New welcome center opens on Highland side of Walkway Over the Hudson

Ulster County Executive Mike Hein looking joyful at Friday’s dedication (Lauren Thomas)

A ribbon-cutting on Friday, June 29 marked the official opening of the new $5.4 million Ulster Welcome Center at the western gateway to Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, along Haviland Road in the Town of Lloyd. The project was designed to enhance visitor experience at the linear park, which draws nearly 600,000 people annually.

The 3,500-square-foot visitor center and plaza includes a single-story building housing bathrooms for visitors and office space for New York State Parks staff. The solar-powered structure utilizes the latest in energy efficiency measures, with LED lighting, insulated building shells and modern heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment. Outside, a 1,400-square-foot covered patio holds nine tables, each seating six visitors. Opposite the patio is a large open-air plaza surrounded by picnic tables and stone walls that serve as amphitheater seating, to be used for special events and programs. Nearby, concession stands sell water and snacks and Walkway merchandise.

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A second welcome center is slated to open next year at the eastern approach to the Walkway in Poughkeepsie, in time for the park’s tenth anniversary celebration in 2019.

The projects are part of Governor Cuomo’s NY Parks 2020 initiative, a multi-year commitment of $900 million in private and public funding intended to enhance and increase access to outdoor recreation statewide.

The Pavilion at the new Ulster Welcome Center at the western end of the Walkway Over the Hudson in Highland (photos by Lauren Thomas)

Construction of a welcome center at each entrance to the Walkway was always part of the plan, according to Elizabeth Waldstein-Hart, executive director of the Walkway Over the Hudson organization. Even when the Walkway first opened ten years ago, “There was a vision to improve the entrances so that people would enter this world-class destination through a world-class entrance,” she told the assembled crowd at the opening ceremonies.

Speakers at the ribbon-cutting event included Senator Sue Serino, Assembly member Didi Barrett and Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, who made a point in his remarks to recognize the late Maurice Hinchey, “who from the beginning understood the connection between tourism, historic preservation and our environment.”

Hein spoke about how the project complements Governor Cuomo’s Empire State Trail initiative, a planned 750-mile bicycle and walking path linking new and existing regional trails from New York City to Canada and from Albany to Buffalo. The Walkway is a major link in the Empire State Trail, connecting the Hudson Valley Rail Trail on the west side of the Hudson River with the Dutchess Rail Trail on the east.

“This isn’t Ulster County’s building,” Hein said. “This isn’t the state’s building. It’s the people’s building… because this is the people’s Rail Trail, the people’s Walkway, and I couldn’t be more excited.”

Children from Maple Ridge School in the Ulster Park Bruderhof Community perform “This Land is Your Land” (Lauren Thomas)

The Town of Lloyd and Ulster County are currently extending the Hudson Valley Rail Trail another two miles further west, a project slated for completion by this fall with the trail ending at Route 299. The state plans to then break ground on another two miles of trail along Route 299 to New Paltz.

Picking up on the theme of “This land is our land” established at the start of the program when a group of children sang Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” Commissioner Rose Harvey of New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation noted that the Hudson River and Hudson Valley “are our land, ‘made for you and me.’ And it was all of us together that built [the Walkway] and will sustain it, will maintain it and will keep improving it… we’re making it better, and we’re deepening the experience.”

The ribbon-cutting event concluded with a family-friendly bike ride from the Ulster Welcome Center down the Hudson Valley Rail Trail to Tony Williams Park and back (an approximately seven-mile round-trip).

Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park provides a scenic crossing from one side of the Hudson River to the other for pedestrians, joggers, bicyclists and people with disabilities. The Walkway stands 212 feet above the river’s surface and is more than 1.28 miles in length, making it the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world, open daily from 7 a.m. to sunset

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