The Columbia County Board of Supervisors Economic Development Committee gave its support Monday to the proposed Skywalk that would link the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill with the Olana Historic Site in Greenport. The Greene County Legislature gave its OK on June 15 for a Consolidated Funding Application for the Skywalk project. The proposed sidewalk will run west from the existing walkway, along Route 23 to Route 385, and south to the existing sidewalk. In addition, the grant would be used a source of funding for improvements on the bridge.
Overlooking the east-facing expanse of the Great Northern Catskill Mountains, Olana was built by, and became the home of Frederic Church. Church and his mentor, Thomas Cole, were two of the giants of the Hudson River School of painting, often considered the birthplace of American art.
The project would come in two phases. The first would include a sidewalk from the the Cole site to the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, and construction of three “view platforms” along the bridge’s walkway to enhance scenic views of the Hudson River, according to a letter of support from Columbia Economic Development Corporation President F. Michael Tucker to committee Chairman John Reilly. Phase 1 is anticipated to cost about $850,000 in grant funding, with multiple partners, applicants and funding sources to be pursued.
The second phase would include a sidewalk/walking trail from the bridge to Olana, with a possible adjoining site for parking, Tucker said.
The Rip Van Winkle bridge currently has a walkway that’s between 5 and 6 feet wide on its southern side.
Elizabeth Jacks, executive director of the Thomas Cole Historic Site, said Tuesday the New York State Bridge Authority is spending $6 million to upgrade the walkway and its railings, and has hired a designer to price the bumpouts, or viewing platforms.
The cost, she said, will determine how many and how large the bumpouts will be.
Meanwhile, Greene County Tourism received an 18-month, $124,000 planning grant to plan a safe, pedestrian walkway from the Cole House to Olana, Jacks said. That grant is for planning, surveying and designing.
She said the distance between the two historic sites is about 2 miles.
“The point is, people can enjoy this from either side,” she said. “They might go just partway across — it would be a nice afternoon activity.”
Sean Sawyer, president of the Olana Partnership, said the trail might connect to one of two currently unused carriage roads on the north side of Olana, Bethune Road, which comes down to Route 9G just south of the intersection with Route 23, or North Road, the original entrance to Olana from Hudson, which comes down to Route 23 east of 9G.
“These were roads designed by Church to provide easier, gentler entrance to get up the hill,” Sawyer said.
Speaking at Monday’s meeting, Tucker said the second phase would be done only if the state Department of Transportation puts in a roundabout where Route 9G meets Route 23.
He said he didn’t think the trail could be year-round, but would more of a three-season attraction.
“The real value is to market the connection between the two,” he said.
Supervisor Peter Cipkowski, D-Hillsdale, said the Walkway over the Hudson, in Poughkeepsie, has been named the most popular tourist attraction in the state.
“This would be a lot more scenic than Poughkeepsie,” he said.
Supervisor Ron Knott, R-Stuyvesant, said he would be concerned about the future funding.
“We’ll get a letter of support together,” Reilly said, and the committee voted unanimously to do so.
Jacks said the joint River Crossings show Olana and Cole put on last summer helped push this joint effort forward.
“I think there are multiple benefits to it,” she said. “The bridge has some of the most spectacular views anywhere. I was struck by the Walkway in Poughkeepsie — it’s given an enormous boost to the local economy. Shops and businesses have benefited far more than was expected. We have a walkway; we just need to provide access and promote it.”
Adapted from a story by John Mason, Columbia-Greene Media