Matt Smith, President of the Highland Landing Park Association and manager of the waterfront revitalization project. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

What appears now to be an old brick building with a mountain-sized pile of fill, old wooden pilings and picnic tables along a green patch and 750 feet of Hudson River frontage is a diamond in the rough that is soon about to be mined.

The Lloyd Town Board awarded a contract of almost a million dollars last week to marine construction company Arold Construction of Ulster County to replace the 100-plus-year-old wooden bulkhead and pilings with a new, state-of-the-art, half-inch-thick steel bulkhead, driven 25 to 40 feet into the ground to protect the land from erosion and the river from debris. The contract also calls for the removal of the old, well-worn and dilapidated wooden dock and pilings (known as “dolphins”) with a new dock that will be able to anchor residential and large commercial boats.

This is just one component of a multi-phased plan to purchase, renovate, restore and open up the Bob Shepard Highland Landing Park to residents, visitors, tourists, environmental educators, students, boaters, kayakers and river-walkers and return a 1.78-acre parcel of Hudson River frontage to public use.

“The key thing here is that no taxpayers’ money has been used,” said Matt Smith, the brainchild behind Highland Landing, who has put in more volunteer hours as the town-appointed project manager and president of the Highland Landing Park Board than one could ever fathom. But he is not alone in this endeavor and passion and vision for a riverfront park: “We’ve had approximately $1.2 million worth of in-kind services provided to us from businesses, contractors, trade unions, architects, surveyors…it’s been amazing.”

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) had awarded a $1.2 million matching grant almost five years ago, but the funding became tied up or nonexistent as the recession hit. Five years later it is now being released, and the Town of Lloyd, with Smith at the helm, is gung-ho on putting the awarded grant money to use, with the first major phase being the steel bulkhead, dock and boat launch.

“They’re expected to start that work in July,” said Smith, explaining that the bulkhead, fill, concrete and dock work had to be done first. “We didn’t want to put in a pavilion and riverwalk and landscaping first, because then we’d have all of these huge trucks and cranes come in to put in the bulkhead and pilings and tear the place up.”

Almost $1 million worth of fill was donated by Erichsen’s Auto Service Center (thus the mountain next to the old brick building) to place in back of the bulkhead, which will then be covered with cement and a riverwalk designed on top. The riverwalk will be paved with old bricks that were salvaged when the road was torn up and the original road from the 19th century was discovered.

“There is so much history here, it’s unbelievable,” said Smith, who could list how many millions of people disembarked during the time when the ferries ran, or how barges used to pull up and pump oil from the old fuel-storage facility. He points across the river to a Revolutionary War riverside encampment, and of course the old railroad trestle, which was converted into a 1.28-mile pedestrian Walkway and State Park, just slightly south of the Highland Landing Park.