After four years of renovation and cleanup by the Wallkill Valley Land Trust (WVLT) and Open Space Institute (OSI), the Rosendale Rail Trestle has just opened as a pedestrian walkway, enabling hikers, bicyclists, horseback riders and cross-country skiers to take in the stunning views of the gorge below as well as Joppenbergh Mountain, the Binnewater Lakes and the Gunks. The trestle, which rises 150 feet above the Rondout Creek and Route 213 and is nearly 1,000 feet long, was the highest rail span in the nation when it opened in 1872. It promises to be the jewel in the crown in the 11.5-mile extension of the existing Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, which already links Gardiner to New Paltz. The extension will nearly double the length of the trail to a total of 24 miles, and hikers will soon be able to go north from New Paltz through Rosendale all the way to Kingston.
Inevitably, the trestle is being compared to its famous cousin to the south – it has been nicknamed “Walkway, Jr.” and “Walkway over the Rondout” – but in fact the smaller span better preserves the rough, intimate feel of the original rail bridge. The original ties have been flipped on their sides to support the new recycled composite decking, which is easier on the feet than Walkway over the Hudson’s concrete. The new iron railings, welded into the steel of the trestle, were fabricated by a local company, Ulster Iron Works. “You still have the feeling of the existing rail trails,” said Christie DeBoer, executive director of WVLT. Admission is free – the new parking lot is located on Binnewater Road, a short distance from the north end of the trestle – and there are plans to build a trail directly from the trestle into the village.
“We want to make sure Rosendale gets the benefit of this,” DeBoer said, noting that the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail brings an estimated 40,000 visitors a year into the Town of Gardiner. Hikers will be able to take a respite and descend into Rosendale for a drink, while village residents will have access to nature and peace and quiet without having to drive anywhere.
The trestle, which was built by the Wallkill Valley Railroad to extend its line from Kingston to New Paltz, closed to trains in 1977. Conrail sold the bridge to a private businessman in 1986 for a dollar. Plans to convert the trestle into a bungee-jumping platform never materialized, and in 2009 Ulster County, which had taken ownership due to nonpayment of taxes, sold it for back taxes to WVLT for conversion into a rail trail. The new owners immediately closed the trestle, which was decked halfway across and had long attracted hikers and adventure-seekers, to conduct a preliminary engineering study. Fortunately, the study revealed the bridge to be structurally sound.
The two organizations have raised almost all the funds for the $1.5 million project. Major contributors were the New York Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust, the Dyson Foundation, the Rondout-Esopus Land Conservancy, the Friends of the Shawangunks, along with more than 110 individual donors. WVLT is raising the last $120,000, which is being matched four-to-one by OSI. The funding will pay back bills, as well as cover the repair of the eroded trail on the south end of the trestle and a portion of the new trail to Rosendale. Commemorative bronze plaques, which can be inscribed in honor or memory of a loved one or on behalf of a business, may be purchased by individuals for $1,200; each plaque will be attached to the railings.
The entire extension trail itself should be open in a month or so, according to DeBoer. A mile-and-a-half is owned by the Williams Lake Project, which is building a resort development. The developers have agreed to allow public access once they have restored the section of trail, which DeBoer said would be completed by next month. Up to the Williams Lake Project, the extension trail is co-owned by WVLT and OSI; beyond Williams Lake, all the way to the northern terminus at Rockwell Lane, which is just off Route 32 in Kingston, WVLT maintains a conservation easement for the trail.
From Kingston, the trail is accessible to pedestrians. Unfortunately, it is also still a bit of a no-man’s-land: The trail is frequented by hunters in season and ATV riders, despite signs prohibiting both, and old carpets and other junk line the trail. Despite these problems, the trail is nonetheless a wonderful asset and exceptionally beautiful; it is bordered by wetlands and dense hemlock forest, which is home to owls and other wildlife. DeBoer said that WLVT is gradually cleaning the trail, and she expected that it would attract more uses, such as running and biking, once the Williams Lake section is opened up and Kingston and New Paltz are linked.
DeBoer said volunteers have been instrumental in restoring the extension trail, including the removal of 10 ½ tons of tires and installation of the trestle decking. WVLT continues to rely on volunteers, who are needed to install a small remaining section of railing on the trestle and more cleaning of the trail. Call WVLT at (845) 255-2761 for information about how you can support the trail.
Rosendale Rail Trestle, open daily dawn-dusk, free; parking at Binnewater Kiln, Binnewater Road, Rosendale; motorized vehicles prohibited on trail; wallkillvalleylt.org.