Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Walking Over the Hudson River

Once upon a time, the Poughkeepsie railroad bridge was the first bridge of any kind to span New York State's Hudson River from the Atlantic Ocean to Albany. Opened in 1889, its promoters claimed it was the longest bridge in the world.

Now the  Hudson, which flows from upstate New York to New York City, is spanned by many bridges. and the old Poughkeepsie railroad bridge is the world's longest pedestrian bridge.

On an overcast afternoon earlier this month, my husband and I walked that bridge, dubbed the Walkway Over the Hudson. This project is an excellent example of how preserving historic sites can save money and revitalize an area. It would have cost $50 million to tear the bridge down; transforming the bridge into a state park cost $38.8 million.

This project is part of a movement in the United States that began in the 1960s in the Midwest called "Rails to Trails." The idea was to convert abandoned rail lines into public walking trails.

Peter Harnik, co-founder of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, explains it this way:

"It was destined to move into the mainstream of the conservation and environmental movements. After all, it had all the ingredients: recycling, land conservation, wildlife habitat preservation and non-automobile transportation - not to mention historical preservation, physical fitness, recreation access for wheelchair users and numerous other benefits."

What struck my husband and me as we walked was the perspective the bridge offered, vistas we could never savor while driving our car on across a bridge.

(My husband, in the right foreground, holding both our water bottles, as our walk began)

 In fact, as we completed the 1.28 miles from Highland to Poughkeepsie, we were able to spy neighborhoods along the river. We both were  reminded of how when our older son was a toddler he would create villages on the front porch, using Tinker Toys, Matchbox cars, blocks and Legos. Where else can you get such a perspective? 

This swing set and playhouse intrigued us, too. Why were they abandoned? 

Our visit to the Walkway was brief. Once we made it to the Poughkeepsie side, a parks employee in a golf cart asked us to turn around for Highland right away. A thunderstorm was threatening.
Each year in the United States 100 million people walk, and bike along Rails-to-Trails. This walkway has about half a million visitors a year. I'm glad we were two of them.