New York City's High Line Park, presently a nine-block-long walkway that weaves through lower Manhattan atop an abandoned, three-story railroad viaduct, opened in June to much-deserved applause and hordes of strollers who are treated to great views of the Hudson River and the island's towering skyline. (See "One Picture" in the September issue of Audubon.) As I wrote then, the High Line might be one of the shortest of the more than 1,500 trails in America that have replaced old rail lines, but it is surely the most unusual.
However, the High Line is about to be upstaged in truly spectacular fashion by the Walkway Over the Hudson, 80 miles to the north, which utilizes a world famous but long-abandoned railroad bridge whose 35-foot-wide deck is an awesome 212 feet--that's 21 stories--above the river. The Walkway, which will be opened with three days of celebration in Poughkeepsie on October 2-4, will eventually connect with rail trails on both sides of the river, forming a 25-mile path for hikers and bicyclists.
The Poughkeepsie railroad bridge was the world's longest and an engineering marvel when it opened in 1888, providing a crucial rail link between New England and the rest of the country. The main span over the Hudson is 3,094 feet long. The entire bridge, including approaches, is 6,769 feet or 1.28 miles long, which is half the length of Central Park. If the bridge stood next to the Statue of Library, strollers could reach up and touch Lady Liberty's tablet.
Up to 3,500 train cars, many of them carrying troops, crossed the Poughkeepsie bridge in a single day during World War II. But by 1974 traffic had plunged to one train a day, and on May 8th of that year sparks from a diesel locomotive set a raging fire that caused extensive damage, ending the structure's use. As with the High Line Park in Manhattan, local citizens organized to promote saving and restoring the bridge, which Conrail once planned to demolish, for use as a linear park. The group, Walkway Over the Hudson, assumed ownership of the bridge in 1998 and in 2007 won a $1.5 million grant from the Dyson Foundation for an engineering and design study. Reconstruction began in May 2008, with the State of New York providing half of the $39 million cost and assuming ownership of the Walkway. The last of the 30,000-pound concrete pads that cover the platform have just been set in place.
Stunning views downriver and upriver--and straight down on the Hudson's ship and pleasure boat traffic--are the rewards for a half-mile-or-so stroll to the middle of the Walkway. The cityscape, alas, is considerably less impressive than Manhattan's, but the amazing aerial park is being counted on to bring a new stream of revenue to the struggling local economy.
To see the bridge photo in large scale, go here: http://commons.wikimedia.org /wiki/File:Poughkeepsie_Bridge_115997.jpg