As I mentioned in last Friday’s end-of-the-week link extravaganza, this very special week, the week that Earth Day turns the big 4-0, I’ll be stepping outside of my normal turf, the home, and focusing on environmental efforts around the home, in neighborhoods and greater communities.

Sure, the home is where the green heart is but eco-friendly abodes thrive best in neighborhoods where there’s a palpable sense of eco-awareness. This isn’t to say that every home in a cul-de-sac needs to have the LEED stamp of approval. It can mean carpooling out of the ‘burbs and into the city with your next door neighbor each morning; organizing a neighborhood litter pick-up once a month; getting the word out about local green businesses; sharing a backyard swimming pool during the summer to cut down on energy costs. It can also mean recognizing a local green hero.

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the third annual Heart of Green Awards, an event hosted by Hearst’s The Daily Green and sponsored by the Home Depot. Several individuals were honored over the course of the evening including ocean conservation advocate/erstwhile TV bartender Ted Danson, celebrity chef/healthy food advocate Jamie Oliver, and former National Audubon Society president John Flicker (see a full list of the honorees here). Receiving the Local Hero award was a fellow named Fred Schaeffer.


Although Schaeffer’s heroic efforts didn’t take place in my own neck of the woods, Brooklyn, he's the driving force behind the remarkable transformation of a community not too far away: Poughkeepsie, New York. Schaeffer, an attorney, photographer, and cycling enthusiast, is also the chairman of the nonprofit group responsible for Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, New York's newest and third most visited state park behind Niagara Falls and Jones Beach.

The park itself is a 1.28-mile long railroad bridge spanning the Hudson River that opened in 1888 to much fanfare. After a 1974 fire damaged the tracks, the Poughkeepsie Railroad Bridge sat in a state of decay for decades until it was reopened in October 2009 as the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world. 

Now the bridge, in its second reincarnation as Walkway Over the Hudson, is a haven for joggers, bicyclists, park-lovers, jaded Big Apple day-trippers, and those who appreciate jaw-dropping views of Mother Nature at her finest. It’s attracted thousands of tourists from all over the world and, in turn, revitalized Poughkeepsie's sagging economy. Referring to a similar abandoned-train tracks-turned-park project in Manhattan, Schaeffer calls Walkway Over the Hudson “The High Line’s Country Cousin.”

I've never visited Walkway Over the Hudson nor did I know it existed (shame) until last night. I blame my New York City bubble existence. Thanks to The Daily Green awarding Schaeffer as a Local Hero, I now have a daytrip to Poughkeepsie all planned out for this summer. A big kudos to Schaeffer for recognizing the eco-potential in a neglected structure and not giving up despite naysayers, financial woes, and other obstacles. As The Daily Green says of Schaeffer: "Right place. Right time. Right guy." 

Do you have a local hero who was promoted good, green change in your neck of the woods? I’d love to hear about ‘em.

Stay tuned for more special-for-Earth-Day community/neighborhood posts later this week when I take a look at Natural Home's list of "America's Top 10 Green-Built Neighborhoods," peruse Earth Day posters created by New York City school kids (and maybe mingle with Martha Stewart), and attend a hoedown thrown by the Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy in my own 'nabe. And be sure to check out GOOD's most excellent new issue tackling the topic of, yep, you guessed it, neighborhoods.

Schaeffer photo: Walkway Over the Hudson

Schaeffer with The Daily Green editor Dan Shapley photo:  Amanda Schwab/Starpix

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

The Daily Green honors a Local Hero
Big green props are given to Fred Schaeffer, the visionary behind Poughkeepsie's amazing park project, Walkway Over the Hudson, at this year's Heart of Green Aw