Thursday, September 15, 2011

Rescue Mission for the Putnam Trail

The other day I wrote a letter to the Commissioner of NYC's Department of Parks & Recreation, Adrian Benepe, urging him to refrain from paving and widening the Putnam Trail in Van Cortlandt Park. In this city of asphalt the trails of Van Cortlandt Park are a rare and valuable asset to the runners and nature-lovers of NYC. There is no really good reason behind altering the trail, which would destroy 1.5 miles of land. However, leaving it intact will save taxpayer money and preserve both the history of the trail and the environment surrounding it. 

Here is the response I received from the Correspondence Liaison for Capital Projects:

Thank you for your recent letter regarding the Putnam Trail in Van Cortlandt Park.  
We agree that park trails are meant to be user-friendly and accommodate all methods of use. One of the greatest challenges for developing any park facility is satisfying the different needs and desires of the community; the Putnam Trail has been no exception. In New York City, where our recreational resources are so heavily used but proportionately limited, it is necessary to accommodate the entire community. Van Cortlandt Park already contains three miles of historic cross country trail accessible year-round for runners and joggers of varying skills and ages, but only .5 miles of multi-user greenway. This was a significant factor in the decision to provide a running/jogging path alongside an ADA accessible paved path.

With the task of accommodating all users comes the obligation to design for safety and comfort. In this case, the result is a 3’ wide earthen path alongside a paved path, varying in width from 8’ to 10’. By opening up the use of the Putnam Trail to all users during all seasons of the year, the pace and frequency of use on the trail will naturally change. Although NYSDOT has allowed paths as narrow as 8’ in federal transportation funded projects, it has always been due to significant obstructions. For the reasons you stated in your letter, we have tried to minimize impact and have reduced the width of the paved path to 8’ in several locations.

While we aim to provide an equally accessible trail, the preservation and protection of Van Cortlandt Park is of utmost importance. There are currently seven mature trees marked for removal as part of the trail’s development.  Five of these trees are invasive species and are being removed to promote the health of the Van Cortlandt Park Forest. Many saplings will be removed that currently grow atop the abandoned railroad remnants, but due to the unsuitable subgrade condition, they are already prevented from reaching a mature size. We are planting over four hundred saplings and forty-two young trees in more suitable locations along the trail in place of those being removed.

We appreciate your advocacy and interest in the Putnam Trail project at Van Cortlandt Park.  Without the dedication and commitment of community members like you, New York City parks would not be in the great condition that they are today. Should you have any further questions or concerns regarding this project, please feel to contact Mr. Michael Michalek, RLA on our Bronx Capital Projects team (718) 760-6606.

I was really surprised by how quickly they replied (within 24 hours!) and understand much of what their letter is saying. I think great things have been done for the parks of NYC. But I still think they are jumping the gun here by supplying a change to the landscape long before it is demanded (and remains to be seen if it ever would be needed...). It also sounds to me like there's little-to-no room for debate.

If you'd like to learn more visit Save the Putnam Trail. If you want to write your own letter of appeal to the Commissioner, you can do that here.

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