Take a Hike This Spring

Spring is finally upon us. Dust off those hiking shoes; now is a great time to pay a visit to the Walkway Over the Hudson State Park. At one-and-a-quarter miles across, it lays claim to being the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world. The Walkway forms the middle span of a twenty- five mile continuous trail. It connects the west side of the river to the picturesque Hudson Valley Rail Trail, which begins in Lloyd and meanders for five and a half miles to Highland. The eastern Poughkeepsie side connects to the Dutchess Rail Trail originating at Hopewell Junction.

Last year, on the west side of the trail, a welcome center opened with an amphitheater, a covered patio and a concession stand. A pavilion on the east side is staffed with volunteers to assist visitors. Both facilities have restrooms. A twenty-one-story elevator from Poughkeepsie’s waterfront up to the walkway allows visitors to reach the center span more directly.

The elevator is currently closed for maintenance, but is scheduled to reopen this spring. Along the expanse of the bridge, there are interpretative signs and a mobile web tour with codes related to specific spots. Before it was a walkway, the multi-span steel cantilevered truss was the longest rail bridge in the world when it opened in 1889. Known as the Poughkeepsie-Highland Railroad Bridge, it had a 212-foot high top deck and was a major rail corridor for freight and passengers between New York and New England. It was constructed around the same time as the Brooklyn Bridge (predominantly by Italian workers), and at its busiest, 3,500 train cars a day crossed the bridge as the country experienced a period of prosperity and optimism. Until 1924, when the Bear Mountain Bridge opened, it was the only Hudson River crossing between Albany and New York City.

During World Wars I and II, the bridge played an important role with the transport of troops and equipment, but by 1974 rail traffic had seriously declined and maintenance of the bridge was badly neglected. A major fire finally brought about the bridge’s demise and for decades the massive structure stretched across the river sadly abandoned.

It took twenty years, $38 million, and the efforts of many dedicated people including early support from the Dyson Foundation, to transform the dilapidated rail bridge into the Walkway Over the Hudson. Its opening on October 3, 2009 was tied to the 400th anniversary celebration of Henry Hudson’s voyage aboard the Half Moon up the Hudson River to Albany, as well as to the 200th anniversary of Robert Fulton’s first steamboat journey up the Hudson. Forty thousand people showed up the first week-end the Walkway was open.

With the opening of the Walkway to pedestrians, bicyclists and the handicapped, the 19th century rail bridge now enjoys a second life. The Walkway provides a unique river view of the surrounding landscape and is open from 7:00 am to dusk with occasional evening events such as stargazing organized by the Mid-Hudson Astronomical Association, which provides telescopes and lectures. There are also special celebrations held on the bridge on July 4th and an annual 5K foot race.

The entrance on the west side is at 87 Havilland Road in Highland, NY and there is parking available at both the east and west entrances. The Walkway Over the Hudson State Park is operated by the NY State Office of Park, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.