Welcome to the Putnam Trail!

Oct 2019

An innovative green multi-user path (not asphalt) that doesn’t contribute stormwater into surroundings and is sustainable.  click here

GREEN SOLUTIONS COMPARISON CHART (click here) – our figures are corroborated by Rails-to-Trails data and other recognized trails organizations. A paper submitted to the Public Design Commission had several issues:  There are no references for table data; no acknowledgement that the Putnam Trail has not been maintained for 40 years.  It says that natural trails are maintained on an as-needed basis, when asphalt trails are as well.  It claims that natural trails require crowns or cross-slopes when they can use grade reversals, culverting, french drains, etc to create flat surfaces.  The 2012 Putnam Trail DAD, on the other hand, has a uniform crown or cross-slope built into the asphalt design.  On pg 6 the paper says there’s “lack of rigorous maintenance standards” for non-paved trails, when construction and maintenance standards are held to the same safety standards and are in many published documents from academic and federal sites.

NEW – a little chart using AASHTO standards shows bike stopping distances at different speeds — important information when dealing with a nature area.  click here

Click here for Save the Putnam Trail’s responses to NYSDEC’s 1/23/18 responses to public comments after permit approval.

Paving contradicts the Public Trust Doctrine . The public trust doctrine says you cannot dedicate city park land for non-park use. By creating a regional bike trail with a “continuous surface” or as some have said, by creating the Empire State Trail, and saying that the trail inside the park must be paved to connect to paved trails to the north and south, that dedicates city parkland to activities that occur primarily outside-of-the-park.  (Click here)

A CB8 board member continually misstates in meetings and elsewhere that the Putnam Trail in the park is not a nature trail.  That simply isn’t so.  The Parks Department itself categorized the trail as a nature trail on an official map posted near the Stables for many years before removing it in 2018.  (Photo: Matt Turov.)


A rationale we heard for years for paving the trail was to create a greenway with “a continuous surface” from the South County Trail to 225th street and beyond, no matter how the pavement might affect the ecology inside of the park.  The video below, however, shows that flooding south of the park will only increase in coming years. The video is from graphics/data pulled from Climate Central, a scientific organization intent on incentivizing policymakers to make changes.

The above video may also be optimistic. It shows what will happen to the area south of the park if temperatures rise 4°C from preindustrial times by 2100. Depending on bases used, NYS DEC’s model (click here) suggests a 5.5°C rise by 2080 — in line with NATURE Magazine’s catastrophic higher-range of 5°C and above by 2100. If that happens, disappearing land mass won’t be the worst impact. It could be suffocation of animal life on earth. A die-off of phytoplankton at these temperatures will result in atmospheric oxygen that will support only 1.5 billion people (click here).

Speed sign in Van Cortlandt Park.

Speed sign in VCP

DOT specs say that paving the trail with asphalt allows for speeds of 20 mph.  The trail inside the park runs through a rare ecosystem.  Animals that breed in the area or visit include rabbits, chipmunks, species of turtles, butterflies, insects, birds, ducks, muskrat, skunk, raccoon, wild turkey, bullfrogs, salamanders.

turtle on trail-8-3-2017-b-c

Turtle crossing the Putnam Trail recently.

The graphic below is a comparison of maintenance costs, pg. 28, Maintenance Practices and Costs of Rail Trails, June 2015.  Maintenance is not more costly for non-asphalt surfaces than for asphalt surfaces.  This data is consistent with information provided by other trail orgs and road-trail engineers. asphalt v stone-dustBelow are gravel trails around the Mall in Washington, DC, part of an extensive wetland at one time in the city’s history.

Pathway around Washington Memorial - WashDC - 4-29-17

Also, for those whose vision of the park is that they are able to bike all over the park — Central Park, another flagship park, restricts bikes to the Drives away from park paths.  Central Park may have perimeter drives but Van Cortlandt Park has two major greenways (not counting the Putnam Trail) and a recently-built protected bike lane that runs along its western edge from Yonkers to the 242nd St subway and the other greenways.

Click here for 16 MYTHS about the Putnam Trail

Click here for a PDF on how to fix the current trail

Letter from Sen. Jeff Klein and Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz asking the Parks Department for a 4(f) environmental review (which ultimately never occurred.)

A paved surface allows for bike speeds of 20 mph, according to DOT specs.  The trail runs through a rare nature area visited by wildlife and people on foot.  This is a critical public safety issue – see Olenick vs. NYC, a lawsuit about bike trail designs. No public safety study as far as we can tell was done for this design.

In fact, a CB8 committee chair said in Sept 2018 that they’ll manage conflicts between users after it’s built, something echoed by Councilman Andrew Cohen at a recent Townhall meeting (Dec. 2018).  The Olenick vs NYC case specifically states that conflicts must be considered in designs beforehand.

