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A Match Made in Schunnemunk State Park: The USMA and OSI

A Match Made in Schunnemunk State Park: The USMA and OSI

Schunnemunk Meadows cadet bridge.

By Open Space Institute (OSI)

The unlikely pairing of the US Military Academy (USMA) at West Point and one of the nation’s leading land conservation organizations, the Open Space Institute (OSI), is yielding real-world results for emerging military leaders and outdoor recreationalists. 

The most recent result of the ongoing collaboration is a new pedestrian trail bridge at Schunnemunk State Park in New York’s Hudson Valley.  For the past six years, West Point cadets have built bridges in collaboration with OSI to gain hands-on design and construction experience as part of year-long senior capstone projects as they pursue degrees in Civil Engineering and train for their military careers.

The projects, which were also supported by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) and the Palisades Interstate Park Commission (PIPC), require extensive coordination and planning. The cadets refine their construction concepts over the course of several months, according to J. Ledlie Klosky, Ph.D., P.E., Professor of Civil Engineering at USMA, who advised the 2023 cadet team alongside his colleagues, LTC Adrian Biggerstaff and Gary Jordan, Ph.D. 

“Once generated, the concepts for the bridge are shared with the stakeholder group,” said Professor Klosky. “The concept is broken down, pulled apart, and streamlined to produce the best possible result. After the winning concept is selected, the cadets dive into detailed engineering design to select appropriate materials and ensure the final product supports public safety and welfare requirements.”

With the USMA cadets providing design, engineering, and construction work, OSI supports the cadets by conducting site preparation, obtaining all necessary environmental clearances from state agencies, and funding the projects, with New York State Parks providing design oversight.

This year, the cadets designed and constructed the unique Schunnemunk Meadows Bridge—a 26-foot-long, partially-cantilevered bridge spanning Schunnemunk Meadows, a seasonally wet and muddy area of Schunnemunk State Park. 

The cantilevered structure of the bridge incorporates a unique, asymmetrical “A” for “Army” and emulates iconic, man-made, and natural structures nearby: the historically important Moodna Viaduct, soaring nearly 200 feet over the meadow; Schunnemunk Mountain, towering more than 1,660 feet in the near distance; and the nearby, nationally recognized landscape sculpture park, Storm King Art Center.

“There are not a lot of bridges with a cantilevered design. Our team wanted to make this bridge a landmark for the area. We were all excited to build something that hasn’t been done that much before,” said Cadet Tyler Gregory, a member of the bridge team.

The cadets chose weathering steel, a type of steel with a rusted patina that made the bridge more weather resistant and helped it blend into the natural setting. “It’s a stronger material and it reflects the feel of the historic Moodna viaduct,” said Cadet Alex Cummings.

After being carefully designed over one and a half semesters, construction on the bridge began in March 2023 and was completed in just four weeks.

Cadet Cummings was excited to tackle the challenge head-on. “It was months of late nights and double checking our extensive calculations. Being able to translate a digitally rendered structure from software and programs and go out into the field and construct the design with screws and bolts was so beneficial. I learned so much by getting hands-on with the materials. It was a special moment for us.” 

Peter Karis, OSI’s vice president of parks and stewardship, expressed his excitement for the project, saying, “This collaboration with West Point is mutually beneficial. OSI is not only supporting future military leaders, we’re also tapping into that talent and capacity to deliver what would normally be fairly expensive, difficult structures in locations that benefit entire communities of outdoor visitors.”

“The cadets put up these amazing bridges in record time. It’s astonishing to watch,” added Karis.

“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 Professor Klosky.

After seeing the cadets’ engineering work firsthand, John Bernauer, President of Industrial Services Enterprises, made the decision to donate $9,000 worth of steel for the project through OSI. “After seeing the cadet’s impressive engineering design and drawings, I was inspired to help OSI secure the needed material, assist in the fabrication of the raw steel, and deliver the material to the project site. The cadets then erected the bridge by hand and did a great job.”

OSI provided more than $15,000 for the Schunnemunk Meadows Bridge, with additional individuals and organizations providing private support. 

The Schunnemunk Meadows bridge project was also supported by a $15,000 grant from the Orange County Soil and Water Conservation District (OCSWCD).

In total, OSI has contributed more than $65,000 toward six cadet-constructed pedestrian trail bridge projects at New York State Parks over the past six years. As part of its mission of conserving land and making 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.

Schunnemunk Meadows cadet bridge.

Cadet Cummings was deeply impacted by the work. “Designing and building this bridge alongside my peers with the mentorship of our advisors has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my cadet career,” he said. “Our team was able to apply multiple aspects of our Civil Engineering education to solve a real-world problem and develop a landmark for the local community that complements the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape. I look forward to hiking the Schunnemunk Meadows Trail and visiting the bridge our team built in the coming years.”

Professor Klosky also acknowledged the public recreational benefits the bridge provides to the surrounding community, saying, “I love the idea that everyone, not just the most able among us, will be able to access these wild spaces because these bridges exist.” 

Cadet Gregory agreed, saying, “It’s been exciting to see what we’ve been able to accomplish as a team. I hope this project brings community members together and serves as a reflection of our team’s dedication to improving the landscape for everyone.”

The site of the Schunnemunk Meadows bridge was permanently protected by OSI in 2015. Over the past two decades, OSI has protected more than 3,300 acres to create and expand Schunnemunk State Park for public benefit and enjoyment. After decades of OSI’s work to create and expand Schunnemunk State Park, OSI is now partnering with OPRHP to build a new, gentle 2.4-mile Schunnemunk Meadows Trail that will connect to the park’s Otterkill Road Trailhead. The new bridge will support year-round, multi-use recreational access for the future Schunnemunk Meadows Trail. 

OSI’s Karis was excited not only for the immediate benefits the bridge will provide, but for the foundation the bridge provides for future projects. “This is an amazing relationship with real outcomes that the public can feel good about. Each project produces something special and unique, and each class of cadets is creating a long-lasting legacy that improves New York’s state parks for everyone.”

About the Open Space Institute

The Open Space Institute protects land for people, for wildlife, forever. A leader in environmental conservation, OSI has partnered in the protection of more than 2.3 million acres in the eastern US, from Maine to Florida. OSI’s land protection promotes clean air and water, combats climate change, improves access to recreation, strengthens communities, and provides for wildlife habitat. For more information about the Open Space Institute, please visit www.openspaceinstitute.org.