Editor’s note: While this column usually features places to visit in WNY, some places in northern Pennsylvania are within a short driving distance and are too cool not to mention.One of these places is Kinzua Bridge State Park, located just a stone’s throw from the southern tier.
Kinzua Bridge State Park, at 296 Viaduct Road in Mt. Jewett, PA. Once the world’s longest, highest railroad bridge, Kinzua Sky Walk offers a unique glimpse into the bridge’s history revealing the ingenuity, dedication and determination of its designers and builders.
The Kinzua Viaduct, when first constructed in May 1882, was the highest and longest viaduct in the world, measuring 301 feet high and 2,053 feet long. The need to transport coal, oil and lumber across the Kinzua Gorge inspired General Thomas Kane, president of the New York, Lake Erie and Western Coal Company and Octave Chanute, Chief Engineer for the Erie Railroad to design a colossal viaduct.
In 1900, the viaduct was rebuilt of steel to accommodate larger loads and the weight of modern train traffic In 1963, Gov. William Scranton signed legislation that provided for the acquisition of the viaduct and adjacent lands to become a state park. The Kinzua Bridge State Park opened in 1970. In 1977, the Kinzua Viaduct was placed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks by the Federal Department of Interior.
The bridge stood for 121 years. The Erie Railroad operated trains across the viaduct from 1882 until 1959. After 28 years of inactivity, the Knox and Kane Railroad offered excursion passenger trains from Marienville (48 miles to the South by rail) to and across the bridge starting in 1987. These steam driven trains continued until 2002 and were the last trains to ever cross the bridge.
The bridge partially collapsed under the powerful winds of a tornado in 2003. In 2009, work started to reinvent the remaining towers of the historic viaduct as a pedestrian walkway. That plan was changed.
Today the Viaduct, has been reinvented as the Kinzua Sky Walk — a spectacular walkway that once again allows the public to “Walk the Tracks Across the Sky.” A partial glass-bottomed observation deck enables visitors to look down at the remaining towers supporting the historic structure.
Kinzua State Park features lovely picnic areas, hiking trails, interpretive programs, group tent camping and scenic overlooks. A park pavilion may be rented for special events.
The park is accessible via the Kinzua Bridge Scenic Byway (SR 3011) which is a designated shared use hike/bike corridor, connecting Pennsylvania Route 6, just east of the village of Mount Jewett, to the Kinzua Bridge State Park.
Future plans at the park include the Kinzua Visitors Center which will feature classrooms, a visitor center, restrooms, and a small retail store along with interpretive programming and interactive displays on engineering, energy and the environment.
For more info, check out www.visitanf.com/kinzua-state-park-sky-walk.