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One-Tank Trip: Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park

Taking a stroll on the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park is a one-of-a-kind outdoor experience. The view from the walkway is definitely one you won’t see from the road. The linear park, located about a 5½-hour drive from Buffalo, spans the Hudson River from Poughkeepsie to Highland. At 1.28 miles in length, that’s 6,767 feet long, and 212 feet above the river, it is the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world.

My family recently vacationed in the Hudson Valley area and visiting the Walkway Over the Hudson was one of the highlights of our trip. Despite the fact that the day we were there was overcast and raining slightly, there were still quite a few people walking, running, biking, dog walking and skating along the walkway. I can imagine that on a bright sunny day it gets pretty crowded on the walkway.

History of the walkway

The Walkway Over the Hudson did not start out as a park, the steel structure actually first opened in 1888 as the Poughkeepsie-Highland railroad bridge, a key transportation hub that brought raw material from the west to industrial centers in the east, as well as carrying passengers over the Hudson River. When the bridge opened, it was the longest cantilevered and truss span in the world. In addition, it was the only railroad bridge crossing the Hudson River between Albany and New York City. During World War II, troops and supplies were carried over the bridge before going overseas.

However, train traffic began to decline throughout the 20th century. In May of 1974, fire broke out on the bridge, severely damaging the tracks. It stood abandoned and unused until 1992, when a nonprofit was organized to save the bridge and provide public access to it and to link it to rail trails on both sides of the river.

Construction work to transform the bridge into a pedestrian walkway began in 2008 and a year later the Walkway Over the Hudson Historic State Park opened to the public. It is an outstanding example of adaptive reuse; it is a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and the oldest surviving steel cantilever bridge in the world.

Planning your visit

There are four access points to the walkway, which is open from 7 a.m. to dusk daily. We chose to enter it on the Poughkeepsie side after parking at a free parking lot located at 61 Parker Ave.; if that lot is full, there is metered paid parking up the driveway in the official state park lot. You’ll find public restrooms at the entrance, along with picnic tables, and depending on the time of day, there may be a food truck or two parked here.

You also can access the walkway via stairs from Washington Street or for a real treat, go to the Poughkeepsie Riverfront Park and ride the 21-story glass-enclosed elevator to the walkway deck. From the Highland side of the bridge, park your car in the parking lot off Haviland Road.

Once you are on the walkway, remember to stay to the right and watch out for runners, bicycle riders and skaters, as the walkway is part of a loop trail that goes into the various neighborhoods in downtown Poughkeepsie, as well as links to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail.

Be sure to take time to enjoy the view of the river, the city of Poughkeepsie and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Mid-Hudson Bridge, which is just south of the walkway. There are a number of benches at the mid-way point if you need to rest. There is also a designated “selfie” spot, just look for the blue footprints painted on the walkway deck. It’s the perfect spot to stand to grab a selfie with the FDR Bridge in the background.

If you happen to be visiting the area on a Saturday, Sunday or holiday, you can go to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail Caboose Gallery, located on the Highland side of the walkway. Housed in a circa 1926 caboose and open year-round, weather permitting, it has exhibits on the former railroad lines as well as current information about the rail trail.

There are a number of annual special events that take place along the walkway. Their major fundraising event is in September. Starry, Starry Nights from 6 to 10 p.m. Sept. 30, takes place at the Highland entrance to the walkway. The event includes dinner, wine and beer tasting and a fireworks display. Other events planned for the walkway include Movie Nights Under the Walkway in Upper Landing Park on Aug. 6 and 20 and Moonwalk on Aug. 19 and Sept. 16.

Also in the area

Since a visit to Poughkeepsie is not really a day trip, here are a few other attractions you might want to include in your itinerary when you stay overnight in the area.

The Poughkeepsie Post Office is a 20th century Colonial Revival building designed to be a reflection of the city’s history and architecture. Completed in 1946, it is a designated National Historic Landmark. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose family home is in nearby Hyde Park, laid the cornerstone for the building on Oct. 13, 1937, the 250th anniversary of Poughkeepsie settlement.

Inside the post office are five murals depicting historic occasions in local and national history. Two smaller murals are located on either end of the first floor lobby; they show the city’s growth from the early 17th century to the time the post office was built in the 1940’s. Three other larger murals are on the second floor; these can be viewed from the first floor lobby, as there is no public access to the second floor. The murals were painted by Olin Dowes, assisted by Works Progress Administration (WPA) artists. During the Great Depression, the government funded the Federal Arts Project of the WPA as part of FDR’s New Deal Program. Hundreds of artists throughout the country created paintings, murals, and sculptures as public works projects.

Speaking of Roosevelt, his home, Springwood, and his presidential library and museum are located about 15 minutes north of Poughkeepsie in Hyde Park. The Presidential Museum and Library is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. The current special exhibit about Pearl Harbor, “Day of Infamy: 24 Hours that Changed History,” runs through Dec. 31. Allow about two to three hours to tour the site.

If you go

• Walkway Over the Hudson, (845) 454-9649, walkway.org.

• Poughkeepsie Post Office, 55 Mansion St., Poughkeepsie, (845) 452-5297. Open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

• Franklin D. Roosevelt home, presidential library and museum, Route 9 Hyde Park, (800) FDR-VISIT.

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