South County Trailway
Woodland's Lake Park (Ardsley, NY) to Van Courtland Park (Bronx, NYC)
2/8/2012 11:28:31 AM
As of January 2012, the South County Trailway (SCT) extension in Yonkers appears complete. The temporary detours have been removed and the Trailway is fully open through Yonkers.
The extended trail is about as good as it gets -- a smooth, wide asphalt surface with enough in the way of gentle climbs, curves and sweeping views to keep things interesting. Overall, the entire Yonkers section of the SCT is one of the best urban rail-trail rides I've found in the New York City region. And unlike the rest of the SCT, very little of the Yonkers portion runs alongside high-speed highways.
Instead, it cuts through some light industrial zones and blue-collar neighborhoods before straddling the Dunwoodie Golf Course and The HF Redmond Jr Memorial Park and then passing alongside the spectacular Tibbets Brook County Park where paved side trails wander past the Brook, tennis courts, playing fields and an immense water park.
The only real faults (and this is true of the entire SCT) are a scarcity of access and trail-side services. As for trail-side refueling, I saw just one seasonal outdoor cafe at Palmer Ave. (closed in January) and a Duncan Donuts in the the Mile Square Plaza. It's worth noting, however, that the Trailway does go directly under McLean Ave., which is home to one of the highest concentrations of Irish pubs anywhere outside of Dublin.
The wide, smooth asphalt section stretches for about six miles from the Yonkers/Hastings border to the Yonkers/New York City border, where the paved trail ends in the woods at the edge of Van Courtland Park. From this isolated trailhead, an unpaved trail continues along the Old Putnam rail bed to the southeast corner of Van Cortland Park, where The Old Putnam Trail joins a short feeder trail that links up with the MTA No. 1 Subway line at the corner of 242nd Street and Broadway in the Bronx.
In theory, it's possible to transport a bike via Subway to the 242nd St-Van Courtland Park Station and then ride almost entirely off-road to Brewster, NY, where there is regular Metro North train service back to NYC's Grand Central Station. I say "in theory," because even in dry weather, the unpaved trail through Van Courtland Park presents a serious challenge to road bikes.
As for reaching the Yonkers section of the SCT by car, one option is to park at HF Redmond Park where the Trailway runs on the hillside above the park. A steep access trail is easily found on the embankment behind the baseball diamonds. Finding Redmond Park itself, however, is no picnic.
The easiest and most convenient trail access and parking is at the intersection of Farragut Ave and the Saw Mill River Parkway in Hastings-on-Hudson. The SCT parking lot is on the southeast corner of the intersection and is entered from Farragut Ave. If you cycle south from here, after a short stretch of narrow, bumpy trail, you'll reach the Yonkers border where the Trailway becomes both wider and much, much smoother.
The third option, which is what I did, is to park about three miles north of Yonkers at Woodland's Lake Park--which has its own exit (northbound only) off the Saw Mill River Parkway in Ardsley. From the Woodland's Lake parking area to the NYC border is about 9 miles, making for a pleasant 18-mile afternoon round trip. Despite the reference to "smooth sailing" in the main article, I found that north of Yonkers, the STC is anything BUT smooth. As a previous review notes, by 2010 washboarding from root heaves had already become a significant problem along the STC. It's only gotten worse since then. Between Woodland's Lake and Farragut Ave., I had to keep my speed below five or six mph most of the time, or risk jarring my dental work loose.
Is the Yonkers section of the South County Trailway a worthwhile destination for an afternoon rail trail ride? I think so -- and will be returning again! For mountain bikers, there's the added attraction of many miles of unpaved trail to explore in Van Courtland Park, which at 1,100 acres is NYC's fourth largest green space.
1/25/2012 10:37:25 AM
Thanks to the relatively mild Winter so far, as of late January the North County Trailway remains in great shape for cycling.
The rail trail between Millwood, NY and the Putnam County border has been remarkably clear of fallen branches and debris all Winter. Yesterday (Jan. 24) I discovered why.
Westchester County has a two-man tree crew with a leased cherry picker working along the trail to clear overhanging deadwood. From a brief conversation, I got the impression this was mainly a safety/liability issue -- the County is (rightfully) concerned someone could be clocked by a potentially deadly falling tree limb. But it's also a boon to cyclists!
