The 1490 NewsBlog

powered by NewsRadio 1490 WESB

brought to you, in part, by

Friday, September 16, 2011

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Sky Walk Officially Opens;
Visitors Center on the Way

WESB/WBRR News Director

The Kinzua Viaduct had been called "The Eighth Wonder of the World." Now, it just may be called "The Ninth Wonder of the World."

DCNR Secretary Richard Allan made that declaration Thursday during the grand opening of Kinzua Sky Walk at the site of the railroad bridge that was partially toppled by a tornado in 2003.

Allan also officially announced that the long-awaited visitors center will be built at Kinzua Bridge State Park.

"We are excited that eight years after the historic railroad viaduct at Kinzua Bridge State Park was damaged by a tornado, visitors can experience, in a new way, what the structure once was, and also understand the power of the forces of nature that claimed a portion of it," Allan said.

The 329-acre Kinzua Bridge State Park features remnants of the 2,053-foot long viaduct that was first built of iron in 1882, and then rebuilt of steel in 1900.

Reba Hewitt, daughter of Andrew Stauffer, who drove in the last rivet of the new bridge, and granddaughter of Charles Stauffer, original bridge inspector and supervisor of the building of the first bridge attended the celebration, as did Charles Stauffer's great-granddaughters.

"The six towers of the original viaduct have been restored, with the addition of a pedestrian walkway with a partial glass floor that extends out into the Kinzua Gorge," Allan said. "The idea to stabilize the structure came in to play soon after the tornado struck. Understanding that this is an important tourist attraction in McKean County, DCNR felt it was important to continue to tell the story of its history, construction and destruction and to invest in this signature destination within the Pennsylvania Wilds region."

Allan and others who spoke credited Allegheny National Forest Visitors Bureau Director Linda Devlin with keeping everyone on the right track and bringing the project to fruition.

"Linda was always there to give us a prod and a poke," said State Representative Marty Causer.

During her remarks Devlin noted that research shows the average heritage tourist spends $75.25 per day. With a projected annual visitor count of 160,000, it is projected that visitors to the Sky Walk will generate $11.5 million of new tourist revenue into our local economy.

"Those are real numbers and real jobs," Devlin said.

"It’s a great day for tourism in McKean County," added Steve Cottillion, president of the ANFVB Board of Directors. "The Kinzua Viaduct was first created for commerce, to transport coal across the expanse of the Kinzua Gorge. Luckily for us, it was an immediate tourist attraction and by the crowd gathered here – remains so to this day.

"The Kinzua Bridge State Park has been an important asset to tourism in McKean County. Now, with the grand opening here today, we expect even more visitors to come to McKean County to Walk the Tracks Across the Sky once more.

"And I believe it is not a coincidence we stand here today on this crisp September afternoon. After all, September has played an important part in the history of the Kinzua Viaduct.

"In September 1882, workers finished erecting the first iron bridge just 94 days after starting. Then on Sept. 25, 1900, the new steel viaduct was open to train traffic. And now, 111 years later, here we are marking another milestone.

"There is a lot of symbolism here, too. The viaduct was built with Phoenix Columns. Now, just as the mythical Phoenix rises from the ashes, the ashes of the Kinzua Viaduct have risen again to become the new Kinzua Sky Walk.

"The excitement does not end here. We anxiously await the next chapter of the Kinzua Bridge State Park – a magnificent visitor center that is sure to become a magnet for visitors, drawing them in to learn about environment, energy and engineering.

"With increased visitation comes increased revenue for our local businesses and communities. We all win when it comes to tourism and today brings a huge victory for McKean County and for Pennsylvania."

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati unveiled the new historic marker at Kinzua Bridge State Park. The old marker had apparently been stolen. Scarnati, who appointed himself to the state Historical and Museum Commission when he was lieutenant governor, did the unveiling. He said he appointed himself to the position to look out for the interests of rural Pennsylvania.

Also attending the festivities were State Representative Kathy Rapp; current and former McKean County Commissioners Joe DeMott, Al Pingie, Judy Church, John Egbert, Cliff Lane and Bruce Burdick; Judge John Cleland; University of Pittsburgh at Bradford President Emeritus Richard McDowell; OECD Executive Director Sara Andrews; reporters from television stations in Buffalo and Erie; and representatives of many McKean County businesses and tourist attractions, including Sue Zampogna of Flickerwood Wine Cellars & Lounge, which will be introducing a new wine with part of the proceeds from the sales going to the ANFVB.

Pictured, people walking toward the Sky Walk, and a view of the new structure; Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, DCNR Secretary Richard Allan, Rick Esch of the Tuna Valley Trails Association, Pitt-Bradford President Emeritus Dick McDowell and former McKean County Commissioner Cliff Lane; ANFVB Director Linda Devlin, ANFVB Board President Steve Cottollion and State Representative Kathy Rapp; Scarnati unveiling the new historic marker for the viaduct; Allan talking with the reporter from WJET-TV in Erie.