Maroon Bells Scenic Loop Trail bridge construction enters final phase |

Maroon Bells Scenic Loop Trail bridge construction enters final phase

Staff report
Cadets muster the strength along with Forest Service staff to position a large “stringer” or plank of wood that will be used in the bridge construction.
White River National Forest/Courtesy photo |

Air Force Academy cadets and U.S. Forest Service personnel began work July 18 to install a new footbridge on the Maroon Bells Scenic Loop Trail No. 2197. This is the final phase of a unique partnership project that began almost a year ago.

While the Forest Service paid for materials and staff time, sourcing this work out to a contractor could have been as many as 10 times more, according to a Forest Service statement released Monday.

No mechanized equipment was used for the installation of the bridge, which meets the intent of the Wilderness Act. Materials were selected for the bridge construction to blend in with the environment and retain a natural quality. All materials were staged for construction last week.

This week, the cadets and Forest Service staff are focusing on bridge installation. The existing bridge will be disassembled and hauled out once the new bridge is fully constructed. The White River National Forest and Air Force Academy are looking to continue this partnership every two years to coincide with the Academy’s class schedules and the Forest Service’s planning and budget.

Greg Rosenmerkel, engineering and minerals staff officer for the White River National Forest, retired Air Force civil engineer and Air Force Academy Class of 1988 alumnus, served as the catalyst for the partnership idea. The partnership has been a huge success and gives cadets a chance to put their engineering skills to work in a beautiful setting on the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, according to the statement.

“We’ve got several great engineering schools in Colorado and a project like this, one which can be designed and built by students, would be a great learning experience for any of them,” Rosenmerkel said. “It’s especially suited for these future Air Force civil engineers who will be designing and building facilities in deployed environments, and this bridge is a great training platform on a smaller scale. This site is a long way from the lumber yard. It is located in a designated wilderness area, which adds a great training dimension because it forces them to think about factors like material availability, visual suitability, access and availability of transportation, much like what they will encounter in other countries and cultures.”

The class is guided by civil engineering professor Stan Rader, White River National Forest engineers and the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District recreation program manager Martha Moran. Cadets will receive credits for their efforts through Civil Engineering 499 — Forest Service bridge-design class, a full-year course worth three credits.

“This was a win-win partnership for the Air Force Academy and the Forest Service. We were able to help the Forest Service by designing and constructing a bridge that was in need of replacement,” Rader said. “It was also a phenomenal opportunity for cadets to take a project from initial concept and design right through to implementation. This was quite unique and unprecedented for us, and something we hope to continue in the future.”

Trail No. 2197 will be closed for construction until Aug. 6 to alleviate safety concerns while construction is in progress.