Ladies and gentlemen of the Bronx, we’ve been had.
When I moved with my family to Van Cortlandt Village years ago, innocent of local politics, one of the first things I did was look for the Croton Aqueduct Trail, the 1840s engineering and historic treasure that runs due south through its woods. I had seen tantalizing hints of the aqueduct, at Fordham Road and of course at the incredible, stately High Bridge, which should have been restored and made accessible long ago.
On at least five or six different occasions, I took my children into the park, armed with a map, and tried to locate the trail. I consulted various park rangers, police officers, and experienced-looking hikers, who patiently showed me what they considered the best route. But the routes always ended at fences overgrown in a riot of poison ivy, children whining and surrender. After spotting the “Old Croton Aqueduct Trail” sign where Gun Hill Road meets the Mosholu, (there is so much history in our street names) I believed I had finally found it and delivered my children triumphantly to the spot. But something was not quite right. There was no real path here and way too much garbage. The trail ended, after about 1,000 feet, at a large and surreally crowded parking lot. Foiled again.
I finally found the Aqueduct Trail last weekend, when I joined a group of 35 hikers for their annual Metro-hike. This year, the group planned to follow the trail from the Yonkers border all the way to the New York Public library at 42nd street, which in 1842 was the site of the city’s first reservoir. I learned that it is possible to find the trail, but it takes an experienced guide and a long time — such a long time that several of the hikers, realizing they would never make it to 42nd street in their allotted time, made alternate plans. We hiked north on the Putnam to the end of the golf course (in previous attempts I had not gone far enough), then turned east on an unmarked side trail that went steeply uphill and finally scaled the aqueduct’s spectacular retaining wall. We had arrived.