Day Trip: Walk over water
By Vera Lawlor
The sun was sparkling on the stones as we parked our car on Haviland Road in Highland, N.Y. and headed for the entrance to the Walkway Over the Hudson.
We weren't alone. Parents ambled along the bridge's smooth surface pushing strollers, many with toddlers in tow. Cyclists and roller bladers politely called out as they maneuvered around pedestrians and panting dogs stopped to be petted by passers-by - frequently young admirers - who couldn't resist stroking their silky heads.
The Walkway Over the Hudson rises 212 feet above the river and is 1.28 miles long, making it the longest, elevated pedestrian bridge in the world. It stretches from Highlands in Ulster County, N.Y. to Poughkeepsie in Dutchess County, N.Y. With the Catskill Mountains to the north and the Hudson Highlands stretching away to the south, a walk across this bridge offers spectacular views.
Formerly the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge, the structure was built in the late 19th century to link New York and New England to an extensive, nationwide railway network. For decades it was a major rail corridor for both freight and passengers.
After a fire in 1974, the bridge was abandoned. It opened as part of the New York State Park system in October 2009, thanks to the commitment of the community, who, through a non-profit organization called Walkway Over the Hudson, forged a public-private partnership involving the State of New York, the federal government, neighboring municipalities, private corporations and other non-profit groups.
The result is a new state park accessible to everyone free of charge. The history of the bridge, as well as the story of how it was restored, is portrayed in photos that are posted along the walkway. At each station, visitors can access numbers on their cell phones to get more information about a specific topic.
Original estimates for annual visitors to the walkway were set at 250,000; that number has already been doubled.
"The recession has led to more people staying to within one tank of gas of where they live," said Steve Densmore, spokesman for the Walkway Over the Hudson organization. "The bridge is attracting a lot of visitors from the metropolitan area. We are also seeing a lot of motor coach tourists and a lot of people are coming up on the Metro North train because Poughkeepsie is the last stop." The Poughkeepsie train station is just four blocks north of the entrance to the walkway.
Standing in the center of the bridge during our recent visit, we could hear the whistle of the Metro North as it entered the station, while away in the distance on the Highland side, a cargo train snaked alongside the Hudson looking for all the world like a toy engine. Our attention was quickly drawn away from the trains, first to the motor boats that whizzed along underneath us and then overhead as a flock of swans flew up river.
At both entrances to the bridge, visitors can relax on park benches. While there are refreshment stands on both sides of the river, these are open at the discretion of the vendors. During our visit, food and drinks were being sold on the Highlands side but everything was closed down at the Poughkeepsie entrance. Dogs were lucky, however, as they had a special drinking station set up right at the entrance to the walkway.
Densmore said that the Walkway Over the Hudson organization continues to raise funds to add amenities and new elements to the park. "We are in the process of putting in benches, shade structures and additional restrooms - all of that should happen within the next year or so," Densmore said. "Also we are working to connect the rail trails that are under development on either side of the Walkway Over The Hudson. Once that's done, there will be almost 27 miles of continuous rail trails."
There's no shortage of nearby attractions for families still looking for adventure after making the round-trip trek over the Hudson River: On the Dutchess County side of the walkway, recreational boating on the Hudson is as close as the Hyde Park Marina on River Road in Poughkeepsie.
A short drive away are Val-Kill, the home of Eleanor Roosevelt, and Advertisementadvertisement Springwood, the home of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The houses are open for tours. For more information, visit www.nps.gov.
The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome located at 9 Norton Road in Rhinebeck is hosting a Model Airplane Weekend Sept. 11 and 12. For more information visit www.oldrhinebeck.org.
On the Ulster County side of the walkway, families are welcomed at the Wilklow Orchards at 341 Pancake Hollow Road in Highlands. The farm is open, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and visitors can pick apples and pumpkins. The farm also offers hay rides and children can visit with the farm animals. For a complete list of Ulster County orchards, go to www.nyapplecountry.com.
Vera Lawlor visits a nearby destination each month in The Parent Paper.
If you go The park is open from 7 a.m. to sunset year-round, weather permitting. The Highland entrance in Ulster County is located at 87 Haviland Road. Free parking is allowed on the north side of Haviland Road, with handicapped parking spaces available at the entrance to the bridge. The Poughkeepsie entrance in Dutchess County is located at 61 Parker Ave. This entrance has a parking lot with capacity for 80 cars, including handicapped spaces. Parking fee is $5. Additional parking can be found on nearby streets or in municipal parking lots. The park tends to be more crowded on weekends.
For more information about Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park and upcoming events go to www.nysparks.state.ny.us For more information about Walkway Over the Hudson non-profit organization go to www.walkway.org