A Catskill Catalog: Dec. 2, 2009

A walk over the Hudson River makes a great Catskill Mountain day trip.
New York’s newest state park is Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, about an hour and a quarter away. Opened October 5th, Walkway Over the Hudson is a one-and-a-quarter mile long pedestrian bridge spanning the mighty Hudson River between Highland and Poughkeepsie. It’s the longest pedestrian bridge in the world, and it’s right in our front yard.
Longest bridges in the world seem to proliferate in our region. Up Route 30, in our back yard, Schoharie County’s Blenheim Covered Bridge is the longest single-span covered bridge in the world. We’re surrounded!
Last week, after a bit of Black Friday, I crossed the river on the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, heading down Route 9 along the Hudson’s east bank. Eighteen miles south, our newest state park soars overhead as one passes Marist College on the four-lane highway. No one’s gotten around to putting up signs yet, but the bridge is a prominently visible target, so eyeball navigation got me there.
Turns out the entrance to the park is on Poughkeepsie’s Parker Avenue, the city portion of state Route 9G, a road that connects directly with the Kingston Bridge. Should’ve taken that. On the west side of the river, our side, Walkway Over the Hudson can be reached by traveling south on Route 9W, passing the Highland Hamlet Business Center, to take a left-hand turn onto Haviland Road. Follow signs indicating Johnson-Iorio Memorial Park, a local waterside picnic ground.
There’s a well-lit, smoothly blacktopped parking area at either end, locked rest rooms and available port-a-potties, kiosks explaining the bridge’s history and the river’s story. Pennants flap in the river breeze as one enters the walkway through impressive brushed steel gates.
Walkway Over the Hudson started as an idea in the heads of ordinary citizens. The Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge had been abandoned by Conrail in the early 1980s. It soared over the river, unused, slowly deteriorating, a relic. Why not adapt the bridge to a new use: a promenade for walkers and runners, a hiking trail high above the Hudson?
After all, the railbed leading to the bridge on both sides had already been partially transformed into rail-trails. The Hudson Valley Rail Trail winds through Highland toward New Paltz. The Duchess Rail Trail is a 12-mile linear park stretching from the bridge east to Hopewell Junction.
So, a group of outdoor enthusiasts organized Walkway Over the Hudson, a 501(c 3) not-for-profit corporation in 1992. Their express purpose was to raise the money and the political will to facilitate the adaptive reuse of the abandoned railroad bridge as a walkway. Seventeen years later, the state historic park opened to the public.
In a different age, activist citizens conceived the building of a rail crossing at Poughkeepsie, an idea first broached in an 1868 newspaper article in the Poughkeepsie Journal, a paper that still, today, publishes daily. It took 20 years for the construction to move from idea to railroad crossing, the first trains moving across the river in December 1888.
The bridge was a civil engineering marvel in its day. When built, it was the longest bridge in the world. It combined traditional truss bridge construction – basic erector-set combinations of straight steel elements – with newer cantilevered span construction. Its cantilevers project outward, across open water, supported on piers only at one end.
That Blenheim Bridge, built in 1855, is also of truss construction: three wooden trusses bolted together to span 228 feet from one bank of the Schoharie Creek to the other. Thirty-three years later, steel, the cantilever and truss design, and improved engineering technologies allowed for a Hudson River crossing 30 times that length. Modern marvels!
Today, a visitor to the state historic park enters the bridge well back of the river’s edge. The promenade is a 24-foot-wide concrete walkway bordered by heavy, polished steel safety railings. From that eastern entrance, the walkway is level with the crest of the hill that rises steeply from the riverbank. For a couple hundred yards, one walks over several blocks of the City of Poughkeepsie. The city below slopes steeply downhill to the river’s edge, its streets, houses, commercial buildings, and abandoned industrial sites interesting visual markings.
At the river, you are 212 feet above the water, give or take the three-foot difference in the Hudson’s depth between high and low tides. If heights bother you, skip this day-trip (there’s a heck of a mall a few miles down Route 9) or challenge yourself to face fear for a mile-and-a- quarter. I don’t think of myself as height fearing, but found myself walking over and back pretty much along the centerline. Looking over the railings at the river below was a popular activity for other walkers.
And there were plenty of other walkers. At least 50 were in my line of sight at 9:30 in the morning. The scene was full of joggers and dog walkers (leash required), cooing couples, multi-generational families, children and older folks.
The park is fully accessible, compliant with all facets of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It’s open from 7 a.m. to sunset.