Pave Putnam Trail? Not so fast


(re: “Parks officials poised to pave Putnam Trail,” Nov. 22)

Thank you for keeping the public informed on the current status of the Putnam Trail.

We have several considerations about paving the trail.

In 2011, we attended a public environmental forum organized by Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, then-Councilman Oliver Koppell and others. They were the panelists. The public could raise any environmental issue of concern.

We brought up paving the Putnam Trail, which we’d only recently found out about. None of the panelists indicated there was a pending decision to be made regarding the use of asphalt. They wanted to keep the discussion brief, indicating that the Putnam Trail had been discussed at a previous meeting.

The following year, we began going to community board meetings on the Putnam Trail. Bob Bender was always pushing asphalt as the first choice, not a “last resort.” Going north of the Putnam Trail into Westchester County is the saved South County Trailway. He frequently praised that trail at community board meetings.

Furthermore, the board’s resolution on the Van Cortlandt master plan stating that trails in the park would be permeable, non-toxic and flexible was ignored when it came to the Putnam Trail. Paving it satisfies none of those requirements.

The trend in best practices is to remove asphalt, not lay more down in wetland-sensitive paths to restore natural hydrology, and thereby improve natural habitat. According to a survey of permanent resident and winter-visiting birds from Dec. 1, 2012 to Feb. 28, 2013, there are 31 such species in the marsh, 18 in the lake and 10 along the Putnam Trail. Additionally, there are 27 nesting and probable nesting bird species seen along the Putnam Trail.

Habitat destruction would likely seriously impact birds. And that is just bird species. Small mammals, reptiles and amphibians also feed and take cover in the underbrush.

Save the Putnam Trail gathered more than 2,600 signatures against paving. Somehow that didn’t matter. This is the only nature trail that is flat, traverses wetlands, and is conveniently located to public transportation and parking, making it a popular choice not only for cyclists, but for walkers, birders, fishers and runners.

In the 17 years we’ve been living in Riverdale, we’ve seen a great many mature tall trees cut down and replaced with denser development. All those water-absorbing roots are no longer existent, so more water will be ending up in the wetlands, more than which was or could be calculated in this Putnam Trail plan.

The trend is always more development and more paving, all around the park. That water will go downhill into the wetlands. Laying down a non-porous surface at this time shows an incredible degree of shortsightedness. More water will mean cracked asphalt. The water won’t get out of the way because of the pavement.

Finally, the debates about paving never seemed to touch on the area of public safety. Many users of the trail, including ourselves, have had close calls with speeding cyclists, with their “get out of my way” attitude. They will be the real winners if the trail gets paved. The parks department’s plan to reduce speed will be to put in a few curves, which is a token attempt to convince the public that the problem of speeding cyclists has been addressed.

The issue then becomes, in addition to environmental and runoff issues, a public safety issue. Will the 50th Precinct be monitoring speed? Will that be parks and recreation’s responsibility, or does the public just wait and see, and hope for the best?

This decision to pave the Putnam Trail is a poor choice for the environment, and does not meet the needs of all users.