Bridging the gap; Marines connect with community through construction project

27 Feb 2013 | Staff Sgt. Clinton Firstbrook 9th Marine Corps District

The flood waters receded months ago, but damage to the Superior Hiking Trail can still be seen.

Several footpaths and roads along the 296-mile trail remain in disrepair, yet one bridge stands out like a shiny new toy among the frozen debris thanks to a few Marines.

"It was an opportunity to help out the community," explained Staff Sgt. Derek Cessor-Culver, 33, from Cuero, Texas. "You can do anything with a good attitude and cooperation."

Cessor-Culver was one of nine Marines who spent two days in northern Minnesota helping rebuild the Encampment River Bridge from scratch.

"We didn't know how we'd be able to get it back in place," said Gayle Coyer, Superior Hiking Trail Association executive director. "When we replaced it in 2011 we thought it'd never wash out again."

Like engineers of ancient times, the only materials at their disposal to reconstruct the 54-foot wooden structure were might and muscle.

"I thought there's no way we were going to be able to get it done," said Cessor-Culver, Marine Wing Support Squadron 471 supply chief. "I plan on taking my family there in the summer to show them what daddy did."

Surprisingly, not one person suffered an injury when putting the thousand-pound bridge in place to include a splinter.

"All of us ended up in the water at one point, but it wasn't that bad," said Sgt. Casandra Sheehan, 27, from Linden, N.J. "I was the shortest one there and the water only came up to my knees when we walked out to set it up."

For more information on the Superior Hiking Trail, which runs from Duluth, Minn., to the Canadian border, visit

"They made a considerable impact in that area and helped our community overcome a significant event that caused a lot of hardship," said MWSS-471 1st Sgt. Michael Ryan, a 40-year-old Duluth, Minn., native. "Their efforts are going to allow people from all across the Midwest to enjoy what northern Minnesota has to offer for years to come."

MWSS-471 Volunteers: 
Staff Sgt. Derek Cessor-Culver
Staff Sgt. Christopher Smith
Staff Sgt. James MacNevin
Staff Sgt. Luis Baide-Castillo
Staff Sgt. William Bice
Sgt. Casandra Sheehan
Sgt. Anthony Mazza
Sgt. Billy Dement
Cpl. Kyle Roach

9th Marine Corps District