A New Vision for the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail and Breakneck

December 17, 2018
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


A New Vision for the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail and Breakneck
An overflow of visitors hiking Breakneck Ridge. Photo by Jessie Johnson and Matt Schneider.


The Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail aims to protect people, the environment, and quality of life surrounding the Breakneck Ridge area.

Visitors to Breakneck Ridge and the Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve, as well as residents of nearby Beacon and Cold Spring, don’t need to be told that visitation to this hiking corridor is steadily on the rise. But what is the carrying capacity of these communities and natural attractions? And if new improvements are needed to protect people, the environment, and quality of life, who is going to implement and pay for them?

A coalition has been working on an answer to those crucial questions for several years. With the collaboration of 18 organizations representing local municipalities, state agencies, nonprofits, and citizen groups, as well as public input, the idea for the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail was born. Early attention focused on meeting critical safety needs, such as pedestrian safety around hiking attractions between the Cold Spring and Beacon train stations.

Yet even as construction plans for the Fjord Trail were going out to bid, visitation had already changed dramatically. Amy Kacala, the project manager from Scenic Hudson, notes that in the two years between completing a master plan draft and preparing to build the first half-mile of trail, Trail Conference Steward counts indicated that visitation at Breakneck alone had increased roughly 50 percent from the time conversations had started. “Community stress was high,” she said. “Visitation impacts on a cherished landscape were taking their toll. It was clear the project needed to do more, be more, in order to succeed.”

After an unsuccessful bid opening, the group took the opportunity to reassess the project’s scope. Fortunately, a foundation with roots in the area approached the coalition to help bring in private resources to ensure the project achieved the highest levels of design to best serve both the community and the Highlands landscape.

Locals with global expertise in architecture, design, and construction were convened, and construction management firm About the Work was brought in to help build the new team. SCAPE, a landscape architecture firm, was selected as the lead planning and design consultant. “We look forward to seeing how SCAPE’s involvement will help shape this project from simply functional to restorative of past damage and resilient to future impacts of climate change,” said Trail Conference Senior Program Coordinator Hank Osborn, who participated on the interview committee. Applications are now pending for the selection of a project architect in charge of designing elements such as the new welcome center and bridges.

The Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail, at the most basic level, is now envisioned as a linear park that includes not only a trail, but also a better way to think of complementary improvements along the route to repair, enhance, and maintain the landscape for the long-term. The new team of consultants will begin work in January 2019, with several opportunities for public input.