In August and September 2014, (click on blue link to the left) almost a year following the 2013 NYSDEC public hearing at Lehman College, the parks department in a letter to us said they were redesigning the trail to a permeable surface in response to public comments and DEC’s requests.  NYSDEC asked that they redesign the path to a permeable surface.  Despite this, in 2016 the parks department reintroduced the paving plan, after being told we’re guessing by Council member Andrew Cohen that they would receive “political cover” for doing so.

So despite public hearings, the results of public hearings can be overturned.  Results of hearings include:  1) the rejection of pavement by a CB8 committee in 2013, 2) the NYSDEC request for a change to permeable following a public hearing fall 2013, 3) a vote by the full CB8 board in March-May 2014 at the time they approved the new Masterplan for VCP, that Parks keep trails permeable, nontoxic, and suitable for wetlands.

The Parks Department posted a version of the Masterplan for the park in June-July 2014 that was not the version voted on by CB8 a couple of months earlier.  The March Masterplan (click on blue link) voted on left out language that the Putnam Trail would be paved (pg 30).  Two months later, the Master Plan is saying the trail is to be paved (not “improved” as in the version voted on by CB’s).

In 2016 when the new paving plan was presented at a January 2016 P&R Committee Public Hearing, a CB8 member pointed out the codicil that had been approved 2 years before by the full board that all trails would remain permeable, nontoxic, and suitable for wetlands.  The Committee Chair claimed that he personally did not mean for the codicil to apply to the Putnam Trail. Others later claimed that the Putnam Trail was “grandfathered out” of that 2014 codicil.  This may be a reference to the 197a plan adopted by the community board in 2003 which said that the trail could be paved. However 1) the public at the time of the 2014 codicil did think the codicil included the Putnam Trail, 2) CB8’s P&R Committee rejected the paved plan a year before, in 2013, 3) a 2013 public hearing held by DEC led to their request of the Parks Department that they come back with a permeable surface design,  4) you cannot “grandfather in” the 197a which was written before environmental assessments or any public hearings about specific designs were held.

Paving violates Clean Air and Water Acts because it increases sedimentation and turbidity of the Brook and Lake, and paving increases CSOs released into the river downstream during storms.

Paving is not required by federal funding.  The same federal funding finances nonpaved trails in New York.  Nor is paving required to fix drainage, nor to meeting ADA-compliance requirements.  Nor is it more expensive then naturalized surfaces.  A maintenance chart from R-to-T Conservancy is shown above.


Millions of gallons of Tibbetts Brook water flow into the lake each day.  When it storms, the brook and stormwater combine to form CSO’s (combined sewer overflows) which results in sewage being discharged into the Harlem River.

The Chair of the P&R Committee of CB8 says it’s futile to do anything – despite several public hearings at which community members expressed objections.  The DEC following 2013 hearings asked for a permeable surface.

The area around the trail inside the park meets New York State’s definition of environmentally-sensitive areas by offering aquifer recharge, open space, unique character, wetlands and wildlife habitat. (NYS Environmental Quality Bond Act of 1986)

Nearly 3,000 people have signed a petition against this plan and dozens have showed up to public hearings.

The Trail runs through one of the last remaining freshwater wetlands in the city.  NYSDEC said it has a biodiversity seldom seen in the Bronx.  The city has said that preserving wetlands are prioritized above other land uses.

Original federal funding mentions nothing about paved regional greenways with continuous surfaces or state greenways.

There is no bird-watching and nature-viewing on the South County Trail.  The speeding bikes make it too difficult for that activity.  Yet the area around the trail has more breeding bird species than Central Park has of bird species.

A Parks Department document written in 2013 (and kept as a “draft”) echoes the concerns we’ve expressed through the years, that construction projects the park has engaged in over the years have harmed the nature areas in the park.  They recommended that agencies get together to remove asphalt in the park because it has caused fragmentation.  Quotes:

The abundance of impermeable surfaces in urban environments prevents rainfall from percolating into the soil, resulting in large volumes of stormwater that erode soil, decrease water quality in aquatic habitats, and burden sewer systems.   Natural areas have the capacity to detain and store stormwater. Regional, interagency collaboration could help reduce runoff by minimizing impermeable surfaces and increasing the acreage of absorptive green spaces.”  pp 52-55  

Scientific data shows that half the world’s wildlife has disappeared in the last 40 years, largely due to loss of wildlife habitat and development, and this paving is part of that trend.  These changes cause cumulative impacts – and they do matter.  (click here for National Geographic article)


No hydrology study or EIS was ever done.   Instead there has been short-circuiting of requirements to create a “uniformly-paved” regional greenway.

The wetlands mapping that NYC Parks commissioned left out vernal pools, resulting in a faulty map on which the new design is based.

Vernal pools form every spring within 30 ft of the Putnam Trail, regardless of ruts or superficial trail grading.  They contain various invertebrates and are a living seasonal connection between the different segments of the wetland protected by both state and federal law.

We urge you to support the Save the Putnam Trail campaign. If we stay silent on this issue, one of the crown jewels of the Bronx and NYC will be lost forever.


Click here for Save the Putnam Trail’s 3/1/18 Response to NYSDEC’s 1/23/18 explanation after issuing a permit to NYCParks for paving the trail.

