Student Project Series: Hubbard Park Trail Bridge

Slogging through the mud, hauling two freshly constructed 500-pound wooden foot bridges up a forest trail is not the usual activity you find listed in a Vermont Tech course syllabus.  But that was exactly the task facing this year’s Landscape Construction and Management class as they built and installed a trail bridge to provide hikers with safe access to Montpelier’s Hubbard Park."Corduroy" Bridge, Hubbard Park (Before)

The idea for the project came from landowners Bill and Jean Jolley who had struggled to maintain hiking access to the Park in the months and years following tropical storm Irene. Downed trees had completely blocked the trail and so with chain saw in hand the space was cleared and a path of downed logs, affectionately known as ‘corduroy’, was laid out.  It functioned as a stream crossing but only barely and so Bill and Jean proposed the project to class instructor Mark Billian.

“I felt so lucky to be able to draw on the support of not only Jean and Bill but also on the expertise of former state county forester Raymond Toolan, also a Park neighbor” said Billian. “Ray, Bill, Jean and I considered several trail bridge designs and a plan for construction was drafted and presented to the Landscape Construction class.” 

With the Jolley’s generous contribution of materials and land, and Toolan’s technical help and provision of a work site, construction was scheduled for late October and the supplies ordered.

David Howes, a member of the Landscape Construction class reflected on the fact that the project was “a great chance to build with wood, a material I don’t generally work with.  It was great to see how it can be used in the landscape as something other than a pergola!”

Project day finally arrived and with it an icy rain.  A pop-up tent held the weather at bay and the class crowded under to construct the twin bridges.

Building on an assignment introduced years earlier by Landscape Design and Sustainable Horticulture professor Pamelia Smith, Billian had previously introduced the class to “Failure (or Success) by Design,” a weekly ‘show and tell’ examining real-life examples of landscape construction that has either succeeded or failed by virtue of its design and execution.

“Maintenance of the new structures was foremost on our minds as a result of Failure (or Success) by Design” said Billian. “It’s an area that seems the most neglected and contributes to more design failures that any other factor.”

“Don’t design something that requires a lot of maintenance if no one will do it,” added class member Chester Farrington. “It’s a big problem and it stems more from poor design and planning than anything else.”

Beneath the sheltering canopy, members of the class alternated construction of the wooden bridges. Rot-resistant decking was attached to twin 4x4 beams and arced side plates were screwed in place to strengthen the assembly and keep walkers from slipping off the path. Two hardy members of the team then hauled concrete pavers and stone up the trail to lay the foundation for the structure. 

With that groundwork set in place, the class hand-carried each bridge to the project site and installed them on blocks rising above the mud and muck. 

And it didn’t take long for the improvements to be noticed!

“After years of stumbling through mud or balancing precariously on rough-hewn logs across our path, we dog walkers were thrilled to find Vermont Tech’s wonderful bridge on our morning walk to Hubbard Park” said Montpelier resident and frequent trail user, Susan Ritz.  “It not only makes our walk safer, it also keeps the path from eroding. A winning idea and design!”

The Jolley’s were also thrilled with what Vermont Tech’s Landscape Construction class was able to accomplish in just a few hours.

“Bill and I appreciate the foot bridge you and your students designed and constructed for the path going across our land to Hubbard Park. It is very sturdy and looks good with the terrain” wrote Jean Jolley. “The path had been damaged by Hurricane Irene in 2011.  Neighbors brought chainsaws then and helped clear fallen trees but the damage caused by the heavy rains remained. The bridge has improved the footpath and made it safer and more enjoyable to use.”

Reflecting back on the work, class member Jack Beauparlant had these thoughts on the bridge building project.

“Constructing the bridge at Hubbard Park was educational, fun, and rewarding. As landscapers, we often think of our type of construction as being done with soil, stone and plants, however wood can be just as great of a material. This bridge was a perfect example of that. With Mr. Billian's background in construction, we were able to both learn the proper techniques of building a structure with wood and construct something that will be enjoyed by so many people. Learning something new and helping people out is extremely rewarding in my opinion and Mr. Billian helped us do both.”

It’s safe to say that Landscape Construction had a productive semester. A concrete paver patio for Green Hall in September, a flag-stone terrace at Robert Clarke Hall a month later and now a pedestrian bridge for the residents of Montpelier.  As Will Whatley, the fourth member of the intrepid team observed, “The Hubbard Park project was another example of quality landscape construction by Vermont Tech’s Landscape Design and Sustainable Horticulture program.”

We couldn’t agree more!