It took six years to get this race off the ground. After moving to Westchester in 1999 I soon discovered a variety of local trails that were great for running. But they had no maps, were spread across New Rochelle, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Scarsdale, Eastchester and County lands, and had utterly no formal integration with each other. Two parks were right next to each other on county maps, but had no trail linking them.
By 2001 I had run each of the various trails separately, learning as I went, and sometimes getting lost. And then one day I strapped on a water bottle and took off from home as I stitched them together into a 13 mile loop. While others were running on asphalt, I had soft earth, cool air and a perfect marathon training ground. Except, of course, for those times I had rocks, roots and mud. I came home dirty and happy.
And I let my city councilman know. Noam Bramson, who went on to become mayor of New Rochelle, started going from municipality to municipality to see what he could do. And he found that Mamaroneck Town Councilwoman Nancy Seligson was already doing the same thing to organize the trails into a big system of some kind. That was 2002.
Over the next six years we kept meeting (and meeting and meeting) and I kept running the trails, giving guided running tours to friends and members of the Sound Shore Runners and Multisport Club (now NewRo Runners). And at each municipal meeting I told them that as soon as they built the missing link between the two critical parks that were near each other (Leatherstocking and Saxon Woods) our club would put on a half-marathon trail race. If you build it, I told them repeatedly, they will run.
The first trail of the race is the Leatherstocking, a 2.7 mile linear park going from New Rochelle to Mamaroneck. This was created from land that had originally been set aside for a roadway, but was converted to a nature trail when I-95 was built.
Unfortunately, in the big April 15, 2007 Nor’easter, a huge, critical catwalk on the Leatherstocking was wiped out by flooding waters. Another catwalk, that spanned a stream, was pulverized by falling trees. Elizabeth Paul, The Town of Mamaroneck’s Environmental Coordinator, set to work with volunteer crews of Boy Scouts to repair the walk, rebuild the bridge and blaze the trail network with the new star blaze.
Meanwhile, the Town of Mamaroneck and Westchester County were building an important connection between Leatherstocking and Saxon Woods, the huge county park just to the north. The parks were thisclose to each other, but runners were required to go a half mile on Old White Plains Road — a narrow, winding roadway with no shoulder — before finding an access trail into Saxon Woods.
The missing link between the parks was started on December 3, 2005, with volunteers cutting a new trail into Saxon Woods so that only 500 feet of running was required on Old White Plains Road. (I then ran the finished loop the next day, on freshly fallen snow, with Guillermo Gutierrez.) The narrow December 3rd trail twists and turns its way into the park for a quarter mile to meet up with the substantial trail system that already exists there.
In the winter of 2007-8, that 500 foot run on Old White Plains Road was closed even further by the Town of Mamaroneck with a gravel path along a newly built shoulder that eliminated almost all of the the previously dangerous connection. It wasn’t pretty, but it linked the parks.
At the same time signs went up around the trail system. This included existing (but unmarked) connections to the Hutchinson River Trail (an old bridle trail) that runs through the woods abutting the southbound side of parkway, Twin Lakes park in Eastchester and Nature Study Woods in New Rochelle (an old railway right of way). That’s right, the disparate elements had become a unified system, now called the Colonial Greenway as a tip of the hat to some local colonial elements we have.
On the County level, $1,500,000 was promised for the trails in December 2006, of which $500,000 was to be spent on a trail running parallel to Pinebrook Boulevard to make a giant figure-8 out of the system, and $1,000,000 for trail improvements to the rest.
While it took six years, the group of local officials secured funding for the signage, mapped trails, repaired storm damage, and committed substantial additional funds for the Greenway. Mayor Bramson predicted that “The Colonial Greenway will quickly become one of our region’s great open space and recreational resources.” And Councilwoman Seligson said, “After years of hard work and planning, we can now look forward to opening the Colonial Greenway to our entire extended community.”
On May 18, 2008, 20+ runners met at the Thomas Paine Cottage in New Rochelle and had a “soft opening” of the trail. In a June meeting of local officials, an official dedication date was set for September 28th. Our little running club had three months to put together a half-marathon trail race that no one had ever heard of on a trail system that had not previously existed.
And on September 28th we did just that, with the help of dozens of volunteers and the assistance of the local municipalities. Despite several days of inclement weather, 50 hearty souls toed the start line at the base of Broadview Avenue in New Rochelle. And with a gunshot from a colonial musket, we started down the trail to what we hope will grow into a signature event for the County of Westchester.
The race starts at Paine Cottage, a national landmark that sits on Thomas Paine’s former farm, given to him by the State of New York for his activism in the Revolution. The house and adjacent park sit at the bottom of Broadview Avenue.
Ragtime author E.L. Doctorow also lived on Broadview, until 1999, and he immortalized the street in the opening of his now-famous book:
In 1902, father built a house at the crest of the Broadview Avenue hill in New Rochelle, New York.
This hill is the start of our race.
— Eric Turkewitz