Tracing history back to the earliest civilizations, people always found ways of traveling from one point to another. Whether it was by walking, traveling by horseback, or via a car, boat, train, or plane, people have always been on the move.
In the same way that former lighthouses have been re-envisioned (such as the Saugerties Lighthouse, which was built in the 1830s and now serves as an area attraction complete with a bed and breakfast experience), some bridges have evolved and been updated to cater to the needs of today’s people and communities.
Each year, many people flock to Poughkeepsie’s Walkway Over the Hudson to take in the sights as they retrace history while walking, cycling, or running across this area attraction, which has a rich history.
“The Walkway Over the Hudson has become a key attraction, bringing people from all over the world to the Hudson Valley. Not only do they get breathtaking views, but they also get to experience the shops, restaurants, and neighborhoods on both sides of the Walkway,” says Maria DiSalvo, marketing and communications manager, The Walkway Over the Hudson.
A bridge is born
The bridge’s history dates back to 1889 when the Poughkeepsie Highland railroad bridge was initially erected to transport raw materials to industrial centers. At the time of its opening, it was the longest bridge in the world.
Beyond offering freight train service, the bridge operated passenger trains that connected Boston, New York, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington. Trolley cars, which were referred to as “rapid transit,” were modified to run on both the trolley and railroad tracks. These whisked tourists, students, and shoppers from New Paltz to the now defunct Luckey Platt & Company Department store in Poughkeepsie.
Between 1921 and 1930, special West Point Football trains were used to service the community of fans who went to witness the games. Other types of trains were also in use – from circus trains to milk trains and trains that were used to transport hogs and cattle. At its peak, as many as 3,500 rail cars crossed the bridge daily.
Other highlights from the railroad’s history occurred during World War II when the bridge went dark. It was painted black, so that it would be less visible and vulnerable to attack.
Finally, in 1974, a fire destroyed the tracks. Historians believe that the fire was probably started by a spark from a train’s brakes. This milestone marked a shift in the railroad’s history and transformation.
A new chapter
In 1993, Fred Schaeffer – a lawyer in the Poughkeepsie area visited the bridge. He had a mission to preserve the site and soon began fundraising efforts. From 2004 to 2010, Schaeffer served as Chairman of a new organization called Walkway Over the Hudson.
Thanks to his hard work and vision, and the efforts of the Dyson Foundation – which strives to improve people’s lives through grant funding – and countless other donors in New York State, the site was revitalized and re-envisioned. In October 2009, the area was rebuilt and re-opened as Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park. It welcomes more than 600,000 visitors annually from all over the globe.
Soaring 212 feet above the Hudson River, this 1.28-mile linear park boasts sweeping scenic views looking north to the Catskills and south to the Hudson Highlands. The Walkway spans the river between the town of Lloyd in Ulster County and Poughkeepsie in Dutchess County. It is regarded as the “World’s Longest Elevated Pedestrian Bridge.”
360° of Discovery
Known as “The Great Connector,” the Walkway Over the Hudson is now renowned for “connecting people, places, and generations.” It offers visitors a “walkway experience,” which delivers “360° of Discovery.” From the walkway, spectators are invited to take in stunning vistas of the Hudson River. The experience is ideal at this time of year when the trees are in bloom and temperatures are mild.
The Walkway and surrounding areas are easy to navigate via an interactive map, which helps visitors explore the Greater Walkway Experience Discovery Zones and other regional attractions on either side of the Walkway. Nine “Discovery Zones” beg for exploration by foot or bike.
The term “Discovery Zones” relates to a project that called for Poughkeepsie and Highland to be divided up into sections. Each was referred to as a “Discovery Zone” and assigned a color in the Greater Walkway Experience. Helpful signage guides visitors as they traverse the region by foot or bike.
Both urban and rural, the Zones offer curated choices on both sides of the river. Each Zone is ideal for a short visit. The Zones span a variety of interesting options – from wild parks to waterfronts, historic urban districts, and a small hamlet.
The Walkway is part of the Hudson Valley Rail Trail Network, which offers a picturesque and family-friendly adventure. The Hudson Valley Rail Trail stretches 7.1 miles through hardwood forests, over Black Creek, and under two spectacular stone-arch bridges.
