On Saturday visitors enjoyed new perspectives of the breathtaking landscapes that inspired the Hudson River School artists while taking their first stroll on the newly unveiled Hudson River Skywalk.
The $11 million investment in Columbia and Greene counties known as the Hudson River Skywalk is expected to bring millions of additional tourist dollars to the region, according to a statement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office. On Saturday, the walkway was officially opened with a celebratory ribbon cutting and with all the pomp and circumstance one might expect for a place dubbed, “America’s first canvas.”
The Hudson River Skywalk includes new pedestrian viewing stations on the bridge that allow for views of the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains, as well as pedestrian access to the two historic sites and a new visitor parking area on the east side of the bridge, according to the statement from the governor’s office.
“This has been a labor of love,” Tara Sullivan, acting executive director of the state Bridge Authority, said to the crowd of more than 100 gathered at the riverfront park in Catskill for the unveiling.
The span connects the homes and studios of the renowned Hudson River School artists Thomas Cole and Frederic Church via a sidewalk along the Rip Van Winkle Bridge.
Several speakers said they did not think the project, due to its size and scale, would be completed until 2025.
Festivities kicked off with a “Parade of Paintings” from the Thomas Cole Historic Site and Church’s Olana State Historic Site, as artworks were carried across the bridge with flags in blue representing Columbia County, and green for Greene County.
As she crossed the threshold to the Catskill riverfront park with a sea of blue and green in tow, an exhilarated Rabbi Zoe B. Zak, of Catskill, called the 1-mile walk across the bridge wonderful.
The ribbon cutting at the park next to the bridge toll plaza in Catskill brought local dignitaries from both sides of the Hudson River.
“This designation of the Hudson River Skywalk Region connecting these two historic sites is a fitting recognition for this iconic location and its inspirational views,” Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106, said in a statement from the governor’s office.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office anticipates the Hudson River Skywalk will add $4.53 million annually to the economy and an estimated 66 jobs.
“The Hudson River Skywalk project, under the leadership of Gov. Cuomo, has come to fruition and will be a boon for both communities on either side of the river,” Village of Catskill Board of Trustees President Vincent Seeley said in the statement.
The Rip Van Winkle Bridge was the state Bridge Authority’s first bridge when it opened in 1935. At that time, the toll was $1 each way and pedestrians were charged 10 cents to cross the bridge, said Richard A. Gerentine, chairman of the board of the state Bridge Authority. Gerentine assured the crowd there will not be a toll to walk across the bridge now.