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Walkway Over The Hudson – grand opening

  In the early 1990’s, when I was living in Pawling, an organization was formed by Bill Sepe. Bill Sepe’s dream was to convert (with volunteer workers and private donations) the old RR bridge between Poughkeepsie and Highland, that had been a part of the area “skyline” for over 100 years, into a linear sort of park with a boardwalk, or walkway, so that people may go out onto the bridge and enjoy the awesome view etc. That organization would be named “Walkway Over The Hudson”. In the late 90’s, after I had moved to here in Poughkeepsie, I had the oportunity during a public “open bridge” day at the west end in Highland, to go out on the bridge up to the first support, or “bent” in RR trestle parlance. It was indeed quite awesome, but was also a bit precarious.The track was still there and so to my left I could seen down through the RR ties, and to my right the only thing to prevent me from plunging 212 feet down to the river, was a somewhat flimsy looking wood rail. Once on the bridge I could also get a scale of just how big of a project it would be to convert this bridge into a “walkway” This would be no job for a bunch of amateur volunteers. Bill Sepe’s dream would have been a nightmare. Over the next 10 years both the Dutchess rail trail and the Walkway seemed to fade into a wishful dream by a small handful of visonaries.

    During this period, unbeknownst to the public, a rift in the Walkway OTH organization had developed between Bill Sepe, and those that realized to make it happen would require very serious money from the government, and also corporation with. These “rebels” within the organization were led by Fred Schaeffer. Fred Schaeffer is an avid cyclist and lawyer. He had been on a couple of my MHBC bike rides. I had also been on one or two rides he had led. In 2004 he became the chairman-of-the-board. Bill Sepe had a dream,but Fred Schaeffer had the practical business plan. He also has a vested interest as well. Like myself, and many other cyclists in the area, he would like to be able to one day ride across that bridge. And so there I was, on a short ride within the city of Poughkeepsie last year during the late summer, and as I rode along Parker Ave. I had seen that something was going on with the old RR siding to the main Maybrook line ROW. The track was being removed. Then a bit later I was on a ride across the river for an early apple picking ride. On my return, as I rode past the power sub-station along Haviland Rd. in Highland, I could see a construction area fence-gate and a construction office trailer. There was also a large Walkway Over The Hudson sign which also had the logos for the various contractors. It was finaly hapening after all these years, the old RR bridge was being converted into a walkway. The actual walkway would consist of 974 pre-fab concrete deck sections. And so, on this first October weekend 2009, the big day is upon us . The grand opening ceremonies, and festivities, would take place Friday 10-2, and Saturday 10-3. Sunday 10-4 would be the first full day the Walkway Over The Hudson State Park would be open to the public, and would be a part of the weekend events with a foot race in the early morning and a bit latter  a mass bike ride across the walkway from the west end.


out of the shadows and into the light …

  The weather forcast for the weekend did not look good. There were showers predicted for today and showers with scatered thunderstorms on Saturday. The showers did not happen as predicted for today, and the evening’s festivities were rain free.
Todays festivities would be all about light and take place after sunset. I do not have lighting for my bicycle, and so I would ride a city bus, with camera and tripod, to the transportation center bus stop at the RR station. It would be a short walk from there to Waryas park along the river. The first part of the evening’s festivities would be the lighting of the bridge with a thousand points of light. And all of a sudden there it was, the old RR bridge, now walkway, iluminated with blue lights along the entire span for the first time in this bridge’s history. There were now two iluminated bridges over the Hudson, the FDR Mid Hudson motor vehicle bridge, and the walkway pedestrian bridge.The second part of the festivities would be a release of (lighted) Japanese lanterns. The first lantern was released. A single point of light drifted up into the pitch black night sky. Then more and more lanterns were released until there were many points of light in the night sky, like so many fireflies.The grand finale to the night’s festivities, would be a spectacular fire works show. I had discovered that the city of Poughkeepsie had put all 4 new buses into shuttle service. I would take the shuttle bus up the Main Street grade and walk home from the final shuttle bus stop downtown.


