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Volunteers Work to Expand Yorktown's 60-Mile Trail System

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Walt and Jane Daniels, Laura Kelly, and Tim O’Connell Credits: Brian Marschhauser
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YORKTOWN, N.Y. – Yorktown may very well boast the most impressive trail system in Westchester County, and it didn’t get that way by itself.

Thanks to work done primarily by volunteers, Yorktown residents can hike or mountain bike 24.5 miles of interconnected trails through about 2,500 town-owned acres of parkland. In total, Yorktown has about 60 miles of trails, including the county-owned North County Trailway and the state-owned Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park.

Unbeknownst to many residents, there are nearly two dozen trail systems in Yorktown, including ones at: Sylvan Glen Park Preserve, Hunter Brook Linear Park, Kitchawan Preserve, Hilltop Hanover Farm, Granite Knolls Park, and Woodlands Legacy Fields.

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“There’s no other town [in Westchester] that’s even close,” said Tim O’Connell of the Westchester Mountain Biking Association. “If you just think about the Woodlands/Granite Knolls/Sylvan Glen combo, that has maybe 15 to 20 miles, somewhere in that range. What other towns have those miles?”

What makes Yorktown’s trails so special, said Jane Daniels, president of the Friends of FDR Park, is that they are mostly connected. A Yorktown resident for nearly 50 years, she is currently leading a charge to link 22.9 miles of trails west of Baldwin Road with 28.2 miles east and south of the Heights area. An application to develop that final 0.4-mile piece of the puzzle between Baldwin Road and Route 118 is being reviewed by the town board.

Laura Kelly, a member the newly minted Yorktown Trail Town Committee, said she moved to Yorktown two years ago specifically for the town’s trails. Kelly and her husband, who are avid mountain bikers, spent most of their lives in Colorado.

“Open space and recreational trails and opportunities are just a part of the fabric [in Colorado],” Kelly said. “So, when we were looking around, this was one of the few areas that had an abundance of parks and trails and opportunities to get outside. That was very important to us when we were looking for a place to re-settle.”

The all-volunteer Yorktown Trail Town Committee formed in September 2014 with a mission of promoting the commercial, recreational, health and social benefits of Yorktown’s parks and trails. Kelly, O’Connell and Daniels are all members.

Kelly said the organization plays an important role, because she would never have heard about Yorktown’s trails had it not been for word of mouth.

“Nobody’s promoting it,” Kelly said.

Daniels has been involved with trails on the local, regional and state level for almost four decades and began her volunteer work in 1979 as a member of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.

The town’s trail system has grown exponentially in the last decade, thanks in part to Daniels’ leadership. Since 2010, she has supervised the building and maintenance of 20-plus miles of trails in parks in the town of Yorktown.

“Other than Turkey Mountain and Teatown [Lake Reservation], there really weren’t places to walk or hike,” Daniels said. “Those were the first two. We raised both our daughters and when our older daughter visited two years ago, we took her over to Sylvan Glen and she said, ‘Why didn’t I know about this place? This is really neat!’ Because it didn’t exist as a park. The number of parks that have increased in Yorktown is huge.”

Though Daniels is a volunteer, accomplishing something of that magnitude takes a quite a bit of time. Last year, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference surpassed 100,000 volunteer hours maintaining 2,200 miles of trails, said her husband, Walt.

In addition to walking a potential trail at least 100 times to determine the best route, creating a trail also involves receiving approvals, obtaining funding, performing manual labor and completing environmental assessments. Daniels said Yorktown is lucky to have skilled volunteers who are able to complete this work, often at no charge to the town.

“Think of what the town now has as an asset for very little dollars,” O’Connell said. “[The town] gives us support, but we’ve done basically 95 percent of the labor to get it done and get it done professionally.”

O’Connell, president of the Westchester Mountain Biking Association, said the friendly relationship between hikers and mountain bikers has helped tremendously with the creation and maintenance of trails. Daniels agreed.

“The system couldn’t have been built without that cooperation,” Daniels said. “That has continued to exist. The usual mountain biker/hiker angst hasn’t occurred.”

Kelly said there is a motto among mountain bikers when it comes to putting in volunteer hours: “No dig, no ride.” Daniels said hikers also take a lot of “personal pride” in cleaning up, with some even bringing trash bags with them when they walk the trails.

For hiking or biking beginners, O’Connell suggested checking out Woodlands Legacy Field. He also said the pedestrian bridge over the Taconic State Parkway; the Hunter Brook; the giant boulder at Granite Knolls; and the quarry at Sylvan Glen are some of the “stars of the show.”

“There are some nice highlights to draw people in to visit our parks,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell said many people come from out of town specifically to visit Yorktown trails. While here, he said, they may patronize other areas of Yorktown, including businesses.

“I think we get a lot of visitors here, certainly within the mountain biking community,” O’Connell said. “I know a lot of people who visit here regularly who would never stop here otherwise, because of the trails.”

Even as a frequent user of the trails, Kelly said she is always discovering new areas.

“What’s great about the trails is not only are they basically in our backyard, but they’re extensive enough that you can go back there for a couple of hours and just lose yourself and get lost a little bit,” Kelly said.

O’Connell agreed, saying every hike or bike is a new experience.

“You never go on the same ride twice,” he said.

With the continued development of Yorktown’s trails, Kelly said, using a car may no longer be a requirement of living in a suburb.

“I often leave my house, I just hop on the bike trail, and I can be in the middle of Yorktown in 20 minutes, and I don’t ever have to be on the road, which is actually pretty nice,” Kelly said.

Though it’s been a slow build, O’Connell said he is starting to notice more and more people on the trails.

“Back in the early days, I would never see someone, or see one or two people,” he said. “Now, I always see somebody when I go out for an hour and a half.”

O’Connell said he’d like to see even more people out there in years to come.

Want to volunteer or learn more about Yorktown’s trails? Visit nynjtc.org or yorktowntrailtown.com.

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