Wetlands at issue in paving Putnam Trail

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Tibbetts Wetland in Van Cortlandt Park along the Putnam Trail is a natural habit for creatures like the northern long-eared bat, which is listed as threatened according to the standards of the Endangered Species Act. A new report commissioned by the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation found that improper tree removal could have an adverse effect on such animals, though it stopped short of confirming any sightings.

The report stated there are 11 different wetlands along the Putnam Trail, all of which are eligible for federal protections. Ten of those areas also qualify for state safeguards.

The document is the first technical mapping of the wetlands, which the Parks Department needed before it could move ahead with a controversial plan to pave the Putnam Trail. The proposal has divided park lovers for years, with supporters saying it will provide access for bikes and wheelchairs and opponents contending it will irreparably damage the environment.

Walking down the Putnam Trail on Monday afternoon, activist Karen Argenti, who is part of the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality, pointed out the wetlands. She said students often make field trips to the trail to explore all the plant and animal life.

“It’s like a big lab, an educational lab,” Ms. Argenti said. “And it’s easy to get to.”

From her perspective, the recent report confirmed that renovating the Putnam Trail would be an environmentally sensitive undertaking. She claimed that the Parks Department did not make that clear in its original plan to pave the trail.

“This is the only path in the park that is cut by 11 wetlands,” she said. “Why put a blacktop on a place that’s a rare treasure in New York City?”

But Jennifer Greenfeld, the deputy chief of forestry, horticulture and natural resources for the Parks Department, said the report did not reveal much new information.

“The new thing is that it’s in an official map. We always knew they were there, and we were always sensitive to the design,” she said of the wetlands in a phone interview. “It doesn’t change our approach, which is to connect the Greenway and be accessible to everyone,” she added in reference to the bike and pedestrian path in Westchester.

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