The Fairfax County Park Authority recently received unexpected help from 17-year-old, McLean High School junior Peter Tobiassen. Along with the help of his fellow Eagle Scouts and a number of family friends, Tobiassen replaced an unsteady 16-foot footbridge on Bryan Branch trail, near Pimmit Run.
“I have always been interested in building things,” said Tobiassen. According to Ed Busenlehner, Fairfax County Park Authority Park specialist for Area 1, Tobiassen’s work has received countless compliments from the residents. “Anywhere between 20 and 40 people use the footbridge daily,” said Busenlehner, “for exercise or for walking their dogs.”
Rob Tobiassen, Peter’s father, has followed his son from Cub Scout to Eagle Scout. For the last year and a half he has been a troop advisor, helping the Scouts in Peter’s troop come up with, and complete, their projects. “Peter indicated that he wanted to do an engineering project,” he said, “so we contacted the people at Fairfax Trail and Streams Association.” Fairfax Trail and Streams (FTAS) is an organization that is a trail and environmental advocacy group, dedicated to connecting a network of trails in Fairfax County (fairfaxtrails.org).
Busenlehner said that Scouts often come to the Park Authority with either a suggestion or a request for a project. Peter Tobiassen came to him with a suggestion of replacing the bridge on Bryan Branch trail. “I talked to the Pimmit Run trail people,” said Peter Tobiassen, “and they mentioned that the bridge was falling apart.” He then, with the help of other scouts, set out to gather the materials and the permits needed to complete the project. Smoot Lumber Company donated a significant amount of wood for the bridge. “We try to help as much as we can,” said Terry Shutz, the sales manager at Smoot Lumber. The company makes many donations to schools and scout organizations for local projects. The Potomac Greenways Coalition contributed to the donation of wood as well, while the Park Authority provided the cement and gravel. “He did all the work himself,” said Busenlehner, “I just signed off on it.”
Peter Tobiassen said that the project, from planning to the end of the construction, took about a year. It took the boys one day to cut the wood at a friend’s house and a weekend to construct the bridge. The most valuable things he learned from the experience were leadership and planning. “The toughest part was organizing the people,” said Peter Tobiassen, “and how to go about executing a complicated plan.”
The bridge that was replaced was 16 feet in length, 2 feet in width, and had no side rails. It was deteriorating and was deemed unsafe by the Park Authority. The new bridge is 20 feet in length, 4 feet in width, and has side rails.
“He did a really nice job on it,” said Busenlehner, “it is a true benefit to the Park Authority.”
Peter Tobiassen does not have any personal projects planned in the near future, but he is looking forward to helping his fellow Scouts on their projects. Eagle Scouts requires that its members complete a community project, and the deadline for that is approaching.