Thirty years ago, Westchester County invested $2 million to buy the right-of-way of the Putnam Division of the New York Central Railway, which winds its way north from the Bronx border to Baldwin Place at the Somers border with Mahopac.
“Good things can indeed take a long time,” said Astorino. “It takes vision, it takes passion, and it takes hard work. Thousands of walkers, hikers and bike riders already use these trailways each year. It is one of our most popular county parks.”
Cyclists heard good news from Astorino regarding the final missing link between the South County and North County trailways – that half-mile in Elmsford that has confounded county planners for decades. He said the county was proceeding to complete that final segment as the county moves to purchase the necessary easements. Design will begin shortly.
The event provided the occasion for Astorino and three former county executives – Andy Spano, Andy O’Rourke, and Al Del Bello – to share their recollections about the trailway and their roles in pushing the project forward. Former county planning commissioners Gerry Mulligan and Peter Eschweiler were there as was former Yonkers Mayor Angelo Martinelli, Yonkers City Council President Chuck Lesnick, and a host of county legislators.
Del Bello was county executive when Conrail in 1981 announced it was closing down the line, which by then was still carrying freight north to Brewster. The county had the right to buy it, and Del Bello saw it as a one-in-lifetime chance to create a linear park from the Bronx to Putnam. This was in the early days of the rails-to-trails movement, and Del Bello decided he needed to show policymakers that there would be an audience for a bike trail. So the county closed down the Bronx River Parkway on Sundays in 1982 for cyclists. They came in droves. Del Bello said was planned to close the Parkway for cyclists for a couple of Sundays to garner public support for trailways. Three decades later Bike Sundays remain one of the county’s most popular events.
The new section travels along the railroad line from Tuckahoe Road to Redmond Park. Residents there had opposed it for years. Unlike many sections of the South County Trailway, which run along the Sawmill Parkway, this section runs through the woods behind many homes, so it’s quiet, and suffused with greenery everywhere.
Alan Zale, a freelance photographer from Hartsdale, says the new section reminded him of his childhood in the Dunwoodie neighborhood. They’d go sledding on a hill by the Dunwoodie Golf Course that’s just off the trail.
“We’d throw snowballs at the trains,” said Zale. “I love the new section. Now I can ride from Elmsford along the trailway to visit my uncle in Dunwoodie.”
Zale joined a group from the Westchester Cycle Club that started at the Putnam border at 8 a.m. and headed south 35 miles to Yonkers. The group picked up more cyclists in Millwood and another at Macy Park in Ardsley. That cyclist was riding a bike she made with a frame of bamboo wood.
There was no one on the trail in Somers and Yorktown. But by 10 a.m., the trailway was getting busy. There was one group of cyclists heading north, another was commuting to work in Yonkers. There were runners, pedestrians walking their dogs, and a guy running and jump-roping with sweat pouring from his brow. Most of the cyclists had bells on their bikes, and were ringing the bells to let pedestrians know they were coming up from behind. The pedestrians liked the warning, moved to the side, and smiled as the cyclists passed by.
Photo: Cyclists from the Yonkers Bike Club and Westchester Cycle Rode to the dedication of the South County Trailway today.