Putnam Trail documentary wins acclaim


When Will Sanchez invited one of the co-founders of the Save the Putnam Trail campaign onto his television talk show, he did not expect the appearance would inspire him to make a second show and an acclaimed, eight-minute documentary.

Save the Putnam Nature Trail focuses on the Department of Parks and Recreation’s controversial efforts to pave and expand a nature trail in Van Cortlandt Park. 

The film, which was selected for the International Film Festival Manhattan last October, was recently nominated for Best Documentary in the Northeast Film Festival and selected by Jersey City’s Golden Door International Film Festival. 

“Everybody, regardless of who you are, should have access to nature,” said Mr. Sanchez, who hosts the Manhattan Neighborhood Network show “Gotta Run with Will,” focusing on runners who have also engaged in activism and community outreach and airing on “BronxNet.” 

In 2013, park-goers butted heads over the city’s plan to widen the 1.5 mile long trail along the former Putnam Railway from eight to 15 feet, paving 10 of those feet for use by bikers.

In the finalized Master Plan for the park released this past July, the Parks Department specified that the path be paved with flexible and non-toxic material. But advocates are still seeking to prevent any paving whatsoever, citing environmental concerns.

A longtime activist, Mr. Sanchez invited Save the Putnam Trail advocate Michael Oliva onto his show. After hearing about the issue, Mr. Sanchez decided to get involved in the cause.

On a Sunday afternoon last year, Mr. Sanchez and a film crew took a trip to the Putnam Trail, where they filmed people walking and running along the path and conducted interviewers with frequent park-goers.

The result, he said, was a testament to advocates’ concerns about altering the trail’s natural beauty.

“It was just amazing that the community had grown around this nearly 40-year-old trail, and they loved the trail, and just really wanted to keep it natural,” he said.

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Not every park-goer "butts heads" with the Parks Department over the Department's plans to widen the Van Cortlandt Park portion of the Putnam rail-trail. In fact, it seems to be only a small, well-heeled group of elite runners who want this section of what is supposed to be a multi-use path to conform to their parochial views.

Consider the trail as it exists today. Far from the "pristine beauty" the article suggests, it is a muddy collection of rocks, tangled brush, and rotting, creosote-covered railroad ties. It is often impassible after it rains. It's a runner's and biker's nightmare, and completely unusable for anyone using a mobility assistance device such as a wheelchair or motorized scooter.

The trail today is toxic. Chemicals from the decades of rail traffic are still in the ground, and chemicals are still leeching into the soil from the rotting ties. The improvements proposed by the Parks Department would remove these dangers, and convert this beloved section of a 50 mile long multi-use path into a joy and benefit for everyone.

The Parks Department proposes to apply a flexible and *non-toxic* material suitable for multi-purpose use by walkers, in-line skaters, and mobility assistance devices as well as bikers. It will not be "paved over", a term which elicits images from the Joni Mitchell song, and grossly inappropriate to this discussion. To especially accommodate runners and joggers, each side of the multi-use portion would be lined with a lane of crushed gravel which is advantageous to runners and jogger only.

The Save The Putnam Trail group would instead have only an 8' wide lane of crushed gravel and nothing else. While a boon for elite runners and joggers, such a surface is dangerous for bikers and skaters, and very difficult on which to navigate mobility assistance devices. Eight feet does not allow for much passing room for anyone or anything other than runners and joggers. 15' allows more varied and higher density usage, in keeping with the City's GreenSpaces initiative.

I appreciate the awards the film has won and they are well deserved. But good cinematography does not make good public policy. The advocates of a runners-only surface represent only a small group. The Parks Department has the greater public's interest in mind. We'll still have paradise, easily accessible and usable by anyone, no matter the way in which they enjoy it.

Friday, August 29, 2014

You miss-report a number of facts. The original proposal was for a 3 ft earthen jogging path, not 3 ft on both sides of "crushed gravel." Secondly, the trail is already 4 ft to 5 ft in some places, and despite that fact, all users negotiate the trail very well and harmoniously. If someone wants to go 20-30 mph on a bike, then that becomes a problem. But one reason to keep the trail a natural path (stone-dust or compacted-earth with natural binders) is to slow traffic down, so other users can use the trail and enjoy a park with a certain history and character that's different than everywhere else in the city. You also say something contradictory. The natural path recommended by SPT was devised by "elite runners." If this is so, elite runners should be thrilled to have the two 3-foot running paths that you miss-reported. A path specifically designed for them would be amazing. But that's not the case, because what you've neglected to mention is that the equivalent of 400 trees, and countless plants will be destroyed to widen this trail to 15 ft, or the fact that the area is one of the last freshwater wetlands in the city, or that it runs through protected Forever-Wild Preserves. A path through those areas, that allows fast-biking, destroys everyone else's experience. An 8 ft wide crushed-rock OR compacted earth path is environmentally friendly and spares the ecology. It helps keep the city cool, and allows everyone to enjoy nature. It helps filter toxins from the air and water from rain. It's win-win for everyone.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Hi SJC. I'm not sure where you are getting your information from, but it is very different from what I understand to be the current status.

