Celebrating a Milestone Anniversary of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail: the Opening of the Rosendale Trestle

June 28, 2024

Grand Opening of Trestle, June 2013

400+ people gathered for the ribbon cutting on the Rosendale Trestle June 29, 2013

The opening of the Rosendale Trestle on June 29, 2013 marked a significant milestone in the preservation of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. This iconic structure was the missing link on what is now a 22+mile cherished recreational asset. Opening day was a moment to blend history, nature, and community spirit. As we celebrate this anniversary, the Wallkill Valley Land Trust (WVLT)  looks forward to many more years of enjoyment and appreciation of this remarkable landmark along with all of you.

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The Rosendale Trestle: A Brief History

Constructed in 1872 by the Wallkill Valley Railroad, the Rosendale Trestle was an engineering feat of its time. Spanning 940-feet across the Rondout Creek and standing 150 feet tall, it was built to facilitate the transportation of goods and passengers between Kingston and New Paltz, New York. The Trestle’s construction played a crucial role in the economic development of the area, particularly benefiting the cement industry in Rosendale, which was renowned for producing high-quality natural cement.

The Decline and Rebirth

With the decline of the railroad industry in the mid-20th century, the Rosendale Trestle, like many other rail structures, fell into disuse. The last train crossed the trestle in 1977, and it was subsequently abandoned. For several years, the trestle stood as a relic of a bygone era, slowly deteriorating.

The turnaround came in the 1990s when efforts to convert defunct railroads into public recreational trails gained momentum. The WVLT purchased the first section of rail bed in 1991 thanks to support from Trust for Public Lands and others. New Paltz Town and Village immediately accepted ownership of their sections with conservation easements stewarded by WVLT; thus the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail was born. The Gardiner section was placed into easement in 2007 again with WVLT and the 12+ miles of Rail Trail were enjoyed year-round by hundreds of pedestrians, bicyclists, horse-back riders and cross-country skiers as a permanently protected Rail Trail.

In 2009, in partnership with Open Space Institute (OSI), the WVLT took on ownership of 11.5 miles of rail bed in the towns of Rosendale and Ulster which included the Rosendale Trestle. 

The Trestle surface in 2012 before the restoration work.

Restoration and Preservation

The restoration of the Rosendale Trestle was a monumental task, requiring significant financial investment and meticulous planning. Efforts were made to retain the trestle’s historical integrity while ensuring its safety for public use. The restoration project, completed in phases, included reinforcing the trestle’s structure, installing new decking, and adding safety railings. It took WVLT and OSI four years to raise $1.5 million. Major support of the campaign came from the New York Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust, Dyson Foundation, the Rondout-Esopus Land Conservancy, the Friends of the Shawangunks, Mohonk Preserve and more than 110 individual donors. 

In June 2013, the Rosendale Trestle reopened to the public as part of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail. This transformation turned the once-neglected railroad bridge into a centerpiece of the trail, offering breathtaking views of the Shawangunk Ridge and the Rondout Valley. The trestle quickly became a popular destination, drawing thousands of visitors each year. This “missing link” is not only a highlight of the now 22+mile Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, but a notable place to visit along the 750+mile Empire State Trail. 

Rosendale Brass Band leading the first pedestrians across the trestle for the first time ever, June 29, 2013

Oh note, the final step in the Rosendale Trestle restoration was completed by volunteers led by WVLT Board and staff. Over 6 weekends, talented tradesmen and women joined dedicated volunteers to prepare the surface and install the recycled Trex decking. Snacks, refreshments and lunch were provided from local eateries, and a strong sense of community developed. To this day, a handful of volunteers monitor the decking monthly to ensure loose screws are tightened and matters like graffiti are quickly addressed. 

The Wallkill Valley Rail Trail

The Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, stretching from Kingston to the Gardiner town line, is a testament to the successful repurposing of historical infrastructure for modern use. The linear park traverses four towns all with diverse landscapes, including woodlands, farmland, and wetlands, providing a haven for wildlife and a serene escape for outdoor lovers.

Therapy donkeys exercising on the Rail Trail 2015

The Rail Trail also connects several communities, promoting local tourism and economic development. Towns along the trail, such as Rosendale, New Paltz and Gardiner have seen a boost in visitors, benefiting local businesses and fostering a sense of community pride.

Since the Rosendale Trestle’s grand opening in 2013, WVLT has continued to partner with OSI on several grant efforts to improve the Rail Trail north and south of the trestle. Construction was completed in 2020 on the Rosendale and Ulster sections, in 2021 in New Paltz, and in 2022 in New Paltz and Gardiner. The work included addressing drainage issues, installing road crossing and trail signage, removing hazard trees, and opening up the canopy of the 10-foot wide treadway. In 2023, WVLT received a generous contribution from a private anonymous donor and 4 interpretive signs where installed. The same individual renewed the contribution and over a dozen new interpretive signs have been produced and will be installed later this year. 

 

Alexandra Lotero Vanderkam, our Spanish translator, with our Gardiner interpretive sign on the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail

Looking Ahead

As we commemorate the anniversary of the Rosendale Trestle, it’s important to recognize the collective efforts that have preserved this historical landmark. The trestle stands not only as a reminder of the region’s rich industrial past but also as a symbol of community collaboration and sustainable development.

Future plans for the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail include ongoing maintenance and potential extensions to further enhance the recreational outdoor experience. Efforts continue to ensure that the Rail Trail remains a safe, accessible, and enjoyable resource for future generations.

Volunteers patrol the Rail Trail every day. WVLT manages all inquiries for the 22+mile linear park: From downed tree reports to event requests, WVLT works with the community and municipalities to ensure the Rail Trail continues to be open, accessible and enjoyable for both humans and wildlife. There are several efforts underway to remove invasive plant species and carry out habitat restoration. Most importantly, careful management of the improved stone-dust surface requires paid contractors annually. You can donate today to the ongoing stewardship of the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail and help with the stewardship of this wonderful amenity!