The chronic flooding north of Route 35 seems to have been solved by placing a drain pipe about 18"-inches below the top of the beaver dam. The water level remains high alongside the trail, but even after 6" inches of snow on Sunday and a heavy rain on Monday, there was no flooding on Tuesday.
In fact, there was only one significant icy patch to be found on the entire 12 mile ride between Millwood and the Putnam County border. Ride on!
1/25/2012 8:56:21 AM
I made a mileage error in my previous review. The OVERALL distance of the combined North County / Putnam Trailways is 30 miles. However, the continuous OFF-ROAD portion between Millwood, NY and Brewster is only about 20 miles.
The entire interconnected "trailway network" (South County / North County / Putnam Trailwaus) is about 44 miles beginning at the Bronx / Westchester border and ending in Brewster. The vast majority of this consists of off-road rail trail. And it really is one of the recreational treasures of the New York City region.
South County Trailway
Off-Road from Briarcliff Manor to Elmsford
1/20/2012 11:47:12 AM
The 30-miles of continuous asphalt rail trail that begins in Millwood NY and pass through Yorktown Heights, Mahopac and Carmel Hamlet before ending on the outskirts of Brewster is one of the recreational treasures of the New York City region.
Technically, the trail consists of a 22.1 mile section of the North County Trailway which seamlessly joins the 7.4-mile Putnam Trailway at the border between Westchester and Putnam Counties.
Much of this trail passes through hilly upland forest. But there's a spectacular trestle across the Croton Reservoir, numerous lakes and ponds -- and an series of villages and towns with funky bars, bike shops, pharmacies and dozens of eclectic eateries ranging from a 1933 WPA-type stone building with an outdoor cafe/garden that's been turned into a Starbucks to a trendy Italian cafe called Mirabella's that specializes in homemade gelato. There's even a trail-side shop the sells comics and graphic novels.
The fact that this trail system extends south all the way to New York City -- albeit with several breaks that force riders onto busy side streets and highways -- is all the more remarkable.
Given the enticements of the North County/Putnam Trailways, it's not surprising that it's taken 15 years to summon the curiosity to explore what lies south of Millwood. But on a frigid January day with temps in the mid 20s, I decided to take a look.
At Millwood, the North County Trail becomes an on-road bike route along Saw Mill River Road. Although the shoulder is wide and in some places separated by a guard rail, I've yet to speak to a cyclist who's felt comfortable on this route where the traffic often flows at 70 mph.
But the off-road rail trail portion of the North County Trailway resumes in Briarcliff Manor and travels south for several miles before seamlessly joining the South County Parkway at Old Saw Mill River Road near the Westchester Medical Center. From there the rail trail continues south before ending at the gate of the UPS transfer station on Warehouse Lane in Elmsford. The distance from Briarcliff to Elmsford is a little over nine miles, making for a nice winter ramble on my recumbent trike.
Finding the Briarcliff trailhead was perhaps the biggest challenge of the trip. The Tudor-style Briarcliff Library mentioned in the main review has been replaced by a large, modern faux-Tudor brick Library building. Although the Google Map shows the trail running adjacent to the Library, there are no signs or any visible trail entrance.
Eventually, I noticed a dog-walker squeezing between some parked cars near the Library before vanishing behind a air conditioning compressor that's roughly the size of a Mini Cooper. Located between the compressor and the SE corner of the Library with a Handicap Only parking sign planted in the asphalt is a narrow path the leads down an embankment to the North County Trailway.
Once on the rail trail, the ride to Elmsford and back was surprisingly pleasant. The grade is gentle and the asphalt surface is in good shape -- with only a few inevitable root heaves and potholes. North of Millwood, the rail trade grades are occasionally steep and usually very long -- often going for three or more miles without a level stretch. Between Briarcliff and Elmsford, however, the grades are short and often barely noticeable.
The Google Map indicates that most of the rail trail is sandwiched between the Saw Mill Parkway and a major high tension line--which most certainly is the case. But on the South County Trailways portion of the route, the trail is elevated on a hillside overlooking the parkway, limiting the traffic noise and affording some interesting views. With summer foliage, I suspect both parkway and looming high-tension towers would be even less of an issue.
Near the point where the South County and North County Trailways link up, there's a spur trail that runs west for a mile or so through the Tarrytown Lakes Park -- offering an escape from both the overhead wires and traffic noise.
