Our Goals

Welcome to The Putnam Trail!
BCEQ resolution regarding the Putnam Trail:  here
Community leader’s suggested trail fixes:  here
Sen. Jeff Klein and Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz send letter that supports community concerns:  here
SPT’s position paper on the trail:  here
A Sierra Club NYC blogpost: here.
SPT position paper on the VCP Masterplan:  here
SPT monograph on how to make Vanny a herbicide-free park: here

The Putnam Trail runs through state-protected wetlands and Forever Wild preserves. Van Cortlandt Park’s wetlands are YO-1 classed wetlands — the highest classification.  “This wetland has a diversity of wetland communities seldom equaled in Bronx County and contains habitat types found nowhere else in the Bronx,” said DEC in 1987.  The wetlands are protected by DEC and include Tibbetts Brook, the marshes, the lake and pond. At one time there were 224,000 acres of freshwater wetlands in the city. This figure is now down to 2,000 acres. Are we diminishing them more? It can’t be understated how natural surfaces are not only more environmentally and people friendly but more traffic slowing preventing fast biking that can disturb other users and wildlife.  Van Cortlandt Park has large swathes of nature preserves.  The South County Trail does not.

In 2009, the city declared that wetlands should be primary above other land uses. Why are wetlands important?  Because they 1) filter toxins from the water supply, 2) reduce air pollution, 3) provide critical wildlife habitat, 4) stop sewage overflows that pollute waterways, and 5) provide recreational and educational opportunities. Wetlands are outdoor classrooms that offer opportunities for discovery. They are living examples of nearly all ecological principles. 6) allow city dwellers to connect with nature.

In one study, asphalt next to wetlands caused a 19% decline in reptile and amphibian species and a 14% decline in bird species richness.  (Findlay & Houlahan, Conservation Biology, 1996)   NYSDEC in 2003 said that half of the endangered and threatened plant species are in wetland areas of the state.

Longtime birder of the region John Young compared landscaped Central Park with unlandscaped Van Cortlandt Park (which framers like Olmsted believed should remain so city dwellers could connect with nature yet have access to a complement of ballfields, etc.):  “Although the diversity of birds in both parks is similar during migration, the similarity ends with breeding season. The Van Cortlandt marsh alone holds more breeding species than all of Central Park. Central Park’s landscaped trails, sculpted lawns and colorful plantings as a nesting choice for birds, I would safely say, is not attractive.”

So paving may not affect migratory birds, but it will affect nesting birds.

The park is one of the natural wonders of the city. The park has been called “the lungs of NYC” because of its ability to soak up city air pollution. Early framers intended it to offer a balance of ball fields, etc. but also natural landscapes to contrast with other city parks that are landscaped, gridded, artificial. Preserving nature-scapes was considered vital for busy, stressed city dwellers.

Changes proposed thus far for the Putnam Trail are costly to 1) other users, 2) the environment and 3) to the character and history of the park.  Other users include seniors, students, dog-walkers, people who want to enjoy nature slowly on a flat soft trail. Softer surfaces slow bike speeds to ensure everyone can enjoy the trail equally while preserving the character and nature of the trail and the park.

Under the existing plan, rail ties would be removed, erasing some of the park’s history. We ask that more be done to preserve this history.  And that there be less widening, which would result in fewer trees and understory being lost, which serve as vital habitat for birds, insects, and other creatures. In terms of surfaces alone, asphalt is the worst choice possible. It increases water runoff from storms, which causes erosion and pollution downstream. It is a net increase in impervious surfaces which increases air pollution and heat, in a city that is already 72% impervious surface. The Table below compares four alternatives in terms of impact on the environment and the cost of construction. Asphalt has 100% water runoff; stone-dust, 30%; compacted earth, 10% or less. Porous asphalt has 50% runoff, with the remaining 50% carrying toxins to underground groundwater, next to wetlands, some of which is regurgitated to the surface in subsequent days due to evaporation.

In 2009, Mayor De Blasio, and members of the city council, signed Local Law 31. This law says when faced with competing land-uses, preserving wetlands is most important in terms of the future of the city. 

“NYC has lost the majority of its wetlands to development over time,” the law says.  “The Council finds that to the maximum extent possible in consideration of competing land uses, preserving the remaining wetlands, creating new wetlands and undertaking actions designed to improve the functions of wetlands to the maximum extent possible is in the best interests of the city, and offers a way to respond to the challenges that will be presented by climate change and rising sea levels.”

Once these natural areas are gone, they are gone forever.  (Chart below/analysis by M. Eremeyev)

SPT supported alternatives chart

A map of the YO-1-classed wetlands next to Putnam Trail (1966). The trail is called Conrail below:


Photos taken by participants in a Shorewalker Walk along Putnam Trail, Oct. 2013.

Photos show how the trail is shared today

If paved, experience has been cyclists will dominate and change the trail’s fundamental character. Currently it is shared by different types of users, equally and harmoniously.

Sarah Baglio on “BronxTalk with Gary Axelbank”

Educator Sarah Baglio makes the community case for keeping the trail as natural as possible.   Click 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


Putnam Trail looking south

(photo: Matthew Turov)

NYCParks says only seven mature trees will be removed. This photo facing south taken in the month of April shows many trees will be affected by widening the trail. The trail is 7 ft wide in this photo. Widening, biologists say, would cause “fragmentation of green space” where seeds/pollen of unwanted species are pulled into the gap. Roots get churned up during construction causing trees to die years later. Also important is removal of habitat in the form of shrubs, weeds, grasses. Not only will this impact wildlife but the plants aren’t available to soak up rainwater. Asphalt allows 100% of stormwater runoff which spread toxins into the environment and causes CSO’s (sewage overflows) downstream.


       The purpose of this campaign …

The purpose of this campaign is to get the Putnam Trail resurfaced with stone dust instead of paved asphalt and to reduce the proposed width from 15ft to 8ft. or less.

NYC Parks Department plans to double the current width of the Putnam Trail from 8ft to 15ft!  The average lane on an interstate highway is 12ft.

This will require the destruction of many trees and will have a detrimental effect on the wildlife, the natural environment and the beauty of the Park.  A stone dust surface will serve all the users including cyclists, walkers, runners, baby strollers, wheelchairs and more.

Park trails are meant to be user-friendly and accommodate all methods of use.  We feel that the 8ft wide stone dust trail best meets the needs of all users while having minimal impact on the environment and lowest cost.

We ask you to support the Save the Putnam Trail campaign and ensure that the Putnam Trail stays 8ft wide and is improved with a stone dust surface.

If we stay silent on this issue one of the jewels of the Bronx and NYC will be lost forever!

Please don’t let the Putnam Trail become “Putnam Boulevard”!

OUR PLAN – 8 ft. stone-dust trail because it:

1. saves taxpayers MONEY!

2. preserves the environment!

3. still serves ALL users well!!