The next time you’re hiking on the North Central, North Eastern, or North Western state trails, take a closer look at the new trail gates.  There’s a chance they were made by welding students from Industrial Arts Institute in Onaway, Michigan.

IAI students have a reputation for doing good in the community.  Since the welding school opened in 2014, students have completed a variety of projects for area parks and open spaces.  It’s a win-win: welding and fabrication skills improve, and foot bridges, sculptures and landscaping fixtures are assembled for public enjoyment.

To Dave Stempky of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Parks & Recreation Division Cheboygan Field Office, working with IAI seemed like the right partnership. The trail gate project provided the DNR the manpower for the fabrication and a skillset for IAI students.  Stempky reached out to IAI in the spring of 2021 and was happy to hear that they were interested in partnering on the project. An educational agreement was formulated.

The trail gates will be installed in pairs at each location on the trail, leaving a 42” opening in the middle or center of trail for trail user passage.  The gates can be opened and closed depending on the season: they remain closed during the summer months to prevent use by motor vehicles, and open in the winter months for snowmobiles, hikers, skiers, etc.  The gate design allowed students to put their new welding skills to practical use.

“IAI set everything up so students could work on the project in the same way they would in a real-world situation,” said Jeff Brown, instructor at Industrial Arts Institute.  Students got a taste of what it was like to work on a deadline and meet employer and customer expectations.

One student acted as project manager while others put their skills to work reading, interpreting drawings and assembling the gates. Thin tubing required precision measuring and cutting. Pieces were welded together and ground to a smooth finish. Students completed 38 gates before their June 4 graduation.

IAI Executive Director Tamara Ward, saw that making these gates aligned with several of the school’s educational objectives.  “Our students get hired for their great welding skills,” Ward explained. “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 the trail gates help students understand all the ways they can deliver value as a future employee.

The DNR and Industrial Arts Institute plan to continue their partnership on the trail gates, with new classes of students set to benefit from the experience.  “IAI is grateful for the trust and confidence the DNR has placed in our students,” Ward said, “and we look forward to continuing this productive relationship.”

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