Don't, however, expect to find a cup of soup, or even coffee, between Briarcliff and Elmsford. The only possibility of food were an Applebees and something called the Executive Diner -- but reaching them would involve somehow crossing the Saw Mill Parkway. The rail trail ends, rather ignominiously, in the middle of a vast warren of trucking depots.
Will I be returning soon? Not likely. This stretch is simply no contest to the remarkable rail trail system from Millwood to Brewster. Still, for a quick afternoon outing, the Braircliff to Elmsford stretch is a pleasant and uncomplicated ride -- if you can find the trail head.
1/20/2012 12:24:27 AM
Even on a sub-freezing January day, the Heritage Trail is a pleasant place to ride. The asphalt surface between Monroe and Goshen is in excellent condition and is exceptionally wide. I would have had no difficulty passing three pedestrians walking abreast on my trike -- had there been any pedestrians to pass. And I wasn't starting and stopping for street crossings either. There were only a handful of crossings on the entire trail -- and most of these were little-used country lanes.
The trail connects three small villages located in the foothills of the Catskill mountains. Goshen and Monroe are on hilltops, while Chester Depot is in a valley about mid-way between. The trail grade is gradual -- probably no more than 2 percent -- but beware that the uphill ride from Chester Depot to Monroe is about six miles long with only a couple of brief level reprieves.
Between Chester Depot and Monroe, you'll also find yourself in an upland hardwood forest. In the vicinity of Chester Depot the trail passes alongside several dairy farms and, then, for about two miles on the outskirts of Goshen it runs adjacent to NY 17, a heavily travelled divided highway that is soon to become an Interstate. There are sweeping vistas -- some quite spectacular -- at numerous points along the way.
Goshen, with a well-defined village center, seemed the most interesting of the three villages. Chester Depot had a classic Upstate "town time forgot" feel. What I saw of Monroe was mostly parking lots, strip malls and highway overpasses -- punctuated by several minimally-landscaped parks. There may be more to Monroe, but the Heritage Trail doesn't take you there.
The absence of road crossings is something of a mixed blessing, in that access options are limited. Here's what I observed:
1. There were perhaps three dozen, 24-hour parking spots in the lot adjacent to the Goshen trailhead. The majority of these were empty -- but, hey, it was a weekday in January.
2. Chester Depot seemed to be the best place to park. The trail passes in front of the old rail depot in the center of town. There was a ton of parking and the only active businesses I noticed in the vicinity of the rail depot now a museum) were a sports bar ($2 well drinks for ladies on Tuesday night) and an outdoor clothing store.
3. At Airplane Park in Monroe, there're ample 2-hour parking spaces, plus what appears to be a brand-new commuter parking lot. But you'll need a Google map and the skills of a private detective to find the Heritage Trail.
The trail head is, in fact, at the top of the embankment behind the fighter jet from which the park takes it name. But there are no signs, no paved access, and the Village Fathers have planted evergreen trees along the park boundary so that even in winter, you can't see the trail. I've only visited one other trail head that has been so completely and deliberately concealed.
What's more, if you start at Airplane Park, don't be deceived by the "Bike Route" signs you'll see as you enter the park. Those are for an on-road bike route, and have nothing to do with the Heritage Trail. Follow them, as I did, and you simply end up on the shoulder of a busy highway sucking truck exhaust.
4. Two miles past Airplane Park, the trail bisects a complex of New York State commuter parking lots. On a Thursday, these were filled beyond capacity with every visible space filled and cars left on the grass barriers. On weekends, however, there should be ample parking available.
Bottom line: For mountain bikes and hybrids, there are several vastly more interesting non-paved trails to be found within a 45-minutes drive of the Heritage Trail -- including the immensely popular Minnewaska State Park Preserve near New Paltz. But for skinny tires and trikes, the Heritage Trail is a worthwhile off-road destination with gentle grades, sweeping vistas and several interesting villages to explore.
10/13/2011 4:08:02 PM
The complete off-road section of the North County Trailway from Milwood, NY to the Puntam County Border (at the Route 118 Trailhead and Mirabella's Cafe) is now completely open--as well as the Putnam County Trailway from the Route 118 Trailhead to the Brewster Trailhead.
