Monday, October 5, 2009

News That Matters - October 5, 2009 - The Walkway Edition

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Good Monday Morning,

Arts on the Lake held a golf outing and fundraiser at Sedgewood last Friday and it was a wonderful event.  About 100 people gathered at a private home at the club and pretty much anyone who was anyone was there. There was a good showing by members of the Kent PD, Supervisor Doherty was there. Other residents of the Sedgewood club and local residents also came out. Thanks go to Liz Allison and Ellen Leerburger for manning the reception table, to Midhat Serbagi, Michelle LeBlanc, Pat Cummings, Bob Bradley's Barbershop Quartet and Lora Lee Ecobelli for providing the atmosphere and to the residents who opened their home and to everyone who attended and especially to Arts on the Lake for being, well, Arts on the Lake!

Walkway Over The Hudson

After the fundraiser at Sedgewood I ran up to Waryas park in Poughkeepsie to attend opening ceremonies for New York's newest - and most unique - State Park, Walkway Over the Hudson. The event was part of the ongoing celebration of the Hudson River and served as the Main Event for the Quadricentennial itself.

Reconstruction of the High Bridge and its rebirth as one of the most unique public spaces in the world was the culmination of nearly a decade of work by volunteers. It proves that a few people can change the world or, at the very least our small part of it, with dedication, perseverance and yes, a little luck. Their work has enhanced all our lives and will for generations to come.

On Friday night, the first evening of what promised to be a whiz-bang weekend, thousands of people lined both shores of the river between the Mid-Hudson and High Bridges while 1000 volunteers walked out onto the High Bridge each carrying an internally lit white/blue paper lantern lining the 1.25 mile long bridge from shore to shore creating a ribbon of light across the sky.

At about 7:15 PM volunteers began releasing lanterns which rose into the sky forming random constellations of golden stars high above the valley which moved, changed and whose patterns were altered by soft winds aloft. While down below at Waryas Park, a Big Band was playing hits of an earlier by-gone time, vendors vended and children played. The Clearwater was tied up at dock and provided a special viewing platform for members and friends of the Hudson River Watershed.

Just at 8PM a 30 minute knock-your-socks-off fireworks show was launched from a barge at mid-river that reverberated off the mountains in Ulster county and the high-rise buildings in Poughkeepsie behind us while thousands below cheered. I have to say, it was quite a show!

As Dutchess and Ulster counties would do for the rest of the weekend, free shuttle buses ran from remote parking lots to avoid a traffic nightmare along the river. We parked at a lot near Catherine Street which was filling up nicely when we arrived and was full when we got off the bus at the end of the evening. The county timed the buses so that there were no lines and the wait at a remote lot was never more than 10 minutes for a ride into town.

Congratulations go to Fred Schaeffer and the 6000 thousand volunteers who worked for years to see this $39 million dream come true early and under budget.

Festivities continued on Saturday morning.

We decided to forgo the early morning speeches and ceremonies by Carole Ashe, Governor Paterson and Senator Schumer and just about anyone else even remotely involved with the project. (Besides, these were largely by invite only and by some gross mistake I didn't get one.) But when we got to the foot of the bridge at about 2:15 PM, people were already on the bridge and working their way towards its middle.

Parades ran from each side of the bridge meeting in the center, crossing, then heading back again. (212' above the Hudson River!) Each town in Ulster and Dutchess counties had a contingent in the parades and along with them were Scottish pipers, marching bands, a gamalan orchestra(!) and circus and street performers, turning the bridge into a 1.25 mile long performance fair. Richie and I followed behind the world famous Hungry March Band (see video) and walked our way at the head of the crowd to be among the first to cross from east to west. Similar throngs walked in the opposite direction from Highland towards Poughkeepsie.

At each end of the bridge reception areas were set up with tents and booths offering various services. St. Francis Hospital donated juice, granola bars, cups of water and crisp, NY State apples for attendees. Performers and bands entertained the crowds moving to and from the walkway itself. The streets of Highland, New York were turned into a pedestrian mall for the celebration where buses took visitors to the west side of the bridge.

