Groundwork Hudson Valley will lead an environmental justice initiative to reclaim the Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park (OCA) in Yonkers.  The OCA is a major state trailway, and it tells the story of our local environment and the history of the New York City water supply.  It is one of the most scenic and widely used recreational resources among higher income communities in the lower Hudson Valley.

However, in Yonkers, the trail is greatly underutilized. It traverses through very low-income neighborhoods, and there is the perception (and in many places the reality) that the trail is overrun with litter, graffiti, trash, vines and public health concerns (needles, garbage, feral cats, etc). Consequently, communities that most need to experience nature and have easy access to the trail for physical exercise rarely do.

Under this project, Groundwork will work to reconnect Yonkers neighborhoods to the trail, assess and record environmental conditions, clean up and improve the trail based on the assessment, and hold events to encourage long-term utilization.

The areas through which the Trail passes in Yonkers are among the lowest income in the Hudson Valley but are also the most historic and scenic in the city.  The Old Croton Aqueduct was built in the middle of the 19th Century to bring potable water to New York City from the Catskills. The old brick-lined tunnel is a great feat of engineering and follows along a ridge line in Yonkers with dramatic views of the Hudson River, the George Washington Bridge, and even Manhattan. The neighborhoods around it, which date back to the 1700s, have many historic homes and remnants of 19th Century factories and churches. The Saw Mill River floats below the Trail in several spots, offering another scenic view.

One of the highlights of the trail in Yonkers is where it passes through Untermeyer Park.  The Park was an old estate on the Hudson and is now the gem in the city’s park system. At that point, trail users encounter two fearsome lions that serve as the stone entrance to Untermeyer’s Carriage Trails.

The trail in the target area for this project, however, is less attractive. The stone vents along the trail that occur about every half-mile are covered with graffiti. Multiple areas have become significant and long-term dump sites with a variety of trash and large, potentially hazardous materials ranging from batteries to cleaning supplies. Invasive vines have also taken over some areas as a result of increasing stress on the ecosystem from air pollution, climate change, and stormwater washes.  Most notably perhaps, the trail is lost under vacant lots, streets, and buildings from LaMartine to Palisade Avenue.

Clean-ups are scheduled for the near future and a long term plan is being developed.