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A Natural Connection: Industrial Arts Institute students collaborate with DNR to build new state park footbridge

Campers and visitors at Harrisville State Park in Alcona County will soon be able to explore the 107-acre park along the shore of Lake Huron more easily, thanks to a group of welding students from Industrial Arts Institute in Onaway.

Students recently helped build a pathway that will connect the day-use area and the campground. The footbridge, expected to be installed this summer, will improve accessibility for visitors as well as give park staff a more efficient way of getting around the property off U.S. Route 23 in Harrisville.

The institute collaborates with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to give real-world experience to welders. This helps the institute fulfill its mission to grow good employees and good citizens – by creating these experience-based projects, these students see their positive impact as they are integral to building out their community.

“On behalf of the Harrisville State Park, we were extremely excited to be able to work with the Industrial Arts Institute to help make this project a learning experience for the students,” said Eric Ostrander, park supervisor for Harrisville and Negwegon state parks on the east side of the state’s Lower Peninsula. “This will be a great story to tell for years to come once our users see the beautiful creation they were able to make.”

Tamara Ward, executive director of the Industrial Arts Institute, said this project – the second such project for the DNR Parks and Recreation Division – aligned with several of the school’s educational objectives.  

“Our students get hired for their great welding skills,” Ward said. “But they have great careers because we help them build a solid work ethic, a focus on quality workmanship, and a sense of civic responsibility.” 

Projects like constructing the footbridge help students understand all the ways they can deliver value as a future employee.

“We feel that supporting an organization like the IAI is beneficial because the skilled trades are very important to us as we need those kinds of people to help keep up and maintain our parks,” Ostrander said.

This partnership helps the DNR bring projects to life that may not get done otherwise, added Gaylord District Supervisor Richard Hill.

“With our backlog of infrastructure needs, these projects are sometimes a struggle to get to because they’re larger in scale than what we can tackle at a district level,” said Hill, who shared the DNR’s gratitude for this creative partnership when he spoke to students during their recent graduation ceremony. 

An ongoing partnership

The DNR and Industrial Arts Institute previously collaborated on a project that involved constructing trail gates. Future projects under consideration include fireplaces, fee pipes, welcome signs and interpretive panels. Through these efforts, the students and the DNR aim to create positive experiences for visitors to public lands.

“Students have been a part of creating DNR projects such as the gates for the state trails and footbridges for state parks since early 2021,” Ward said. “This partnership has allowed IAI to train our welders and fabricators with real-world projects and provides an opportunity for our students to use their skills to bring value to the communities they live and play in.”

The institute also collaborates with the DNR on corporate upskilling, providing training for DNR staff seeking continuing education.

Note to editors: Accompanying photos are available below for download. Caption information follows. Credit: Industrial Arts Institute.

  • Making connections: Industrial Arts Institute students put their stellar welding skills to work while creating a footbridge for Harrisville State Park. 
  • Real-world experience: Industrial Arts Institute student welders and fabricators work on the footbridge that is expected to be installed this summer.
  • Creating for communities: Industrial Arts Institute student welders and fabricators are helping the DNR by completing much-needed projects that positively impact communities.