opening day …

NY Governor David Paterson during the official opening ceremony

 With a dire weather forecast of showers and scatered thunderstorms in the afternoon, I decided not to go to today’s events as cyclist, but as pedestrian. The city of Poughkeepsie was operating the regular Saturday bus schedule only until 12:00 PM and was free. As I did on Friday, I took the bus to the transportation center and then walked to Waryas park where the festivities could be viewed. I say viewed because the actual location for all of the ceremonies, would be on the walkway,which was not yet open to the public at this time. To allow public viewing of the ceremonies a Barco “jumbo-tron” screen had been set up in Waryas park, in the city of Poughkeepsie. When I had arived, I had met a fellow that worked for EMI Guiderail, the company that made the railing for the walkway. Among the vesels in the Hudson this day, the sloop Clearwater, and the replica Dutch sailing vessel the Onrust, was a vessel with that most familiar, to this former member of the “Tonkin Gulf Yatch club”, gray color. “Oh my”… I had thought at first, the Navy is here, perhaps due to the hightened terrorism alert. I had seen that this vessel was a WWII era PT boat, the hull desigination was PT 728, and so was an inactive duty restored former US Navy vessel. The Onrust crew would ocasionaly fire her cannon causing everybody to jump. The PT728 crew,thankfuly, did not return fire.
  While there was a brief period of light drizzle, the expected hunderstorms, thankfuly, did not happen and surprisingly it had gotten brighter and a hazy sun could be seen. I had met a number of cyclists and was now sorry I had not ridden my bicycle.

  After the official formal ceremony, a mile away at the west end in Highland, the festivities, and less formal ceremonies, moved out onto the actual walkway
 212 feet above the river. There was an elaborate tying-of-the knot ceremony joining the communities on both ends of the bridge, and a “walking on air”
 parade. All of the communities on both sides were represented by people marching with long Bamboo poles with a hand made medalion on top for each community.
 The medalion for the city of Poughkeepsie depicted the two bridges.

  The festivities on the walkway ended with a 90 year old Pete Seeger leading a group of local children in one of his signature songs “This land is your land”.  This proved to be the most memorable, and moving moments of the days ceremonies. As he was signing, there was the sloop Clearwater on the Hudson river 212 feet below. Pete Seeger is the founding father of the Clearwater sloop and associate organization.
The walkway would now be open to the public. I took the shuttle bus up to the east entrance on Parker Ave. When I had gotten there,  the parade people were still coming down the RT path and so I had to walk up the vehicle entrance. There was to be some sort of circus latter  on and so, with what seemed like half the population of Poughkeepsie, there were the circus people,the parade people and a female roller derby team. It was quite a scene. With all the people I did not realize at first that I was on the the actual walkway,the bridge. I caught my first view of Mt. Carmel Place from high above on the walkway. I just walked out to the river on the elevated section in Poughkeepsie and then back. On Sunday, which was
 suposed to be sunny,I would go for my much anticipated first ride across the entire span.


riding on air …

Fred Schaeffer – chairman Walkway Over The Hudson

 When I had first learned of a mass bike ride via the local newspaper, on Sunday, it was not indicated from which end of the walkway the ride would start. There was a phone number for Fred Schaeffer to call but I had forgotten to call. On Saturday I had learned from one of the cyclists that the ride would start at the west end. I would ride to the east end of the walkway in the city of Poughkeepsie early enough on Sunday to ride across to meet the big group at the west end in Highland.

 The big ride was just about to start when I had gotten to the west end. I turned my bike around and joined the group. I was in full “parade dress” cycling atire, with my new WOTH T shirt,blue dress Argyle socks, and my patch sash. I would ride with the group at parade/processional speed back to the east end. I would then turn around and ride back west for my planed scenic ride in Ulster county to the Weed orchard PYO.

pedaling and picking … .

  The route I would follow goes down very steeply from Haviland Rd., at the west end, and goes under the walkway to the river. I stoped at the relatively new Highland Landing town (Lloyd) park to take in the view. The Clearwater was there for the festival that was about to start. I wanted to go apple picking first though, and had sort of planed on returning to the festival. I never did get back to the festival.

  After a scenic 13 miles through the orchard country of south-east Ulster county, I had arived at my destination,the Weed orchard-farm pick-your-own. Over the past 7 or 8 years I have been going here, this place has gotten to be very popular and has now become a P.Y.O. weekend festival with music and BBQ chicken,etc. This orchard-farm has more than just apples for picking,they also had a pumkin patch, and vegies for picking. A one stop PYO. I had talked to a woman who was from Bergen county NJ, and there was also a large Asian group there as well.

After a fresh still-warm donut and some fresh pressed cider, I would leave Weed Orchard for an even more scenic return route with spectacular
views along a ridge. Of course it goes without saying, there were several hills from hell involved.
The early AM was kind of hazy and so would save taking pictures of the views from the walkway until the afternoon return crossing when it would be less hazy.

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