November 20, 2000

Engineers Build Two Foot Bridges

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For the past two months, Cornell engineering students have proven they can build more than just bridges.

The expected completion of two pedestrian truss bridges will not only connect two previously inaccessible portions of the Cayuta Gulf region but will signify the on-going cooperation between Cornell students and the Ithaca community.

The Cayuta Gulf is a gorge on the southwestern boundary of the 12,000-acre Connecticut Hill State Wildlife Management Area in Schuyler County, explained Kurt Seitz, trails chairperson of the Cayuga Trails Club.

During the spring, a new section of the trail — completed last spring with the help of Cornell Outdoor Education students — floods, making the streams “impossible to ford during times of high water” thus blocking hiker access to “some of the most beautiful parts” of Connecticut Hill, according to Seitz.

Up to 20 volunteers from the Cornell chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers and Cayuga Trails Club have been meeting at 9 a.m. every Saturday morning this semester, loading up trucks with tools and materials, said Courtney Kemball ’01, ASCE community service co-chair.

After the 1.5-mile hike to the site, the builders separate into two groups to work on each of the bridges, pouring concrete for the foundation or assembling abutments until 4 p.m., Kemball explained.

The Cayuta Gulf bridges were designed by Dan Mullins grad, and Mike Tavolaro grad, who began the project last spring as seniors in the College of Engineering.

“We are working frantically to finish the bridges by the end of the semester,” Mullins said.

Both Mullins and Tavolaro were members of ASCE last October when the Cayuga Trails Club — a local hiking and trails maintenance group — asked ASCE to help design and construct two bridges over rapid streams in the Cayuga Gulf region on the Finger Lakes Trail, explained Mullins who was ASCE community service co-chair last year.

Mullins and Tavolaro spent three days last spring planning and designing the bridges. They made several trips to the site, profiling and surveying the ground conditions, explained Mullins.

“At first, we thought of using telephone poles to create a deck to walk across the streams,” Tavolaro said, but after noting the steepness of the banks, Tavolaro and Mullins both agreed that truss bridges — structures held up by a series of triangles — would better endure the rapid Cayuta Gulf streams.

The bridge will make the new three-mile loop of the Finger Lakes Trail accessible to hikers year-round instead of just during the summer and fall, Seitz said.

Much of the work in preparation for the actual assembly of the bridges took place during weekday work sessions in the machine shops in Hollister Hall, explained Mullins. ASCE members drove holes in eight foot planks, assembled steel plates on the side of the boards and put bolts through the wood.

The bridge project was a first time experience for many students who have had very little experience designing bridges, explained Dave Saunders ’01, ASCE community service co-chair.

“Everyone was on the same page,” said Kemball, a civil engineer. “Even I was learning something new and different in my field from working with my structural engineering peers.”

Saunders said participating in the Cayuta Gulf Bridge project helped him visualize abstract ideas from the classroom in life-size perspectives. “It is so interesting to take those theoretical concepts and make them into reality,” Saunders said.

Mullins said that ASCE has grown stronger because of all the people who have recently joined the chapter.

“Most freshman don’t get to use the lab in Hollister,” said Susan Peck ’04 who helped build the bridges. “I was introduced to things most engineers don’t get to see until they are juniors or seniors.”

The bridges are being built out of black locust, a lumber that is naturally rot-resistant and so dense that it doesn’t require pressure treating — making it safer and more practical to preserve the natural environment, Tavolaro said.

Dave Gell, owner of The Black Locust Initiative, Inc., provided the lumber cut from Cornell’s Arnot Forest, Seitz explained.

Archived article by Janet Liao