Historic N.Y. Railroad Bridge Reopens as Trail
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Oct. 15, 2009
Against all odds, a group of people—thanks to money from a foundation and the state of New York—managed to fulfill their dream of reviving a long-abandoned railroad bridge 200 feet above the Hudson River.
"I went up on the bridge 16 years ago and fell in love with the view, and thought, 'Everyone should see this,'" says Fred Schaffer, chairman of Walkway Over the Hudson, a not-for-profit that formed in 1992 to revive the Poughkeepsie-Highland Bridge. "It takes your breath away when you first walk out. You can't describe it; it's beautiful. I think it's going to be the Eiffel Tower of North America. Everybody loves it."
Last month, tens of thousands of people celebrated the opening of the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge, now a 1.28-mile walking trail and New York's newest state park, known as Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park.
"The public stormed onto the bridge, streamed on in huge numbers. It was amazing," says Stephen Densmore, spokesman for the Dyson Foundation, which contributed $2 million to Schaffer's group. The state of New York gave $18 million toward the $38.2 million rail-to-trail project.
The steel bridge opened in 1888 and closed after a fire in May 1974. Waterway Over the Hudson assumed ownership of the bridge in 1998. The project inched along until Schaeffer approached the Dyson Foundation, based in Millsville, N.Y., and was awarded a $2 million grant for a structural analysis of the bridge, thereby clearing the path for the 16-month construction project that began in May 2008.
"The key turning point was when the Dyson Foundation came in and agreed to pay for the inspection … it was concluded that the bridge was in excellent condition," says Amy Husten, executive director of Walkway Over the Hudson.
The 16-month construction project began in May 2008, and last month's opening ceremony featured fireworks, a parade, a ribbon-cutting by Gov. David Paterson, and a Pete Seeger concert. Since it opened on Oct. 3, the new state park has had almost 60,000 visitors.
"I was so happy to see everyone up there enjoying it," Schaeffer says. "Now everyone knows why I was so passionate about it."
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