Movement Builds to Make Constitution Island a National Historic Park

Date: 
10/12/2012
Source: 
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference
PC Region: 
East Hudson

 

The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference is supporting an effort launched in August by Senator Charles Schumer to have historic Constitution Island on the Hudson River transferred to the National Park Service and opened up for year-round access by hikers, paddlers, and other visitors. Constitution Island Association has a quick and easy way for individuals to send a note to the Senator indicating your support for his efforts on  this project.


For a Google view of Constitution Island, click here.

 

Note: Constitution Island is open for public tours and hiking from May through September each year. This year the island closed on October 4. After the island closes for the season for recreational hikers, it is used for hunting by licensed individuals registered with the State of New York and the Dept. of Defense.

Sen. Schumer seeks to have the island, now owned and managed by the U.S. Army and Department of Defense (DoD),  transfered to the Department of the Interior (DOI) so that tourists can enjoy the historic parkland and scenic recreation trails year-round. Currently, under West Point’s control, the Revolutionary era landmark is only open to tourists and visitors approximately two months each year. Despite the limited availability for tourists to enjoy Constitution Island’s 200 acres of trails and scenery, over 5,000 hikers,  and sightseers from over 35 states and 19 countries flock to the island each year, which demonstrates the unleashed tourist potential of the Island. 

Schumer said that under the Antiquities Act, the president’s administration has the authority to protect national historic sites in the public interest. Schumer believes that his plan for West Point to transfer the destination to DOI will allow for the island to remain open longer and increase tourism revenue in Orange County, Putnam County, and throughout the entire Hudson Valley.  The island is in Orange and Putnam Counties, directly across the Hudson River from West Point.

Once the island is opened year-round and the historic structures are available to the public, the City of Cold Spring has plans to open their own ferry access to the Island from the Putnam County side of the Island, whereas currently all tourists must be escorted by ferry via West Point. The Island also has the potential to be connected to the Hudson Fjord Trail, allowing hikers, bikers and tourists alike to experience everything Constitution Island has to offer.

“The federal government should give visitors of Constitution Island the right to enjoy this historic site more than a couple months out of the year,” said Schumer. "If West Point transfers ownership of the island to the Department of the Interior, which is better equipped to maintain and promote the 280-acre property, more tourists and revenue will flow through the Hudson Valley as a whole.”

"Constitution Island is such a wonderful destination for tourists and for recreation in our area,” said Assemblywoman Sandy Galef. “I am very pleased that Senator Schumer is working on plans that would help to improve accessibility year round to this wonderful asset in the Hudson Valley. There are historic structures on the island that need attention.  I am hopeful that with the success of Senator Schumer’s plan, these much-needed improvements will be able to come to fruition, preserving and increasing the value and attractiveness of this wonderful historical asset even more."

"The initiative being offered by Senator Schumer is a most exciting and wonderful plan for Constitution Island,” said Betsy Pugh, Chair of the Constitution Island Association. “The real winners will be the visitors and residents of the Hudson River Valley who will have access to a very special place most days of the year."

“I think the plan to allow increased access to Constitution Island by foot traffic and other means is a fantastic idea, and one that I certainly support,” said Seth Gallagher, Mayor of the Village of Cold Spring. “I also believe it would great for area residents and visitors as well.  Currently, this important historic site is largely inaccessible to the public, and as a result an important part of our local and national history is less understood and appreciated than it should be. I have fond memories of growing up here 30 years ago and hiking out to Constitution Island from Cold Spring. It would be wonderful if we can bring that type of access back.”

Schumer was joined in his push for control of Constitution Island to be transferred to DOI by Executive Director of the Constitution Island Association, Richard de Koster; Trustees of the Constitution Island Association; Assemblywoman Sandy Galef; as well as representatives from Scenic Hudson. Before West Point’s heightened security after September 11, 2001, visitors would flock to Constitution Island by the boatload. The packed tours departing on Wednesdays and Thursdays from South Dock at West Point brought about 200 passengers a week during the May through October season. Last year, the third year in which the centerpiece of the site — the Warner home — was shut down for repairs and restoration, the island attracted only 20 to 40 visitors each week, the low numbers compounded by West Point’s tighter security resulting in closure to tourists. Now visitors to Constitution Island are limited and must plan and book in advance. While Schumer acknowledges and appreciates West Point’s need for increased security, he noted that this further highlights why Department of Interior is a more appropriate entity to control the site.

The 280-acre island is home to the ruins of Revolutionary War fortifications, and is well known for the Great Chain that was placed across the Hudson during the Revolutionary War. Visitors also travel to Constitution Island to see the home constructed in 1836, which housed the Warner family and had been functioning as a house museum until its closure three years ago.