After decades of planning that involved a major toxic cleanup and archaeological digs, a $3.6 million renovation is about to transform the old Cold Spring iron foundry into a Putnam County tourist destination with magical Hudson River views.

The last hikers have departed from the unmarked trails and ruins of an old munitions plant in the 87-acre West Point Foundry Preserve on Kemble Avenue. The site will reopen in the fall of 2013 with a park, a picnic area, a 50-car parking lot, marked trails, displays related to its historic past and restoration of the only remaining structure, a two-story brick administration building from the 1860s.

"Our goal is to walk a fine line between retaining the mystery of the site while bringing its history to life," said Steve Rosenberg, senior vice president for Scenic Hudson, the Poughkeepsie-based environmental group that is developing the preserve.

A groundbreaking ceremony to mark the next phase in the site's development was held Saturday morning.

The project will take "an amazing industrial site" created under President James Madison following the War of 1812 and enable it to "make connections in a whole new way," said Mindy Krazmien, head of the Putnam History Museum in Cold Spring.

The foundry made Parrott guns, the cannon that helped the North to win the Civil War. Immigrant workers were brought in from Ireland, Italy and other European countries to settle the village, which is filled today with shops,restaurants and day trippers from New York City.

Scenic Hudson has already invested $5.2 million in the project. The preserve was acquired from private owners for $2.3 million, with the balance spent on funding design plans, site maintenance and archaeological digs that unearthed both foundry equipment and household items. To finance the upcoming renovation, the project obtained $975,000 in state funding and raised the rest through private donations, Rosenberg said.

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The project benefited from the 1995 completion of a state Superfund cleanup across the street from the foundry. The now-demolished former military battery factory had dumped nickel, cadmium and other toxic heavy metals into Foundry Cove, which flows into the Hudson River. A total of 189,000 tons of contaminated soil was removed from the 70-acre site, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Cold Spring, already Putnam's No. 1 tourist spot, benefits from having a Metro-North train station that runs from Grand Central directly into the riverfront village. The Hudson line station also includes a ramp that leads directly to the preserve.

The train station logs about 6,000 to 7,000 monthly off-peak riders during the peak summer months, compared to about 4,000 per month during the winter, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority which operates Metro-North.

"This project is going to put Putnam on the map in terms of getting international travelers out of New York City and into the Hudson River Valley," said Libby Pataki, head of the Putnam County Tourism Office.