The new Kinzua Visitors Center, located at the Kinzua Bridge State Park, 1721 Lindholm Drive in Mt. Jewett, Pennsylvania, will start construction as early as July 2014. The Kinzua Sky Walk, currently the main attraction at the park, will remain open to the public, dawn to dusk, daily during the construction period of the new building.
Newly opened to the public, a walking trail allows the public to hike from the current overlook down to the valley floor. A strenuous hike, the short ¼ mile trail is rated “more difficult” because of the drastic topography changes. The views at the bottom of the gorge of the Kinzua Sky Walk towering overhead are spectacular. Easy to hike down, the hike back up is not for the faint-of-heart.
The new multi-million dollar Kinzua Visitor Center will house approximately 2,800 square feet of exhibit space and is expected to open to the public in 2015. The interpretive exhibit concept is based on three themes - engineering, energy and the environment. The proposed exhibits for the center include an excursion train car theater, steel bridge towers, and a wide variety of interactive exhibits that capture the excitement, ingenuity, and aspirations of the 1800s. A revolutionary time, the 1800s were a time of cultural and technological revolutions and astounding accomplishments: the Industrial Revolution, the Wright brothers’ first flight, and construction of the Eiffel Tower, the Panama Canal, and the Kinzua Viaduct.
The Kinzua Viaduct, when built in 1882, was the world’s highest and longest railroad viaduct, stretching 2,053 feet across the Kinzua Gorge at a height of 301 feet. Constructed using the newest technology of the 1800’s - “Phoenix Columns” - the viaduct was rebuilt of steel in 1900 to carry larger loads of timber, coal and oil to markets along the Great Lakes. In 2003, a tornado toppled 11 of the original viaduct towers. The six towers left standing on the park side of the gorge were recreated as the Kinzua Sky Walk in 2011.
“The Kinzua Bridge State Park is one of the premier tourist attractions in McKean County and the Pennsylvania Wilds, and we have many partners who, over the years, have contributed to its promotion and success,” explained DCNR Bureau of State Parks Director Dave Kemmerer. “The exhibits and educational information in the new center will add to a quality visitor experience at the park.”
The exhibits in the Kinzua Bridge Visitors Center will celebrate the magnificence of the Kinzua Viaduct - not only its form, but the vision, ingenuity and hard work that made it a reality. The exhibits will also illustrate the natural world - the rich resources of the region, the rugged landscape that necessitated an impressive bridge and the breathtaking scenic views available to visitors today.
When visitors enter the center, they will pass under a representation of the Kinzua Bridge’s steel piers. In the lobby, visitors will see three additional “steel” structures that showcase the view out the lobby windows toward the Kinzua Skywalk. Life-size figures of bridge works will invite visitors into the exhibit hall.
The centerpiece of the upper level exhibit hall will be a large model representing the original iron bridge. With tracks overhead, visitors will be able to walk around replicated Phoenix Columns. Visitors will learn about the people who made the bridge, including General Thomas L. Kane, a decorated American Civil War General, and Octave Chanute, considered by many as the world’s first aviation engineer who later helped the Wright brothers fly.
Along the east wall, visitors will see scaled models of various structures built during the 1800s to get a sense of the massiveness of the Kinzua Viaduct. Next to the scale model, visitors will find a flip box interactive showing three animations: the Kinzua Creek Valley before the bridge and the iron bridge being built, the steel bridge replacement, and the tornado destroying the bridge leading to the construction of the skywalk.
Children of all ages can take a play-break in the “Build a Bridge” area along the west wall. This area will entice builders of all ages to build using pre-fabricated sections of the bridge designed to mimic the real Kinzua Viaduct.