OSI) and cadets from the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) at West Point have designed and constructed a trail bridge for a state park in New York’s Hudson Valley, with cooperation from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP).
This year’s collaboration produced the Schunnemunk Meadows Bridge—a unique 26-foot-long partially-cantilevered bridge spanning an seasonally wet and muddy area of the park.
Located in Schunnemunk State Park, 3,300 acres of rolling meadows and mountains in Orange County, the bridge project acted as a senior-year capstone project for cadets, providing them with hands-on design and construction experience as they pursued degrees in civil engineering and trained for their military careers.
The new structure provides a year-round, accessible, multi-use, connection to the future Schunnemunk Meadows Trail for activities including hiking, running, cycling, and cross-country skiing.
Peter Karis, OSI’s vice president of parks and stewardship, expressed his excitement for the project.
“This collaboration with West Point is mutually beneficial,” Karis said. “We're able to not only shape the future leaders of the military and communities at large, we're also tapping into that talent and capacity to deliver what would normally be fairly expensive, difficult structures in remote places."
“These bridges are these little nodes at the intersection of opportunity and collaboration and the beneficiaries are the recreating public.”
Professor of civil engineering at USMA, J. Ledlie Klosky, Ph.D., P.E., advised the cadet team alongside Lt. Col. Adrian Biggerstaff and Gary Jordan, Ph.D.
Before the USMA cadets can begin planning, OSI conducts site preparation and obtains all necessary environmental clearances from state agencies. From there, the cadets organize to begin concept generation, which takes place over the course of several months, according to Klosky.
“Once generated, the concepts for the bridge are shared with the stakeholder group. The concept is broken down, pulled apart and refined to make sure that the concept is the best it can possibly be,” he said.
Klosky explained that after the final concept is selected, the cadets dive into detailed engineering design “to do all the things that we expect civil engineers to do to protect public safety and welfare. And in collaboration with OSI and with oversight by OPRHP, we execute a full design for the proposed bridge.”
OSI’s participation continues throughout the process. The cadets survey the site and provide a detailed materials list, according to Karis. OSI then purchases the materials and organizes delivery.
With public support, OSI was able to provide more than $15,000 for materials and site preparation for the Schunnemunk Meadows Bridge. In total, OSI has contributed more than $65,000 toward these pedestrian bridge projects over the past six years. As a nonprofit that conserves land and makes outdoor spaces more welcoming and accessible to the public, OSI works diligently year-round to raise public and private dollars to support its projects and programs.
After being carefully designed over one and a half semesters, work on the bridge began in March 2023 and was completed just four weeks later in April.
“The cadets put up these amazing bridges in record time. It's astonishing to watch,” Karis said.
When asked about the significance of the bridges to the surrounding community, Karis explained: “From OSI’s perspective the significance is definitely the community benefit. We’re now designing projects to incorporate these opportunities especially in Orange County, close to West Point wherever we can. These bridges become focal points of our public access projects, bringing people closer to nature.”
Three key elements from the surrounding landscape inspired the design of the Schunnemunk Meadows cadet bridge: the historically important Moodna Viaduct, soaring nearly 200 feet over the meadow; Schunnemunk Mountain, looming in the near distance; and the nearby nationally recognized landscape sculpture park, Storm King Art Center.
The cantilevered structure of the bridge incorporates a unique, asymmetrical shape of an “A” for “Army” while simultaneously given the bridge a sense of motion, emulating the monumental sculptures at Storm King Art Center.
The collaboration between OSI and West Point has yielded six trail bridges across New York so far and has been mutually beneficial.
“The collaboration with OSI has been a rich source of material for the growth of our cadets, as designers as engineers, and as builders, and, perhaps most importantly, these real-world projects provide an exceptional opportunity to grow young men and women into future leaders for the Army and nation,” said Klosky.
Klosky also said it was nice to see that the bridge has been recognized beyond the people who were deeply involved in its construction.
“Everybody wants to have an impact beyond just themselves,” he said. “The cadets can walk away from this work and say, ‘I've had a 20- to maybe 50-year impact, maybe longer with a structure like this.’”
Klosky added, “I love the idea that not just the most able among us, but everyone will be able to access these wild spaces because these bridges exist.” R&B