Big adventures and big attractions all add up to big fun for families in the Allegheny National Forest Region of northwestern Pennsylvania. The new Kinzua Visitors Center tells the story of how the power of man and the power of nature changed history. Then you can “walk the tracks across the sky” on the Kinzua Sky Walk, which juts 624 feet over the Kinzua Gorge, at a height of 235 feet.
Kinzua Visitors Center opens this summer
The new Kinzua Visitors Center is an exciting addition to the Kinzua Bridge State Park in Mount Jewett, Pa. Located at the edge of the Kinzua Gorge, the new 11,000-square-foot building has two exhibit halls with displays showcasing the three E’s: engineering, energy, and the environment.
The two-story, $8.9 million facility also includes a lobby, reception area, Pennsylvania Wilds Artisan Shop, restrooms, and park offices.
Huge steel towers flank the doorway. As you walk into the building foyer, your attention will immediately be drawn to the windows at the back of the center which frame a stunning view of the Kinzua Sky Walk.
One fun exhibit is an excursion railroad car, where visitors can view videos depicting what it was like to be a passenger on the real excursion trains that once crossed the bridge.
Exhibits also highlight the innovative, can-do spirit of Gen. Thomas L. Kane and engineer Octave Chanute, who built the original Kinzua Viaduct in 1882. It was the world’s highest and longest railroad viaduct. Chanute later went on to work with the Wright brothers and he is considered by many as the world’s first aviation engineer.
Prefabricated in Phoenixville, near Philadelphia, the Phoenix columns of iron were transported to the site for erection. Once the sandstone foundation piers were in place, 125 men, working 10-hour days, completed the construction of the bridge in just 94 days. Standing 301 feet tall (24 feet higher than the Brooklyn Bridge), the viaduct quickly became a tourist destination for Sunday excursions. Walking out on the bridge was the next best thing to flying, and railroad excursions across the Kinzua Gorge thrilled thousands.
In 1900, the locomotive and railroad cars hauling coal and timber across the viaduct had become larger and heavier. To handle these heavier loads, the bridge was rebuilt using 6.7 million pounds of steel. The Kinzua Viaduct was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 and the National Register of Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks in 1982.
The power of nature
In 2003, engineers and skilled bridge builders were hard at work on a $12 million repair project to reinforce the more than 100-year-old structure when the sky went black and winds rushed in. A tornado tore through the forest, heading straight for the viaduct. Hundreds of trees where ripped from their roots and 11 of the bridge’s 20 support towers were lifted, twisted, and thrown onto the valley floor. Within 30 seconds, nature had brought the mighty span to its knees. The fallen bridge towers and nature’s regeneration of the forests are now a living demonstration of the power of wind.
Kinzua Sky Walk
Following the tornado, six of the original steel towers from the Kinzua Viaduct were reinforced with new bridge decking, railroad tracks were repaired, and a partial glass overlook was added at the end of what is now the Kinzua Sky Walk. The free, public-access Kinzua Sky Walk allows visitors to once again “walk the tracks across the sky.”
Plan your trip:
The Kinzua Bridge State Park is open daily from 8:00am to dusk.
Insider tip: In Google maps, use 1721 Lindholm Drive, Kane, Pa.
The new Kinzua Visitors Center will be opening later this summer. School field trips and motor coach groups are welcome. For a free copy of the 2016 Allegheny National Forest Travel Guide and Map, full of things to see and do and restaurant and lodging information, call 800-473-9370, email email@example.com, or check out visitanf.com.