Air Force Cadets celebrate the completion of Two Elk Trail bridge |

Air Force Cadets celebrate the completion of Two Elk Trail bridge

Cadets, all senior civil engineering majors, spent the year designing and building bridge as part of a unique course offering

Scott Fitzwilliams, forest supervisor of the White River National Forest, and Col. Joel Sloan, head of the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at the United States Air Force Academy, cut the ribbon to officially open the Two Elk Trail bridge Friday.
Carolyn Paletta/

After a year of planning, design and execution, the 11 Air Force cadets of the 2021 “Civil Engineering 376 – Forest Service Bridge Design” class were joined by friends and family on Friday morning to cut the ribbon on their completed bridge at Two Elk Trail.

The ceremony included speeches and the unveiling of two plaques, one commemorating the project and another that lists the names of every cadet who worked on the bridge. The cadets were able to lead their loved ones over and under the bridge, showing off each section that they worked on over the last three weeks.

Cadets pose on the completed Two Elk Trail bridge with members of the National Forest Service and the Air Force Academy who helped make the project a reality.
Carolyn Paletta/

Gregory Rosenmerkel, the engineering, minerals and fleet staff officer of the U.S. Forest Service and co-creator of the course, was beaming with pride as he unveiled the student’s work.

“This is the biggest, strongest pedestrian bridge on 2.3 million acres of public land,” Rosenmerkel said. “It is a big deal. I get jazzed up every time I talk about this project, and every time I spend time with you kids. You inspire me to want to do better as a leader, and to appreciate the part that we all play in serving the public.”

Cadets pose on their completed bridge, which is constructed of steel and timber and built to last for decades to come.
Carolyn Paletta/

Dr. Stan Rader, the professor who designed and currently teaches the course, also shared his congratulations.

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“You guys got to take a project from inception all the way to completion, and I’m sure there is a great sense of satisfaction,” Rader said. “That’s why we’re engineers, we like to build stuff that people can use, and this will be something that you can come back decades from now and say, ‘We did this.’”

Air Force cadet Benjamin Kuhn, 21, served as the flight commander for the bridge project. He thanked each person who helped support the project, and gave a special acknowledgment to Dr. Rader for all of the effort that it took to make this unique and challenging course offering happen.

“I don’t think that we really understand all of the hours that he’s put in working, and then the extra hours he’s put in stressing about this project,” Kuhn said. “Without him, this never would have gotten started.”

Cadets and their family members stroll across the completed bridge Friday.
Carolyn Paletta/

Col. Joel Sloan, the head of the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at the US Air Force Academy, also attended the ceremony.

“I think looking back, the one project that I actually designed from beginning to end was a latrine trailer at an air base in Saudi Arabia,” said Colonel Sloan, to a burst of laughter from the crowd. “This is so much more impressive and so much more awesome, and it involves all of the technical aspects of our civil engineering program.”

A commemorative plaque on the side of the bridge lists the names of each of the eleven Air Force Academy cadets that took part in its design and construction.
Carolyn Paletta/

The bridge is now open for use by pedestrians, horses and cyclists, and is built to stand for decades to come. Rosenmerkel and Rader look forward to continuing the course offering for future cadets, and plan to welcome the next team of bridge-builders in 2023.

“It’s not by chance, the locations we pick to do these projects,” Dr. Rader said to the cadets. “I want to get you guys out here in our gorgeous country. That is who you are serving, it’s the people of this country. We all, the Forest Service, the Air Force, we serve the people of the United States, that’s why we’re here. My hat is off to you guys, I salute you, you did a terrific job.”

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