Sunday, May 15, 2011

Walkway Over the Hudson

When the new Walkway Over the Hudson opened in 2009, I knew I wanted to check it out. A mile and a quarter in length, the walkway was built on an old railroad bridge, connecting the west side of the river at Highland to the city of Poughkeepsie on the east. I was sure that views would be fabulous from this high point above the river, but months went by, and I did not get there. It seemed like a long drive for a short outing, and never seemed to fit in with any of our trips along the thruway.

Finally, I decided that if I offered the new park as an Adirondack Mountain Club outing, other people who, like me, might have thought of going but just hadn't prioritized it, might join me. Getting it on the calendar was the first step.

I had a group of eight on a chilly gray Spring day. Only one participant had been to the walkway before. We drove down the west side of the river and parked in the lot for the nearby bike path, where parking is free. As a New York State Park, the Walkway parking costs $5. On this day, finding a parking spot was not difficult. A kiosk, with a nearby bathroom and picnic tables, provided us all with park brochures and maps.

The walkway is 24 feet wide and feels very stable. No one felt insecure above the trees and water. We took our time, looking in every direction. Clouds hung heavy, but high, and the wind blew strong and chilly. We were glad we had brought hooded sweatshirts and windbreakers.

The website had suggested a 3.6 mile loop which would take us across the bridge, south through a small portion of Poughkeepsie, back across the Mid-Hudson Bridge, and north to our parking lot. Below is a view to the south with the Mid-Hudson Bridge in the foreground, Hudson Highlands to the south, and a riverside park and tour boat on the lower left in Poughkeepsie.

On both sides of the Walkway, plaques are posted describing the history of the bridge, from its beginnings with the railroad to its current restoration for pedestrian use. The park also has a cell phone audio tour.

We stopped often to read the plaques and to talk about the views. It took us an hour and twenty minutes to walk the mile and a quarter. We studied the buildings along both sides of the river, the city of Poughkeepsie and its new train station, boats that sailed below, and mountains that tried to come out from under the clouds, as we wandered back and forth across the bridge in a zigzag line from west to east.

Finally, the sky opened up and the Catskills to the North came out in shades of blue. We watched as a mile-long freight train rounded the Western shore.

At the east side, the Walkway ends as it had begun on the west side, with a kiosk, picnic tables, a bathroom, and parking lot. With map in hand, we followed the streets into an Italian section of Poughkeepsie. Every street corner was well-marked (note the third sign down on the pole), directing our progress on the loop trail.

Just beyond the train station, we found many restaurants. Something to keep in mind if we come sometime without a picnic lunch. This area has changed considerably from ten or fifteen years ago when I used to come here to get the Metro-North train for New York City, a huge financial savings when we brought a full car with kids, and before Trailways and Megabus made travel to the City cheaper with fare wars.

From the Walkway, we had seen a rushing creek going through the city and tumbling into a large waterfall before reaching the Hudson. Now at ground level, we meandered alongside the rushing water by a stone wall in a residential neighborhood. We followed the Park Loop signs along a sidewalk where a few remaining cherry blossoms dropped petals to our feet.

In ADK tradition, we had our lunches in backpacks and were happy to find the waterfront park that we had seen from the Walkway. The sun came out in full and we soaked it up, visiting and enjoying a picnic with the Walkway Over The Hudson visible in the background.

Signs led us onto the Mid-Hudson Bridge. This bridge walk is narrow, with traffic nearby. We could feel the vibrations of the cars, but no one seemed unnerved by this, and, now with a clear sky, we could enjoy the views again.

At the foot of each tower, a speaker plays Bridge Music, percussive music performed by hitting various metal sections of the bridge with mallets and hammers. A panel lists the different pieces and we could push a button to choose a selection.

Eventually we reached the west side again, and an additional half-mile walk took us back to the park entry. We met two park rangers who offered to answer any questions we might have. Also, twice, we had seen park ATV's cross the bridge. This is a safe place with helpful staff.

We were happy to have experienced this park that we had read and heard about over the last year and a half. Since it is 80 miles from home, and only a 3.6 mile walk, I don't expect to come here often. If I lived closer, I could imagine taking an occasional stroll, especially in the summer when the breezes would be refreshing and many more boats would be on the water. Still, I recommend that anyone come here once. Check out this newest park in the New York State system.