Click here for a paved bike greenway path that runs parallel to the Putnam Trail and that runs the length of the park and beyond

2017 Public Safety Letter to CB8 and Commissioner Mitchell Silver about bike speeds:  (Click for letter)

Diagrams of the vernal pools next to the Putnam Trail click here

Statement about why a full SWPPP is necessary click here

Open Letter signed by 8 organizations against the current design  click here

Do natural trails “wash away?”  click here

mini-Bioblitz 2015!  Spreadsheet data on biodiversity around Putnam Trail  click here

An example of a successful natural trail:  click here

Click for SPT’s position paper on the trail

Sustainable Green Infrastructure Comparisons:  click here

Making the current trail ADA-compliant as one alternative:  click here

Sierra Club NYC blogpost:  click here

Save the Putnam Trail’s Facebook page:  click here

Click here for a spreadsheet on species/flower bloom times in the park.

The Putnam Trail runs through state-protected wetlands and city-designated Forever Wild Preserves and Here (which is a map included in the VCP Masterplan) Van Cortlandt Park’s wetlands are YO-1 classed wetlands — the highest classification. NYSDEC described this area in 1987:  “This wetland has a diversity of wetland communities seldom equaled in Bronx County and contains habitat types found nowhere else in the Bronx.” The wetlands are protected by the state and federal government. At one time there were 224,000 acres of freshwater wetlands in the city which is down to 2,000 acres today. The area meets New York State’s definition of environmentally-sensitive area by offering aquifer recharge, open space, unique character, wetlands and wildlife habitat. (NYS Environmental Quality Bond Act of 1986)

The trail being improved is an opportunity to improve the health of wetlands, lake, and river, and ultimately the health of every New Yorker.


A local engineer analyzes different options for improving the Trail (click the image to enlarge or to download):Comparisons

Watch an episode on the Putnam Trail, on BronxTalk with Gary Axelbank.  Click here to watch online

And VIP supporters  …

“The Putnam Trail is one of the open space glories of the New York Metropolitan region. We have spent many wonderful hours walking it in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Westchester. To deface and desecrate it with concrete would be an environmental disaster. The more natural a trail the better.”

Cy A. Adler, President, Shorewalkers Inc., www.shorewalkers.org

“I have been to Van Cortlandt Park as a runner and spectator over many years and feel strongly that the Putnam Trail should not be paved over. It will not benefit the users of the Park and this money can be used in countless meaningful ways.”

George Hirsch, Chairman of the Board, New York Road Runners, www.nyrr.org

 “The Putnam Trail is a jewel. It’s a mindless, destructive and wasteful act to pave the Putnam Trail. To spend hundreds of thousands of dollars or more to pave over this treasured parkland seems to be the antithesis of what a Parks Dept. should be doing.”

Eric Seiff, Chairman of the Board, Friends of Van Cortlandt Park, www.vancortlandt.org

 “As a cyclist, I originally thought it would be a good idea to pave the trail and have gravel on the sides of the pavement for the runners, so all could have an equal share; however, with the understanding that trees would be cut down [widening of the trail], that goes against my values as an environmentalist and a former teacher of environmental science. I am all for in favor for leaving it is as it is now in the wild. I don’t want to cut down any trees at all if it’s avoidable.”

Denis Burns, Secretary of the USI Cycling Club; Past President and current Board member of Friends of Van Cortlandt Park

“Paving the trail greatly increases injuries–runners, walkers, and even dogs all thrive when they exercise on natural dirt surfaces. In any case, we desperately need to preserve our natural surroundings in an over-populated world.”

Kathrine Switzer, notable author, television commentator, marathon runner; first woman to run the Boston Marathon with a number, leading to women being able to run in officially-sanctioned marathons across the world

“The race walkers of the Greater New York strongly oppose any paving of the Putnam Trail and would like to see funds go towards more free programs in the park, therefore helping to improve the quality of life in the Bronx.”

Lon Wilson, President, New York Walkers Club/ Parks Greeter, www.nywalkersclub.org

“Having run for over 55 years and run around the world I realized that only those communities that set aside trail space will have a lasting legacy for future generations. A community with trails is a richer community in health, fitness, beauty of nature and direct connection to our ancient roots.”

Jeff Galloway, U.S. Olympian, www.RunInjuryFree.com


What we “share” is biodiversity; we share bird life, shy woodland creatures, one of the last remaining wetlands in the Bronx and New York City; we share clean water and air, and the irreplaceable experience of deep serenity that only nature can provide. We share rabbits, frogs, turtles, chipmunks, muskrat, and nesting birds to young and old, and future generations. We share what is not compatible with a widened, asphalt-paved “greenway.” Van Cortlandt Park is not Riverside Park or Central Park. It possesses the wide array of recreational amenities, but also ecosystems that are available to all. Good stewardship supports non-fragmentation and non-erosion, and context-sensitive changes.



Site Photo by Catherine O’Brien