Connecting the towns of New Paltz, Lloyd, and Highland, the rail-trail follows the former right-of-way of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. Two trailside cabooses, one dating back to 1915 and the other to 1926, offer glimpses into the corridor’s railroading past.
In 2016, the Walkway was inducted into the Rails-to-Trails Conservatory’s Rail Trail Hall of Fame. A wide, flat, and smooth concrete ground surface makes the area accessible to all. The Walkway boasts a 21-story, ADA handicapped-accessible glass-enclosed elevator, which connects the waterfront and Poughkeepsie Train Station to the Walkway. To assist seniors, veterans, people with mobility challenges, and those with a fear of heights, the Friends of the Walkway’s all-electric 11-passenger, wheelchair accessible tram is in service during select hours.
For adventurers, a Hudson Valley Bike Share program is offered via the Dutchess Welcome Center in Poughkeepsie. Renting a bike is simple via the MOVATIC App. Due to sanitary reasons, bike helmets cannot be rented. Please bring your own helmet.
A mobile web tour is also available to visitors. Signage and information on historic photos are written in English, Spanish, Italian, and Mandarin Chinese. Group tours are also available by reservation. Indoor restrooms are located inside the Welcome Centers on both approaches. Pets are welcome but must be on a leash.
The Walkway is operated and owned by NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the NYS Bridge Authority. Open year-round (weather-permitting), the Walkway is open daily from 7am until sunset. Please check the website for updated information and details about closings.
The Walkway offers a variety of programs, events, and tours to locals and tourists. On May 8, join the gang on the Walkway as they commemorate the 48th anniversary of the fire on the Poughkeepsie Highland Railroad Bridge. The Great Connector Series: Fire on the Bridge will kick off at 3 pm.
Other upcoming events include Walkway At Night, which will be held on May 13 from 8:30pm to 10pm and May 27 from 8:45pm to 10:30pm. Spend a moonlit evening on the Walkway while enjoying scenic, twilight views of the Hudson River Valley.
Guests have an opportunity to view the night sky with telescopes provided by the Mid-Hudson Astronomical Association (weather permitting). Furry friends are welcome to join in the fun as long as they are on a 4-foot non-retractable leash with a light up collar. Glow sticks will be on hand while supplies last. The event is free to Walkway members; donations are encouraged for non-members.
“If you haven’t visited the Walkway after dark, you must come to one of our Walkway at Night events. With the recent installation of over 450 solar lights and our guests from the Mid-Hudson Astronomical Association, it is truly a unique experience,” says DiSalvo.
The Mayfest Essential Farmers and Makers Market will be held the weekend of May 21 and 22, from 12 to 5pm. It brings a curated selection of the Hudson Valley’s finest producers, including farms, distilleries, breweries, wineries, restaurants, artists, artisans, and more, to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail and west approach to Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park.
More than 150 vendors will be on hand to exhibit their wares for tasting or purchase, allowing participants to support several local agribusinesses in one convenient destination.
Beyond the art installations, a special area will be designated for children’s activities. All proceeds benefit the Friends of the Walkway – a non-profit organization that supports Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park – and Hudson Valley Rail Trail, which have partnered to present this market.
“At the upcoming Mayfest Essential Farmers and Makers Market, we give visitors access to various products that make the Hudson Valley so special. With this event, we make both locals and travelers aware of the incredible small businesses that this area has to offer,” says DiSalvo.
General admission (excluding the tasting area) is complimentary. Tasting tickets are available for the sampling area ($25 per wristband; it includes full access to wine, beer, spirits, and cider samples from more than 20 area purveyors. Must be 21 and over to purchase tickets). Walkway members, veterans, active-duty military, and senior citizens (65+) receive discounted admission.
All programming is made possible through membership and donations. Through engaged stewardship, Friends of the Walkway enhances the Walkway experience, supports capital improvements, and delivers innovative programs that attract visitors and contribute to the vitality of the Hudson Valley.
Dutchess Welcome Center on the East Approach. The Walkway (845) 454-9649, walkway.org. Highland entrance: 87 Haviland Rd., Highland, NY. Poughkeepsie entrance: 61 Parker Ave., Poughkeepsie, NY. Elevator entrance: Upper Landing Park, 83 N. Water St., Poughkeepsie, NY.