After last year’s forced hiatus due to the pandemic, the Walkway Over the Hudson’s 11th Starry, Starry Night Gala returned on Friday evening. This year the fundraising event was held at the Upper Landing Park, off Water Street on the Poughkeepsie side of the Walkway.
Walkway’s Executive Director Elizabeth Waldstein has been involved in every Gala since the first one in 2010.
“It was called ‘Experience the Wonder’ and we pulled it off on the gravel on the west side of the Walkway,” she said. “Then the committee invented Starry, Starry Night and here we are these many years later.”
Initially, Waldstein underestimated, “how much people wanted to come to something that was different. It’s outside, we’ve had fireworks, you get to walk on the bridge and it’s not always the same and people like to go to something like this. Everybody loves the Walkway so the combination has been a real winner.”
Waldstein said this is the second time the event has been held of the western side, “and we loved it, It was by the river and we’ve evolved into Walktoberfest, which is our big Farmers and Makers Market on Saturday and Sunday.” She said they have received “a ton of help” from the area’s elected officials and volunteers for both the Gala and Walktoberfest.
“It’s a great way to celebrate the Hudson Valley,” she said.
Waldstein said the next project is to create brackets that will hold a series of white solar lights on the northern side of the Walkway’s railing. A second phase will install color-changing LED lights in the belvedere, or bump out areas, of the Walkway. The 16th century word belvedere means ‘beautiful view’. Waldstein is hoping the solar lights will be operational by November.
Waldstein is also wants to add another 11-person electric tram for people with mobility issues and plans are underway to add “stores,” with heating and cooling along with carrying Taste New York products, to the eastern and western Walkway welcome pavilions.
Painter Matt Miller traveled from his home in St. Charles, near St. Louis, Missouri to attend the event, bringing with him all of his artistic supplies. He said the Hudson Valley has many inviting outdoor areas that he would like to return to and paint.
Miller said as a young boy painting was in his blood, “but I lost touch with it until I was about 30 and I picked it back up.” He mostly does plein-air painting using acrylics but also finds time to do wedding or a sports event where he captures the action live.
For Starry, Starry Night, Miller was painting the Walkway Over the Hudson, viewing it from below the structure.
Fred Shaeffer has been a driving force and advocate for rehabilitating the Walkway and for it eventually becoming a New York State Park. He is in the process of writing a book on the history of the bridge from its days as a major rail transportation route to its eventual transformation into a state park.
Schaeffer first went out on the bridge in 1994, which had closed in 1974 after a fire damaged 700 feet of decking and underlying girders, and immediately saw the value of turning this engineering landmark into a Hudson River destination for people to experience the beauty of the valley. He recalled the price tag to tear the old bridge down was $53 million and to rehabilitate it was about $38 million, which in the end won over many converts for preserving the structure.
Howard Schwartz, who as a member of the Friends of the Walkway Over the Hudson board, is charged with raising money and keeping events going on at the Walkway.
“This was just a baby when I got here 10 years ago and it’s unbelievable what the people have accomplished,” he said. “This year has been remarkable because of all the physical stuff that got done at the eastern portal and the lights are going to be up on the bridge before the first of the year.” He noted that even during the pandemic 600,000 people visited the Walkway.
Weatherman Dave Price, who was “born and bred in Poughkeepsie, acted as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies.
This year four individuals were honored as ‘Great Connectors’ for their efforts in bringing people to the Walkway, sharing the bounty of the Hudson Valley or having made extraordinary contributions to the mid Hudson region: John O’Shea, former Director of Marshall & Sterling Insurance; Mary Stuart Masterson, Actor, Director and Founder of Stockade Works bringing film production, creativity and employment to the Hudson Valley; Andrew Beers, Director of the Empire State Trail system and former Executive Deputy Commissioner of NYS Parks and Michael Graham former Executive Director of M & T Bank and longest serving Officer of the Walkway Board of Directors.
At the end of this year John Storyk will be stepping down as Chairman of the Walkway Board of Directors. At the podium he delivered a heartfelt address about his 15 years as part of the Walkway family, saying he became involved because he saw a need for his architectural experience in the building part of the bridge.
“Little did I know that this would take me on truly one of the most amazing adventures of my life,” he said. “I stayed on the board because there were things to do, buildings to build, bathrooms to be replaced and benches and banners etcetera. I thought that was fantastic and I would stay on the Amenities Committee and that was an adventure.”
Storyk said being the Chairman took him into areas that were very different from his day job, “and for that I am eternally grateful and thank you to the other board members and the ambassadors. As Chairman, it’s time to leave and turn the responsibility over.” Before concluding his speech he thanked his wife Beth for supporting him during his work for the Walkway and promised to have the lighting on the bridge installed before finally leaving his post.
New Walkway Board member Dorcas Roehrs runs her 1857 Spirits Barbers Farm Distillery. The operation is located in Middleburgh, just southwest of Albany. She and her nephews produce award winning vodka from potatoes that her sister grows upstate [“the best in the world”] on the family farm that is now 164 years old.
Roehrs said this was her first year on the board, “and I had a blast and I worked on the Walkway store on the eastern side.”