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Popolopen Brook Float Bridge Project: Integrating History, Community Service, And Engineering Education

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Project Based Education in CE

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.921.1 - 7.921.12



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Paper Authors

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Stephen Ressler

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Main Menu Session 2215

Popolopen Brook Float Bridge Project: Integrating History, Community Service, and Engineering Education

Ronald W. Welch Stephen J. Ressler United States Military Academy


This paper describes a one-semester design-build capstone project in which two senior civil engineering students designed a 230-foot pedestrian float bridge for the local state park commission and built one full-scale module of the bridge as a “proof of concept.” The project was a particularly effective learning experience, in that it involved complex technical issues in structural, hydraulic, and construction engineering, substantial real-world constraints associated with a historically significant site, and a strong community service component. The educational benefits of the project included grappling with real-world constraints, solving substantial technical problems, using the worldwide web for research, and coping with construction management difficulties such as limited funding, delayed shipments, and miscommunication. Most important, the students learned how to bring a project from concept through construction. Student assessment data demonstrate that such projects contribute much, not only to students’ learning, but to their motivation, thinking skills, and creativity as well.

I. Introduction

During the American Revolutionary War, the Continental Army built Forts Clinton and Montgomery to guard a strategically important point along the Hudson River near West Point, New York. The British were attempting to gain control of the Hudson Valley, as a means of splitting the American colonies in two. Therefore, Forts Clinton and Montgomery were two very important cornerstones in the defense of this region. Because the two mutually supporting forts were physically separated by Popolopen Brook (Figure 1), it is believed that the American garrison built a wooden pontoon bridge to allow soldiers and materiel to move easily between the two emplacements. Very little information about the physical characteristics of the bridge have survived, except an inferred location determined through an archeological study by Mr. John H. Mead in 1992 (1). (This location is annotated on Figure 1.)

Today Forts Clinton and Montgomery are being restored and opened to the public, in preparation for the 225th Anniversary of the American Revolution. As a result, there is once again a need for people to be able to move easily between the two historic forts. The Revolutionary War bridge is long gone and the nearby highway and railroad bridges are inappropriate for pedestrian traffic, so there is no easy way for tourists to cross Popolopen Brook at the fort locations. The Fort Montgomery Battle Site Association recognized the critical need for a suitable bridge between the two forts but had little money available to advance the project. Thus the association contacted the United States Military Academy (USMA) to request help with designing and possibly building a bridge as a student project. The project appeared to be within the capabilities of senior civil engineering students and represented a unique opportunity for a culminating

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Ressler, S. (2002, June), Popolopen Brook Float Bridge Project: Integrating History, Community Service, And Engineering Education Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10137

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