HOWEVER, following a heavy rain there is a short section -- about 200 feet -- of the North Country Trailway which floods thanks to the work of eager beavers (literally!!!!) that have built a dam at a low spot along side the trail. The flooded area is about a mile north of Route 35 (between Yorktown Heights and the Putnam County Border).
When flooding happens, the Westchester authorities post a "Trail Closed" sign on the north side of the Route 35 crossing -- as was the case several weeks ago when we cycled the trail after a heavy rainfall the previous night.
We ignored the signs -- along with most other cyclists -- and found the flooded stretch to be passable at slow speed with only about 4 to 5 inches of water over the asphalt in the deepest area. Not even a problem for our Terra Trikes with 20" wheels.
The trail is especially beautiful right now as the Fall foliage is nearing its peak--although the presence of wet leaves and fallen branches may pose problems for road bikes.
North County Trailway
Post Irene -- Millwood to Yorktown Heights Still Closed But Passable
9/10/2011 10:01:55 AM
As of my ride on Sept. 8, there were still barricades with "Path Closed" signs on a portion of the trail between Millwood and Yorktown Heights.
The barricades were being universally ignored -- and even on the officially "closed" section, all fallen trees had been cut and cleared at least enough to open the full width of the trail.
There were, however, many dead branches, and even several trees, still hanging precariously overhead.
There was also some flooding and lots of debris--mud, gravel and branches--on the trail. In a few spots, the trail shoulders were eroded. And in several places the asphalt had partially collapsed, effectively narrowing the trail to one lane. However, these were all well marked with orange cones and the trail was passable -- even for my recumbent trike.
I didn't travel north of Yorktown Heights -- although while driving home, I could see yet another "Path Closed" barricade on the north side of Route 35.
On Sept 9, I triked the Putnam County Trailway between downtown Mahopac and the trailhead at Putnam Ave. in Brewster. The trail was open with minor debris and flooding along with a few fallen, but cleared, trees in the heavily wooded section of rail trail between Mahopac and Willow Road. The new bike path extension between Willow Road and Putnam Ave. in Brewster showed very few signs of storm damage.
New Segment Open -- But Beware of the Grade
9/10/2011 9:10:04 AM
There were a handful of free parking spaces (weekday morning) at the Old Mine Trailhead Park-and-Ride lot mentioned in the TrailLink description. I also passed three large Park-and-Ride lots in Mahopac that were directly adjacent to the Putnam Trailway. The large Park-and-Ride lot on Woodcrest Gardens at Route 6 opposite Lake Mahopac and the Four Brothers Pizza was completely empty.
The new trail section between Willow Street in Carmel Hamlet and Putnam Ave in Brewster was completely open as of my ride on Sept. 9. Unlike the North County Trailway in Westchester, there was very little tree damage from Tropical Storm Irene -- and aside from some minor flooding, the trail was in excellent condition the entire way.
Beware that this new section is NOT a graded rail trail and if you are an older rider or have young children, take a careful look at the Google Terrain map. There are three steep hill climbs that left my admittedly aged, but not terribly-out-of-shape legs, trembling. The most formidable was the Carmel Ave. overpass which, according to the Google Terrain Map climbs 50 vertical feet in about 500 feet of trail -- or almost a 10-percent grade! No wonder you see reflective-yellow "Steep Grade" signs.
New Segment Design:
Don't expect the deep woods feel of the North County and southern portion of the Putnam County Trailways on the new trail extension. The entire stretch has been cleared and landscaped with elaborate drainage catch basins and even storm-sewer grates along the hillside portions. Ironically, the tree clearing could have opened lovely views to the Middle Branch Reservoir, but the designers purposefully added a high berm (perhaps to mollify property owners) that effectively seals off any glimpse of water -- except for a short causeway which does offer views up and down the length of the reservoir.
At Willow Ave on the south end of Lake Gleneida, the transition between the old rail trail and new extension is immediately evident. There is even a display titled "A Tale of Two Trails."
Ironically, although you are seldom out of sight of buildings along the new trail extension, with the exception of one bike shop located in a warehouse building the abuts the trail, there are exactly zero places to stop for a snack or coffee until you reach Lake Mahopac.
The new extension offers a nice suburban-style off-road trail ride -- with some steep grades not normally associated with rail trails.