News for Immediate Release
September 15, 2011
Visitors Invited to Walk Out and Observe Valley Below on Restored Portion of Viaduct at Kinzua Bridge State Park in McKean County
Portion of the Historic Railroad Bridge was Toppled by a Tornado in 2003
Mount Jewett – Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Richard J. Allan today invited visitors to a new experience at Kinzua Bridge State Park – a stroll out into Kinzua Gorge on a pedestrian walkway with a glass-bottom observation area. Kinzua Bridge State Park is one of DCNR’s key investment areas in the Pennsylvania Wilds and along PA Route 6 heritage corridor.
“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 at a ribbon-cutting and grand re-opening celebration today at the park.
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. The viaduct, commonly referred to as a railroad bridge, is a series of arches that carry the railroad over the wide valley.
“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.”
The cost of the project was about $4.3 million, and it was allocated from the state capital budget. The project was designed by HRG Engineering of Harrisburg and constructed by JD Eckman, Inc.
Construction began in fall 2009. Work included removing the concrete jackets around the foundations of the towers and pouring new ones; reinforcing and replacing parts of the steel portions of the viaduct; installing ramps, an observation deck, railings; and related landscaping. Debris from the portions that toppled remains in the valley below for viewing from the platform.
Although the process is just beginning, plans for Kinzua Bridge State Park include some new trails and a visitor center at the park.
“The Kinzua Viaduct at the Kinzua Bridge State Park has been one of the premier tourist attractions within McKean County since it was first constructed,” explained Linda Devlin, executive director of the Allegheny National Forest Visitors Bureau. “Even in the beginning, freight was shipped during the week and excursion trains carried passengers on Sunday. Our tourism research shows that the heritage tourist spends an average of $75 per day. Conservatively, I estimate that visitation will at least reach pre-tornado visitation numbers of 160,000 annually, which will result in an estimated $11.5 million in new tourism revenue for the region. The new sky walk built on the historic towers of the Kinzua Viaduct will once again allow the public to ‘Walk the Tracks Across the Sky.’”
The paved trail and overlook are great for viewing fall foliage, with peak viewing times approaching in the beginning of October.
The Kinzua Bridge Foundation, in partnership with DCNR, has purchased a replacement Kinzua Viaduct historical marker through the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission according to Mary Ann Burggraf, executive director of the foundation.
"The re-dedication and the unveiling of the marker by Senator Joseph Scarnati in conjunction with the grand opening of the Kinzua Viaduct will help to educate visitors on the significance of the historic landmark,” Burggraf said.
The Kinzua Viaduct was originally constructed as an alternative to laying an additional eight miles of track over rough terrain along the line leading to McKean County’s coal, timber and oil lands.
Freight traffic ended in June 1959. In 1963, Governor William Scranton signed a law that created Kinzua Bridge State Park. The park officially opened in 1970. In 1982, Kinzua Viaduct received national recognition when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks.
Beginning in 1987, excursion trains traveled from Kane, PA through Allegheny National Forest, stopping on Kinzua Viaduct before returning to its point of origin. They ended in 2002 when it was determined that the bridge needed improvements to be safe.
In February 2003 work began to restore the Kinzua Viaduct. On the afternoon of July 21, 2003, the tornado struck. Eleven towers from the center of the bridge were torn from their concrete bases and thrown to the valley floor.
For more information about Kinzua Bridge State Park or Pennsylvania nationally-recognized state park system, visit the DCNR website at www.dcnr.state.pa.us (choose Find a Park) or call toll-free 888-PA-PARKS. For information about the Pennsylvania Wilds visit www.pawilds.com.
Media contact: Christina Novak, 717-772-9101