“I have a feeling of deja vu,” said county executive Mike Hein to a crowd gathered on a stretch of Huguenot Street closed for the occasion. That sense was inspired by having been here 22 days earlier to open the automotive portion of the new Carmine Liberta Bridge in New Paltz. He returned on November 2 to acknowledge a scenic overlook that’s been completed on the eastern footing of the temporary bridge.
The overlook is constructed of stone and includes benches hewn from Shawangunk conglomerate, which also comprises the ridge that can be easily seen from the new vantage point. It’s a view of Skytop that’s unfamiliar to most locals because of the trees which blocked it until they were sacrificed to the need to replace the 70-year-old iron bridge. Interpretive panels are available to any visitors interested in learning more, including trail maps and one with a larger picture of the tower that’s visible in the distance. Two sets of binoculars — set at different heights — allow for a comparison to the original. A compass rose embedded in the stone reinforces the fact that the Wallkill is one of those uncommon rivers that flows south to north. LEDs will illuminate the area at night, and it’s bordered by a rail that’s curved to match that of the new bridge. Signage includes QR codes that can be scanned for more information about local attractions.
Hein praised the inter-governmental cooperation evident throughout this project, calling out New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers and Supervisor Neil Bettez for leadership, county workers for the speed at which they “built two bridges and took two down,” and the assistance of local residents who served on the bridge committee, among others. The new overlook and bridge will be followed by the River to Ridge trail, a project of the Open Space Institute which will connect them to the Mohonk Preserve when it is built next year.
At least one onlooker expressed worry that this would, in fact, become a destination for drinkers, but town police chief Joseph Snyder didn’t seem worried. Asked about that concern, he pointed out that there’s already a law in village about open alcohol containers, and that his officers would enforce that and the legal drinking age throughout their jurisdiction. The lighting provided will also likely dim the hopes of anyone hoping to engage in illicit activities of any kind.
To Hein, it realizes a vision of a waterfront in New Paltz, “maybe for the first time since the 1600s.” It’s water that is central to the final pieces of this project that have yet to be completed. The village water line has yet to be hung on the new bridge; presently the supply line is under the water just south of the bridge. After that infrastructure piece is in place, the finishing work for the sidewalk on either end can be completed. It is already possible to cross the span on foot or bicycle, but the approach is a combination of steel grate and gravel at the moment.
Overall, Rogers said he’s quite pleased with the project. It’s been ahead of schedule and the overlook, he noted, is a new treasure. “We all knew the ridge was stunning,” he said, “but this bridge and overlook do a better job than expected in showing that.”
The new bridge and its predecessor are named for a man who was a well-known volunteer and political committee member, and his widow Angie Liberta was on hand for this latest unveiling. Hein escorted her as the first guest onto the stone platform to admire the view of the river and ridge. He also pointed out to Butch Dener that the bronze plate of dedication had been decked out with two American flags: Dener, who led the naming effort, said that these are the 49th and 50th flags placed there since the dedication, having replaced each missing one himself.