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Bridging the gap

Posted 9 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021

ROTC students from UW-La Crosse, Viterbo University and Winona State University joined forced with La Crosse's Outdoor Recreation Alliance to replace a bridge on a hiking trail in Hixon Forest. “It’s cool to look back,” UWL junior Isaiah Voiland says, “and know that you’ve made a difference.”

Local ROTC students give back through Hixon bridge project

ROTC students from UW-La Crosse, Viterbo University and Winona State University are building bridges in the community, literally and figuratively.

The Eagle Battalion, with students from the three universities, trekked into Hixon Forest Tuesday, Oct. 12, to replace an old bridge on the Oak Trail, part of the Lower Hixon Trail System in the city of La Crosse.

The project was a collaborative effort between the La Crosse Outdoor Recreation Alliance (ORA) and juniors studying under UWL Assistant Professor of Military Science Will Lueck.

“It’s good for us because we have a bunch of able-bodied young people to replace these bridges that are old and breaking down,” says Scott Cooper, secretary of the ORA and a professor of biology at UWL. “And it’s good for the students because, after an hour or so of work, they can look at the finished bridge and know they’ve accomplished something.”

The students, about a dozen of them, met at the second landing at Bliss Road.

After receiving instructions from Cooper, they loaded up power tools, hand tools and several hundred pounds of lumber, and marched one by one down the winding trail.

It was no easy journey — three-quarters of a mile across hilly terrain, the weight of their supplies growing heavier and heavier.

“I’m not joking,” Cooper says, “when I say that I save our hardest projects for these students.”

Finally, they came to the old bridge, which covers a shallow ravine that cuts through the forest.

The first order of business was tearing down the old structure — a good opportunity to let out some frustrations, the students joked.

Once the old boards were out of the way, the students began placing the new ones, being careful to keep them level.

There was a wide range of construction experience and expertise.

Isabella Rosa, an outdoor recreation management major from UWL, had done a little demo work in the past.

Naomi McClenahan, a biology major from UWL, had helped her parents remodel their house — “and they’re always remodeling their house,” she says.

And Isaiah Voiland, a computer science major from UWL, had helped build a house through the ROTC last year.

Constructing a new bridge for the trail, they explained, was meaningful from a teamwork standpoint. It was also meaningful from a community service perspective, since ROTC students frequently use the Hixon Trail System — including during the Northern Warfare Challenge, an annual skill and endurance challenge involving ROTC programs from across the country.

UWL ROTC student Isabella Rosa (right) drills a board into place Tuesday, Oct. 12, during a bridge-building project in Hixon Forest.

“Being in ROTC, we wanted to do something hands-on that would help the community,” says Rosa, who hopes to have a career in outdoor recreation management, serving marginalized communities specifically. “This is a nice way to give back.”

After screwing in the final boards, the students tested their handiwork by squeezing together for a group photo.

They also saw the first of many hikers cross the bridge — a man passing through with his dog.

“Well,” Cooper declared, “now we know that it works.”

On their way out of the forest, the group walked over not only their bridge, but also a bridge a different group of ROTC students had built a few years ago.

An hour of hard work, they learned, can last for many years and countless sets of footsteps.

“It’s cool to look back,” Voiland says, “and know that you’ve made a difference.”

Students took a minute to appreciate their handiwork after building a bridge on a hiking trail in Hixon Forest.


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