Bob Shepard Memorial Highland Landing Park to get its finishing touches

Last week, Assemblyman Frank Skartados (in white shirt) was honored for his help in securing funds for the Bob Shepard Highland Landing Park. The ceremony took place under a large new pavilion recently installed at the park along the Hudson River in Highland. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Assemblyman Frank Skartados was on hand at the Bob Shepard Memorial Highland Landing Park on September 27 because he secured state funding to finish the facilities, but he gave credit for the park to the volunteers which have been working on the project for many years. “I just came in at the end,” he said, with $375,000 to pay for water and sewer hookups, as well as other final details.

Lloyd supervisor Paul Hansut remembers what this stretch of riverfront looked like when he was a boy: an industrial zone. Huge tanks of petroleum products occupied the space in decades past. The idea of turning this stretch of land into a park arose in the early ’90s, former park project manager Matt Smith recalls, but the creation of the Walkway Over the Hudson certainly spurred the effort.

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Smith arrived for the festivities wearing a wet suit, and paddling his kayak to the boat ramp which is now in place. On either side, a paved walkway now stretches almost the entire length of the park. Visitors will often bring their own chairs to use as they sit and admire the Hudson, or try their skill at fishing. To the north, a bridge will eventually connect to another spit of land given over to town officials because the only way in or out is through the park.

Another boat, this one motorized, gets launched as speakers recount the transformation of the park into the grassy riverside locale it has become. It’s clear that word has spread that this is a good place to start or end river adventures.

Now, an “outdoor education center” — not to be confused with a pavilion, warns current project manager Len Auchmoody — stands tall and commands a view of the water. The concrete floor is not complete, and hoped-for bathrooms won’t be possible until the water and sewer lines are hooked up, but already it makes the park more visible to users of the walkway, raising hopes that more of them will stop into the hamlet and drop a few dollars.

The transition from Smith to Auchmoody last year was seamless, to hear either of them speak of it, and both gave each other credit for their respective efforts.

Anticipating the tone Skartados would express, Hansut spoke of the number of people who had a hand in making the park a reality. He contrasted this success to the challenges faced by Washington lawmakers, noting that the park was not held hostage by political agendas.

For his part, the assembly member accepted a plaque of appreciation with grace, choosing to focus his comments on the benefits, rather than his own involvement. The park opens the “majesty of the Hudson” to all, and by encouraging tourism lends itself toward a “more sustainable community.” Turning briefly to work in Albany, he promised to continue fighting efforts to place anchorages along the Hudson as he believes that would undermine those efforts. Skartados described that plan as allowing for “barges to park here, loaded with oil, waiting for the price to go up.”

The water and sewer lines will also make it possible for the owner of the old Mariner’s site to request a connection, Hansut said, which may well be why there’s no work going on there at this time.

According to Auchmoody, other work on the park will include tables, fences, dark-sky-compliant lighting, heating and insulation in the existing building. That insulation must be closed-cell foam, he said, because “it will flood.” He said he’d also like to do work on the parkland itself, which he thinks is a bit too hard and unyielding, and needs softening up to be more inviting. The money for the work will be paid from town coffers under a rebate program, with the assemblyman’s office staff cutting checks as they receive proof of what’s been spent.

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