Where did you learn that the original proposal for the Putnam Trail was for a 3' wide earthen jogging path? That's pretty much the way it is today when it hasn't rained in a long time. Now here's a link to the Park Department's plan: http://www.nycgovparks.org/park-features/van-cortlandt-park/putnam-rail-trail. I don't believe there was ever any consideration for a purely dirt path.

I completely agree with you that cycling at 20-30 mph on the Putnam trail would not only be problematic, but downright reckless. Fortunately there are very few riders in NYC who can sustain those kinds of Tour-de-France speeds. The usual speed on trails like Putnam is 10-12mph, which is what I average along the rest of the Putnam trail up to Brewster.

The Putnam Trail is no different than similar trails in Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens greenways. There are a lot of dedicated multi-use trails I've ridden on in these three boroughs that have the same ambiance as the Putnam Trail, without the stench from motorized golf carts waifting across them.

Do you have any idea how many trees there are in Van Cortlandt Park? According to this article there are over 80,000: http://www.vcpark.org/support/32-tree-and-bench-dedications/73-tree-dedications.html. Where did you get the notion that 400 trees would have to be destroyed if the path was widened from 8' to 15'. I seriously doubt this many would have to be "destroyed". Did you include in your 400 count the trees and bushes that would be "destroyed" to accommodate those sections of the trail that would be widened to 8'?

The section of the Putnam Trail affected by the Park Department's re-surfacing plan is about 1.5 miles long. Assuming for argument's sake that the trail is completely covered by a non-porous surface to a width of 15' along its entire length. 1.5 miles X 15' is 0.0042613 square miles or 2.727232 acres. Van Cortlandt Park is 1146 acres (http://www.vcpark.org/). The improved Putnam Trail surface represents 0.238% of the Park's area. Do you really believe that a covered area just two tenths of one percent of Van Cortlandt's size would make much of a difference to the air quality of NYC? What about the 8' wide area covered with the gravel SPT wants? Trees and bushes won't grow there either, so it will not contribute to any shade or air purification. But there will be gravel dust.

For the record, I am not a reporter so I cannot "mis-report" anything. I obtain my facts from research on official websites, and I've included links to those websites for you to verify. Where do you get your information from?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The SCT slopes downward to Van Cortlandt Park about 12 inches per mile so obtaining fast bike speeds would not be difficult. In hilly Central Park, bike speeds have been recorded as averaging 15-18 mph, with some going as fast as 25-32, depending on time of day. The NYSDOT manual says that asphalt allows vehicles to travel at speeds of 20 mph and higher. Again, the park's speed limit is 15 mph.

Speed is not only an issue. Asphalt will invite ATV and vehicle use in a wetlands/Forever Wild area, the kind of places that are shrinking, not increasing i acreage in the city. There is also th eissue of added heat and PAH toxins from asphalt that goes into the environment and into the water table.

The 400 tree number comes from parks itself. They reported 400 saplings will be planted, which means that based on the wood-for-wood formula, they're removing the equivalent of 400 trees. At the DEC hearing last year, they admitted they were removing 300 trees of 6 inches or less diameter. Another 8 to 20 trees with diameters larger than 6 inches was mentioned by DEC in their 8-28-2013 ENB. It's a far-cry from the Parks Departments report of only 5-7 trees would be removed. And again, a permeable trail does not need to be widened so much with drainage side paths. This means more trees, foliage, plants, weeds will be spared to serve as shade and habitat for wildlife and enjoyment by the public in a city that is 72% asphalt, with all the issues that causes in terms of heat and water runoff and flooding.

The Putnam Trail is different than other parks, because of where it is located, again one of the last remaining freshwater wetlands in the city, and in Forever Wild-designated preserves.

The issue is far more complicated than may appear. The community should want this done right, because it is important on many levels.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Also if you need more information, Steve, you are welcome to visit www.savetheputnamtrail.com which is run by Bronx residents and park-users of different ages and interests.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

sjcbronx -- The trail is located for almost its entire length in VCP along side a golf course. It also was commercial and commuter rail line. The idea that it is "Forever Wild" is absurd.

