I’d never really been to Poughkeepsie, NY until my wife’s father moved there several years ago. We’d been to a couple of concerts at The Chance, but just in and out to go the venue. When he moved to Hyde Park we first saw the old abandoned railroad bridge above Rt. 9 and I marveled at it. I can’t recall if I first heard of the plans to build a pedestrian walkway or came up with the idea on my own. I must have said something like, ‘wow how’d you like to walk across THAT!?’
As soon as I learned of the official plans to create the walkway I checked out the website and followed the progress as much as I could. Several times we drove under it and could see people up there working. I couldn’t wait to get up there myself.
First some history. The railroad bridge opened in 1888 and was used continuously until partially destroyed by fire in 1974. In 1992 talks to open it to the public began, in 1998 it was purchased by the Walkway organization using both public and private funds. Construction began in 2008 and the Walkway opened to the public on October 3, 2009.
Now some stats. The bridge span is 1.28 miles but the entire walkway from parking lot to parking lot is over a mile and a half. If you take a complete lot to lot round trip it’s 3.6 miles. When you’re up there you’re just over 200 feet above the water and the walkway is 22 feet wide, wide enough that the squeamish can walk down the middle and not be scared to death. And for those of you wondering, no you can’t feel it move or shake. It can get pretty windy so hang on to your hat.
There is parking at either end of the Walkway and the fee is a modest $5 for 6 hours or if you’re lucky you can park for free on the street nearby. The lot can be a little tricky to find but there are signs that guide you in fairly well. We went on a beautiful early September Saturday, 9/11 in fact, and there were plenty of spaces available on the Poughkeepsie side. Each side also has bathrooms…use them…it can be a long walk across especially with kids (about 45 min one way). New this year are food vendors selling reasonably priced hot dogs, hamburgers, fried dough and gourmet ice cream from local maker Zora Dora.
One of the things you won’t find on the span is shade. If you go on a sunny day be sure to wear sunscreen and bring a hat, sunglasses or whatever else you use to shield yourself from the sun. Currently there are also no places to sit. Benches are in the works as soon as they can find some that will stand up to the weather and be permanently attached. The Walkway opens at 7:00AM and closes at sunset, there is a sign that indicates when sunset is for that day so you can plan ahead. You may be asked to leave the Walkway in the event of potential sever weather.
Make sure you stop to read the signs along the way. They give brief bits of bridge history (old and new) as well as information about the area and the animals in and around the Hudson river. My favorite showed an old view of the road and railroad tracks below. If you stood in just the right place you could place them side by side. My son was excited to see a picture of the Clearwater, a boat he went on in the 4th grade. There is also a service that allows you to listen to more detailed information using your cellphone .
The views both up and down river are simply stunning from this unique vantage point. But keep half an eye out for oncoming bikes as they are allowed along with scooters and roller blades (but no skateboards or motorized vehicles). They also allow dogs, please be sure to clean up after them. If you are afraid of heights try not to think about it and just enjoy the view. I’m not sure of the official rule here, but I suppose if you get halfway across and simply can’t make it back you could hitch a ride with the ranger that crosses on an ATV a couple of times an hour.
If you live in the Hudson Valley area or are looking for a good day trip from NYC you can’t do much better than this. don’t forget that this is essentially a free park so please drop a donation in the box if you can. We plan on going back many times at different seasons and times of day. I think next time we’ll bring our bikes as well.