For others, Ulster and Dutchess counties ran free shuttle buses from remote parking areas to the ends of the Walkway to alleviate traffic congestion and the police mostly just hung out and enjoyed the day. Several Dutchess cops patrolled the Walkway on Segways while others and most organizers used electric powered Think! vehicles. (And, a note to the Town of Kent and the Putnam County Health Department, composting toilets grace both entrances.)

Kudos need be sent to the organizers of this event. It's massive scale and scope must have taken thousands of hours and untold patience. Everything ran so smoothly! Even with tens of thousands of people, thousands of cars, city buses, a dozen marching bands, scores of performers, several parades and assorted marauding clowns, trapeze artists and jugglers, (and yes, you can toss in a bevy of politicians,) there wasn't a hitch to be seen. In fact, even the weather - which promised rain - cooperated beautifully. As the event wound down the full moon rose over the walkway, illuminating the early fall sky, as you can see in this image taken by Putnam Valley's Chris Rosen on Saturday evening. Note, that even this late the Walkway is crowded and yes, out there 212' above the Hudson River, the band is still playing.

Yesterday (Sunday) morning, 750 runners competed in a 5K race that brought them across the Walkway from Highland to Poughkeepsie. James Boeding, a 17-year-old senior at Webutuck High School was the winner covering the 5k distance in 16 minutes and 26 seconds.

My images of the event can be found here and here and a video of the Hungry March Band is here.

Yeah, Well so what?

Well, here's the deal: The rebirth of the High Bridge at Poughkeepsie means more to the valley than just an easy way to cross from one side of the river to the other. You could always do that on the venerable Mid-Hudson bridge with its 21st century LED necklace lights and architecture from the end of the art deco era. The Walkway now offers a singular location - and focus - for tourism to the valley and is the linchpin for rail trails in the region.

In just a few years time, when Dutchess county completes their portion of the Maybrook line trail and Putnam County completes theirs, you'll be able to walk/bike from the City of New York, up through Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess, cross over the Walkway and connect to the Hudson Valley Rail Trail which then connects to the Wallkill trail which runs from new Paltz north to Rosendale. If you head south on the Wallkill Rail Trail you'll end - at least for the moment - just south of Gardiner. >From there, a short ride on back-country roads connects you with other rail trail networks.

In the near future, other trails will connect up with these allowing a safe riding/walking experience that will take you to the Delaware & Hudson canal and possibly all the way out to Port Jervis. Northern New Jersey and easter Pennsylvania also have trails that wind, connect and inter-connect. Northwards, your reach will only be limited by the vision of those communities that are up there. In other words, Walkway Over The Hudson completes a missing link in one of the worlds most comprehensive suburban trail networks and that network exists right here - where we live - in the Hudson Valley. The public-private partnership that made it happen is a model for all others.

The vision of those responsible cannot be under appreciated as the revenue stream from tourism has already been felt. The freedom of recreational space provided by that 15' wide strip running through your backyard offers virtually unlimited opportunities. And, when you step on the trail as it winds through Carmel or Southeast (or later through Patterson) you'll stop - just for a moment - and understand the path beneath your feet travels for a hundred miles and connects hundreds of thousands of people in our valley together.

This is not some tree-hugging exercise in feel-good. The trail network that has been built is a magnificent  investment in the future of the place we live, work and travel and each and every one of us has a part to play in that. Whether it be to use the trail network as active participants or just to know that it exists and how special it all is and the peace of mind - and wonder - that goes with it. With the exception of urban trails that have sprung up around the globe to facilitate recreation and commutation, there is nothing anywhere like the scope of the trail network that now runs through the Hudson Valley. Walk. Bike. Hike. It's right here - 50 miles north of the worlds greatest metropolis is the worlds greatest collection of trails. Go explore. And yes, that's an order.

Here's a random list of nearby (within an hour's drive) rail trails suitable for wide-tire bicycles and pedestrians.
Trails a tad further away.

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