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West Point Instructor and Daughter Step in to Construct Fahnestock Bridge Designed by Cadet Students after COVID-19 Forces Change in Plans

COLD SPRING, NY (June 18, 2020)— A West Point engineering instructor and his college-aged daughter stepped in to construct a new trail bridge at Fahnestock State Park after the cadet students who designed it were forced to cut the on-campus school year short due to COVID-19.

For the third year in a row, the Open Space Institute (OSI) partnered with cadets from the United Stated Military Academy (USMA) at West Point and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) to replace a trail bridge on the School Mountain Road trail area of Fahnestock State Park in New York’s Hudson Valley.   

Design and construction of the bridges is one type of capstone project for civil engineering cadets at USMA; however, the construction phase for this year’s Fahnestock bridge project was put on hold due to COVID-19.

While the engineering students designed the bridge and prefabricated several of its pieces, they were unable to construct the bridge before being sent home in the spring. After the semester ended, the course instructor, Colonel Brad Wambeke, stepped in to finish the project with help from his daughter Emilie Wambeke.

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Colonel Brad Wambeke and Emilie Wambeke

Occasionally accompanied by other members of their family, Colonel Brad Wambeke and Emilie successfully constructed the 24-foot-long bridge, which can carry more than 15 tons. The duo spent 10-12-hours a day on construction and finished the project in a week and a half.

“The work started by the cadets, and finished by Colonel Wambeke, his daughter Emilie, and their family is a testament to the love and community support that keeps this park thriving,” said Kim Elliman, OSI’s president and CEO. “OSI has worked to protect and improve Fahnestock State Park for more than 20 years and we are proud to support the work of others who are providing the park with an infusion of energy and much-needed repairs.”

“State Parks is grateful to partner with OSI and the West Point Cadets on this project to improve Fahnestock State Park for future visitors,” said Taconic Regional Director for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Linda Cooper. “This wonderful story highlights how a range of partnerships with private organizations, volunteers, and community members ensure that our parks are the best that they can be.”

“While the cadets were unable to construct the bridge due to Covid-19, I was impressed by their design and am certain that they would have been more than capable to implement it. We kept the cadets (now 2nd Lieutenants in the US Army) updated after each day’s work, which is something I think they appreciated,” said Colonel Wambeke, Director of Civil Engineering at West Point. “However, this change in plans provided me with an opportunity to spend time with my daughter, which makes this bridge even more special to me. Now, during our family hikes at Fahnestock, we will walk over a bridge we helped build.”

Emilie, a rising college junior who is majoring in Interior Design, was more than happy to get outside and help her dad complete the project, “While it was unfortunate that the cadets were not able to see their project to completion, I felt fortunate to be able to spend that extra one-on-one time with my dad.”

“This new bridge is another beautiful reminder of how important partnerships and volunteerism are to the success of our state parks. I am especially impressed with Colonel Wambeke and his daughter Emilie who picked up where the West Point students left off, working more than a week to complete the project. The collaboration that resulted in this this trail bridge will be appreciated by park visitors for decades to come,” said Lucy Waletzky, chair of the Taconic Regional State Parks Commission and the New York State Council of Parks.

OSI provided more than $14,000 toward the project from its Waletzky State Parks Fund for bridge materials, while OPRHP obtained the appropriate permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and helped with site preparation and moving the large structural beams.

Fahnestock’s West Point bridges each have a distinct style which reflects the needs of the setting and the design preferences of each class. The bridge constructed last year was a raised flat bridge with a prominent “A” design incorporated into the railings. This year’s bridge was a multi-use arch suspension bridge, designed for equestrian use and to reduce streambank erosion.

These bridge replacements are part of the larger trail improvement project OSI is collaborating on with OPRHP affectionately called the Hubbard Perkins Loop Trail. Earlier this year, OSI announced and began a series of projects at Fahnestock to improve and upgrade the trails between Hubbard Lodge and East Mountain Road, as well as improve safety and access to OSI-protected lands in the northern section of Fahnestock State Park, help transform State Route 301 into a true park drive, provide enhanced wayfinding signs for navigation, and better accommodate new and existing users to the park. The Hubbard-Perkins Trail project is also being supported by the Taconic Regional Parks Commission and Friends of Fahnestock-Hudson Highlands State Parks.

Since the 1990s, working in partnership with the State of New York, OSI has doubled the size of Fahnestock State Park, bringing the park to more than 14,000 acres of protected woodlands, valleys, and plateaus. In 2016, OSI raised more than $1.2 million to renovate the Canopus Beach/Winter Park Complex at Fahnestock and improve trails and trailheads. OSI is continuing its commitment to this beloved landscape by carrying out critically needed repairs and access improvements so that future generations can continue to enjoy the park.

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