How many Riverdalians, through the change in seasons, have enjoyed a hike along the trail through the woods between Palisade Avenue and the Hudson River? And each time marvel with boundless gratitude at this pastoral escape in, of all places, the Bronx? Well, I have a suggestion: let’s pave it over. To make it easier to bicycle on.
Why not? This is the plan the city Parks Department has for the bucolic Putnam Trail in Van Cortlandt Park. Visit the trail now — it starts at the pond by the golf clubhouse — and follow it northward and you will find the perfect pastoral escape from our urban landscape. A dirt path, pounded by countless feet so it is now perfect for a leisurely walk, hiking and jogging, welcomes you. And for those who do not mind just a little bit of extra effort it is suitable for biking (I’ve seen families biking it together).
On the right as you head out are Canadian snow geese sunning in the pond. On the left you might see an egret launch himself from an ancient downed tree (this is the Bronx, I remind you). Quickly, the path narrows under a canopy of trees. Gold and red in the autumn; green in the spring and summer. Some have reported seeing deer on the trail. I have run it in the dead of winter with snow and ice on the trees and ground. It is an invigorating, majestic experience (I have not once, in the years I have run the trail, once encountered anything criminal or even inappropriate as past writers here have claimed).
When it rains you have to navigate around mud puddles and the century old railroad ties. Or, if you are running and if your pace feels particularly good that day and you do not want to interrupt it, you can run right through the mud. When you come out of the woods back by the pond and golf clubhouse, mud splattered all over your legs and up your back you, by God, feel great. You feel wonderfully alive.
As you journey, the railroad ties remind you of the history of the area; you can imagine the rich and well-to-do traveling by train along that very same path, past the Van Cortlandt Golf Course, the first public course in the country. When you finish your travels you might cross the two bridges there (“1905” reads the engravings on them) and rest by the remains of the train stop. Here the travelers disembarked before catching carriages to take them to the Jerome Park horse track. Where perhaps the third jewel of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, might be being run.
Parks plans to destroy that experience: to uproot trees, clear away brush and greatly widen and pave over a nature trail; to add asphalt to the woods. So as to satisfy a handful of elitist biking groups who want to build “an ambitious rails-to-trails project that will connect Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx to Putnam County via a scenic car-free bike path” as the Bike NYC website tells us. So bikers can cruise effortlessly. Even if it destroys the current scenic natural dirt path that is already there. Let’s destroy the trail in order to save it. These bikers find it impossible to ride on 1.5 miles of packed dirt. At times they may be forced to navigate some 25 to 50 feet of mud puddles or railroad ties. Sometimes, and it’s painful to write this, they might need to dismount — and carry their bikes! The horror. The humanity.
You can imagine why this calls for $2.4 million of your tax dollars to “renovate” the century-old trail. As one reviewer (not, evidently, from the Bronx) of the trail on TrailLink.com complains: “Natural dirt trail through the woods of the Van Cortlandt Park” (sounds good to me). “It’s a nice trail,” the reviewer continues, “but the dirt surface is not fun to ride on. Certain sections are uneven and bumpy” (!) “After some rain… the path will have 3-4 sections where water will puddle up and become very muddy…hopefully this trail gets paved so it can connect to the paved section in Westchester.”
So there you have it; this pastoral escape is no longer a destination; a pleasant diversion for locals. It’s a way to connect to Westchester.
Bronx Parks Commissioner Hector Aponte said the new trail will serve everyone. By destroying it and remaking it to serve an elite, mostly out of borough handful. “It will attract more people to the park,” said Mel Rodriguez, founder of “Bike the Bronx.” “Not only cyclists,” he said, “but rollerbladers.”
Ah. So, we should spend $2.4 million and destroy a nature trail for the sake of a fad that topped out 15 years ago. Quick: when was the last time you saw a rollerblader anywhere in the Bronx?
Clearly these are people with a love of asphalt. And they want to pretend they are enviromentalists. They would pave the world for their convenience. They are like Robert Moses on bicycles. It is not a ‘scenic path” they want. It’s a road. The only difference is they want it their own so they don’t have to deal with cars. And they want you to pay for it. Global warming? Whose heard of it? Cover the earth to make it easier for us to bike on it. Pave for automobiles and you are evil; pave for “Transportation Alternatives” as one of the groups that have lobbied Bloomberg, Rep. Eliot Engel and City Councilman Oliver Koppell to sacrifice nature for their convenience calls themselves, and you are a friend of the earth. Even if it requires “clearing out overgrown brush.” It’s only “overgrown” brush, however, to those who want to develop the trail; to everyone else it’s nature. That we respect and are happy to share this space with. And isn’t walking and jogging “transportation alternatives?”
So we have Bronx public officials destroying something enjoyed by local residents so hipsters from the Brooklyn and Manhattan with gazillion dollar bikes can enjoy their “trails-to-rails” nirvana.
I have run this trail countless times, including the paved road portion from the Van Cortlandt Park line into Yonkers and for every bicyclist I have seen ten walkers or joggers (and remarkably, not a single rollerblader). There is neither a need nor a genuine demand for paving the Putnam nature trail. It is a waste of taxpayer money.
Meanwhile, at Van Cortlandt, we have had acres of playing fields (used by the Riverdale Soccer club among scores of other athletic organizations) shut down for years thanks to “renovations.” At the pool and picnic grounds, port-o-potties replace public restrooms. Veteran groups had to battle for funds to restore Memorial Grove. But mention the word “bicycle,” even at the expense of nature, and the politicians and Parks officials roll over.
The Putnam trail is perfect as nature and a century of respectful, considerate use as made it. Here is what our politicians and public officials need to do: leave it be.