By Jana Seitz
I have sustained more injuries loading and unloading my bike into the back of my truck than from any other activity I’ve undertaken. I regularly jab myself in the ribs with the handle bars, schlonk my hips on the derailer, and stab my shins on the pokey pedals as I throw my bike in again and again in search of the old rail trails. I have “discovered” the most magnificent paths, all well within an hour’s drive, and hiding in plain sight. These trails are no secret to avid bikers and locals as weekends find them jam-packed. But on weekdays they’re almost empty…just myself and a few fellow girls makin’ the rockin’ world go ‘round.
The tricky part is figuring out where to access, where to park, and how to run shuttle if you’re taking a friend. Studying maps, browsing travel mags and trolling the internet are a fine start, but you really just have to throw and go…. figure it out by just doing it. I try to hit it right after 8 a.m. school drop-off, aiming to slide home just in time for 2:30 pickup (three out of four isn’t bad). I always have a backup pick-up plan, just in case.
These trails are great examples of a successful re-purposing of land: recycle/re-use as times change. In Westchester County, the New York Central Railroad ran freight and passengers between Putnam County and the Bronx via 23 stations from 1881 to 1958. The “Old Put” was slowly dismantled and today is divided into connecting paths, smoothly paved for recreational use:
The Putnam County Trailway (7.5 miles from Brewster to Baldwin Place in Somers) becomes the North County Trailway (22.1 miles from Baldwin Place in Somers to Eastview in Mount Pleasant), where it intersects the South County Trailway and runs 14 miles to the New York City border.
The entire rail line roughly parallels the Taconic Parkway, then doglegs east at Carmel to parallel Route 6, snaking its way through wetlands and woods, towns and neighborhoods, and over rivers and reservoirs. Old railroad stations are still standing and restored in Elmsford, Briarcliff, Millwood and Yorktown Heights. You’ll pass through a fair share of industrial parks and cemeteries too, as railroad throughways were historically built on less desirable land.
I’ll make it easy for you, a “Rail Trails for Dummies” if you will, highlighting two of my favorite legs which you can do on your own, avoiding the need to run shuttle and still making it home in time. Bring a backpack with water, phone, maps, and a bike lock if you have it.
Brewster to Carmel on The Putnam Trail (about 5 miles, one way, the hilliest part of the entire rail trail – there’s no shame in walking your bike uphill):
Begin by driving to the Mobil Station (The Drewville Mart) at 2495 Carmel Avenue, Brewster. Park in bikeway parking lot right across Route 6 at the start of the trail (look for signs). It crosses the beautiful Middle Branch Reservoir, skirts the Fred Dill Wildlife Sanctuary, and takes you to the hamlet of Carmel on Lake Gleneidia, where it bisects the start of the North County Trailway. Head downhill at the bisection, off the trail into Carmel to explore.
Have lunch at Millie’s Café at 16 Seminary Hill Road (Route 6 and corner of Church Street). Minor bike repair is at Village Bikes (97 Old Route 6). Beautiful old cemeteries and churches abound. Pop into the Putnam County Courthouse, built in 1814. Or bike about a mile south on the North County Trailway to the bridge over the Croton River, a great spot for a picnic. The round trip gives you plenty of time to get home.
Millwood to Yorktown Heights on North County Trailway
(7.7 miles one way):
Head to DeCicco & Sons, 230 Saw Mill River Road, Millwood. There is a bikeway parking lot just past DeCicco’s on the right (look for signs.) Park and hit the trail north. It crosses over the New Croton Reservoir, through wetlands and into Yorktown Heights. Have lunch outside at the Trailside Café (1807 Commerce Street, Yorktown Heights – bike rack across the street), explore the town, find the old railroad station, and head back.
If you have the time and inclination, do the whole trail system from stem to stern, about 43 miles, or figure out your own path as it all becomes clear. For maps and brochures, call Westchester County Parks at 864-7275 or visit www.westchestergov.com/parks. Stuart Farms, Turkey Mountain Nature Preserve, and the Kitchawan Preserve can all be accessed from the trails.
Al fresco dining spot
Trail above the Middle Branch Reservoir
Bridge over the New Croton Reservoir