Can someone at the Riverdale Press get the NYS DEC to tell us when they at going to issue their post-hearing decision? We are coming up on the one year anniversary of the hearing. It is absurd that it has been delayed this long. Has any other DEC decision taken this long? My guess is politics are at play. Do we have to wait to til after the November elections?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The trail runs through Forever Wild Preserves as seen on page 5 of the Masterplan, in the middle graphic. If that were not the case, or if there were not sensitive wetlands located there (and that have been described as having a biodiversity not seen elsewhere in the Bronx), the DEC would not have any role here. The park has one of the last remaining freshwater wetlands in the city and the city in 2009 proclaimed in Local Law 31 that preserving wetlands takes precedence over competing land uses.

The Bloomberg parks department is known to have designed changes in parks without paying attention to how their designs impact the environment. The Trail has to be done correctly because it impacts not just in the park itself, but waterways downstream.

Monday, September 1, 2014

SJC -- 1 foot per mile is a slope of 0.010851 degrees (asin(1/5280)). One hundredth of one degree. That's about a flat as anything gets. The very attractiveness of rail-beds converted to multi-use public pathways is that by their nature they are as level as possible. Locomotives just hate going uphill (very inefficient). The maximum rail-bed slope is about 2.4 degrees (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruling_gradient). Please tell me again how obtaining 20-30mph speeds down a one hundredth of one degree slope is not difficult.

ATV's (*All* Terrain Vehicles) definitely won't be deterred by a gravel path. In fact, gravel and dirt trails are what they're built for. Can you imagine what the spray of loose gravel would do do anyone behind an ATV doing a wheelie on a gravel path?

I think it is wonderful that the Parks Department is replacing 400 trees because they are removing 400 trees. A net loss of zero. Is it really true that all 400 trees come from alongside the Putnam Trail? Where did you find this information, and where does it mention only 7 trees will be removed for a gravel-only trail. From the SPT website possibly?

If you are concerned about last remaining wetlands in NYC, shift your map over to the Jamaica wetlands, right next door to JFK airport. Actually read pages 12 and 13 of this NYC Wetlands Strategy study (http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/downloads/pdf/nyc_wetlands_strategy.pdf). Van Cortlandt park is barely a footnote because it has "ephemeral wetlands and small kettle ponds."

Van Cortland park is not the private preserve of the Community Boards that bound it, nor even the private enclave of the Bronx. It belongs to all of New York City. Our taxes pay for it's maintenance and upkeep and the planting of trees and the improvement of the trails. This issue is not more complicated than it seems. A group of well-funded elite running clubs are trying to co-opt a path used by a wide cross-section of people in different ways and with different capabilities. I've seen the SPT website and it is far from an unbiased source of information. The Parks Department has it right: provide the most appropriate multi-use path to serve the largest number of people with least amount of environmental impact.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Congratulations to Mr.Sanchez on the nomination or selection of his film for local film festivals. I applaud recognition of artistic merit.

However, since it is presented as a documentary, a few factual clarifications are in order:

- the "Old Put" is not a nature trail, but rather a railroad line that was abandoned nearly forty years ago. Van Cortlandt Park has 31 other miles of nationally-renowned and designated running, hiking, and nature trails throughout its 1100 acres.

. the 'widening' picture above is not the "clear-cutting" that the picture implies. The improved path will come from the area alongside where the rotting, creosote-soaked, carcinogen-leeching railroad ties are covered by weeds. These leeching railroad ties are a much greater threat to VCP wetlands than 175 lb. cyclists on rubber tires in addition to 175 lb. walkers/runners in rubber shoes!

- the 400 "trees" to be removed are Norway Maple, an invasive species (i.e., overgrown weed) that is recognized as a serious forest problem by arborists throughout the Northeast. However, the 100+ year-old trees that line the edges of this abandoned railroad right-of-way will be untouched, and continue to provide the fantastic shade canopy as it has for generations. To see what it will look like for hikers, runners, and cyclists alike, I encourage you to go about one mile north of the City line to Mile Square Road in Yonkers, and see how lush the canopy is there. It is so thick, that there is no increase in asphalt temperature in this shade, even on the hottest summer day!

- NYC Audubon acknowledged in March that "it appears unlikely that the project would have long-term adverse effects on the bird population of VCP," and it "does not support the alternate resurfacing plan proposed by SPT that calls for the use of crushed stone, as this could result in decreased quality of rainwater runoff."

Tuesday, September 2, 2014