The morning after a website launch can be rough. While I was sober, I was still on a high from giving my first speech the night before. But I was also very, very tired.
After a late breakfast and a later departure from my host’s residence, I had to decide what to do. I was scheduled for my second backpacking trip on Saturday morning, two days from now. I had to be at my home to meet my guide Adam. So I had two days to cover three hundred miles. What would I choose to see?
I played it safe. I picked the route home I knew the best, and I visited a park I’ve been to twice before. Still, Kinzua Bridge State Park manages to be different every time, and once again what was old is now new, and the familiar isn’t.
The bridge in the park name has a long history. In 1882 this region of Pennsylvania was booming with coal, lumber, and oil production. Standing in the way of a southbound railroad was Kinzua Creek and its deep gorge. With the “we can do this” enthusiasm of the era a bridge was built to span Kinzua Gorge. When finished the structure was over three hundred feet high, the tallest railroad trestle in the world.
After 22 years of service the old iron bridge was rebuilt in steel and with some minor design improvements. As the boom died and the railroad ceased using it the bridge was sold to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the focal point of a state park. A scenic railroad ran across the structure for fifteen years, until the bridge was closed for structural repairs in 2002.
As repair work was being done the following year, a tornado came through the Kinzua Gorge and passed through the bridge. Eleven of the twenty steel towers were knocked down. During the rest of the decade the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources considered what could be done with the remaining structure. After inspection of the surviving towers, a skywalk was built on the truncated bridge, giving visitors a great view of Kinzua Gorge, Kinzua Creek, and the wreckage of the fallen towers.
The park has several places to view the broken bridge. One of the nicest is the observation platform in the above photo. There’s also a trail to the skywalk and now a trail down to the bottom of the gorge.
And of course there’s the skywalk itself, advancing halfway into the gorge and giving you views for miles east and west, as well as down. Down meaning not only the twisted and rusting wreckage of the fallen towers, but also the view through the floor of the observation platform.
The shoes in that last photo, and their owner, started the long, steep hike down to the bottom of the gorge, but soon turned around as fatigue and lack of sleep caught up with me. On my first visit, in 2010, the skywalk was still being built. For my 2012 visit the skywalk was open but the trail to the bottom of the gorge wasn’t. I decided to leave the trail for another day, and I expect to be surprised again by Kinzua Bridge State Park on my next visit.