By Mark Reynolds – Southern Ulster Times
This year’s Starry Starry Night Gala Celebration took place one day after the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Walkway Over the Hudson, which officially took place on October 4, 2009. Since then more than 5 million people have visited the Walkway from all 50 states and from 50 countries around the world.
After the public had a chance to sample a variety of food and drink while bidding for items at a silent auction, long-serving Walkway Board member John Storyk welcomed everyone to the event, saying that the transformation of the former railroad bridge into a world-renowned park, “has changed all of our lives.” He introduced, “my boss, our boss,” Elizabeth Waldstein-Hart, Executive Director of the Walkway Over the Hudson. She said three women were being honored at the Gala for their support of the Walkway and for their service to the Hudson Valley community; Carol Ash, Chair of the Carey Institute For Global Good and past Commissioner of the New York State Parks; Joan K. Davidson, President of Furthermore Grants Publishing, past Commissioner of the New York State Parks and past Chair of the New York State Quadricentennial Commission and a special recognition to Michele Dalbo, a Walkway Ambassador for more than a decade.
Waldstein-Hart said when Ash was Commissioner she embraced the idea of a Walkway State Park.
“Thank you Carol for thinking out of the box and saying yes, this could be a state park,” Waldstein-Hart said.
Waldstein-Hart noted that Davidson was the first female in the state to be named Commissioner of NYS Parks.
“She brought support and credibility, a budget and a timeline to the Walkway at a really crucial time,” Waldstein-Hart said. She also thanked Rob Dyson, of the Dyson Foundation, “who brought all sorts of resources and people, who pushed and made this happen.”
Current Commissioner of NYS Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Erik Kulleseid, said it was an honor to recognize both Carol Ash and Joan K. Davidson. He said Ash led the organization through some of the toughest times in the department’s history.
“It is partly the Renaissance that you see because of the risks that she took and the leadership that she demonstrated. You laid the groundwork, Caroline,” Kulleseid said.
“We really succeeded,” Ash said. “There were extraordinary connections that we made during the time that we did this and those connections go world-wide now, continually.”
Davidson said, “I am floored by how wonderful this place is; it’s the first time I’m seeing it. Everybody has had a hand in this and it’s an absolute knockout. We are so lucky as New Yorkers to be able to enjoy the great park system and the Empire State, which is the best of all possible places to be.”
Walkway Ambassador Michele Dalbo was accompanied to the podium by Don Cady, a past honoree as a Great Connector.
“Don and Michelle were part of a team that sold hats and T-shirts set up at every fair and every community event selling the idea of the Walkway Over the Hudson. They tirelessly and enthusiastically kept people excited about the Walkway,” Waldstein-Hart said.
After the ceremony Waldstein-Hart confirmed that next spring she will have been with the Walkway for 10 years.
“I am very excited. I think we’ve got 10 years behind us and 10 more to look forward to,” she said.
Waldstein-Hart described several projects that are either in the planning stages or are ready to go out for bid to contractors. One is a Gateway Pavilion that is, “at the top of Washington Street (on the Poughkeepsie side). It will be a new friends pavilion and then a structure that cantilevers out over it. It has already been designed and we funded it.”
A second project, a Greenway Public Space, is slated for the corner of Washington and Parker, “and that’s a complete proposal but is not funded at all yet.”
A third project under consideration is to light the Walkway itself.
“The railing is the part that we designed and will fund first and to light under the structure is kind of my dream,” she said. “They will be colored and they will be remote but that’s another million dollars away.”
The Walkway is also considering the purchase of a few electric carts to assist visitors who cannot walk long distances.
Fred Schaeffer advocated to rehabilitate the bridge after going out onto it 26 years ago.
“I never realized that it would become such a tourist attraction, how many people would bike it or walk it,” he said. “I thought it would be just another trail and that it would be used but not by thousands and thousands of people.”
Schaeffer has retired from the Walkway Board but still serves on a few committees. He still opens the Walkway gates just before sunrise on weekends for all of the early birds who come out to bike or walk.
Once he was hooked on the project, John Storyk offered his design skills as his way to contribute to his community. He said this bridge project over the past 12 years, “has changed my life.”
Storyk recalls his early days working on the not for profit Walkway project.
“I had to learn how things happen when you have a lot of different kinds of people and different kinds of communities moving at different speeds, not everybody agrees on everything,” he said. “I learned to listen to people a little bit more and listen to different points of view. It took about a year or so until I got the pace of how a not for profit works.”
Storyk has served as Chairman of the Amenities Committee that was tasked with selecting and overseeing the engineers for the Walkway rehabilitation.
“We’re on the programming side and the reviewing of all the drawings, that’s us,” he said.
Storyk hopes the Gateway Pavilion on the eastern side of the Walkway will break ground in the spring and be finished by next year’s fall Gala. He expects the lighting of the Walkway deck will be finished by December 2020,” which will be my last membership meeting.”
As Storyk felt himself being drawn deeper into the entire Walkway project, “it suddenly became magnetic for me and I’ve watched how it’s change our community. I believe in community and also I believe in giving something back and this is a good way for me to do it.”