A historic railroad bridge in northwestern Pennsylvania torn apart by a tornado in 2003 is now the site of a glass-bottom observation tower designed to give visitors a unique view of a gorge floor 300 feet below.
State officials held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday for the new pedestrian walkway at Kinzua Bridge State Park in McKean County. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources calls the park one of its key investments in the ecotourism region known as the Pennsylvania Wilds.
"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," DCNR Secretary Richard J. Allan said.
The park features the remnants of the 2,053-foot long viaduct, or railroad bridge, first built in 1882. It was once considered the tallest and longest in the world, extending almost a half-mile over the Kinzua Gorge.
The bridge was rebuilt in 1900 to accommodate bigger and heavier trains and was used by freight traffic until 1959. Excursion trains used the bridge until 2002, when it was closed to both rail and foot traffic because of structural concerns. A restoration project began a year later but ended after a tornado destroyed 11 of 20 support towers in July 2003.
Work started two years ago on the $4.3 million observation deck project. Debris from the portions of the toppled remains in the valley below can be seen from the platform.
"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,'" said Linda Devlin, executive director of the Allegheny National Forest Visitors Bureau.
She estimated that the attraction would draw at least 160,000 visitors, roughly the same number that visited the bridge before the tornado, and would generate $11.5 million in tourism revenue.