If you dislike Parks Department policies, you’re free to run off at the mouth, but don’t expect to run in Van Cortlandt Park. That’s what an apparently vindictive department has told runners who organized a movement to thwart the city’s plans to widen and pave the bucolic Putnam Trail that meanders through the heart of the park.
Michael Oliva and Mike Ornstein have held popular events that they call “running parties” at Vannie since last Thanksgiving, bringing together 300 to 400 people on each major holiday to run races of various lengths on the park’s trails.
Over the course of the last year, they staged 11 entirely free Holiday Marathons which brought together what the organizers call “all demographics and all levels of athletes from the first time walker to the seasoned runner” without a single incidence of injury or conflict.
But suddenly, after they unveiled the Save the Putnam Trail initiative at their Labor Day race, organizers were summoned to a September 20 meeting with Van Cortlandt Park administrator, Margot Perron. She told them they could forget about getting permits for runs that included the Putnam Trail or the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail.
Both the Old Croton Aqueduct, where biking is prohibited, and the Putnam Trail, which is designated on the Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy’s website as a biking path, have been used by the group since its inception and make up what the duo estimate is 75 percent of their events’ route.
Mike and Mike say the Parks Department has never before denied them a permit and although it has ignored permit requests in the past, it has never before moved to stop a single one of the group’s events — a claim the Parks Department does not deny.
Parks officials have been well aware of the events, all well documented on the group’s website, and have allowed them to go on. But now something has changed.
“We didn’t think they’d get back at us like this, by destroying a community event,” Mr. Oliva said of what he sees as payback for his talkback on the issue of paving the trail.