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Opinion

Persistence pay off with 36-mile Putnam-Westchester trail

Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino, second from left,

Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino, second from left, with former county executives, from left, Alfred DelBello, Andrew O'Rourke and Andrew Spano, at Monday's event in Yonkers to celebrate the South Country and North Country Trailways. Credit: Newsday Photo/Gerald McKinstry

It started more than three decades ago and spanned the administrations of four county executives. Now the North and South County Trailways -- once a popular freight and commuter line known as the "Old Put" -- are a nearly seamless public park connecting the most southern part of Westchester with Putnam County.

As it was a century ago, the line is again an integral travel route -- but now it's for bikers, joggers and walkers.

The near-completion of the 36-mile pathway is an impressive tale of patience, perseverance and gritty know-how. Today this once-abandoned rail line is a paved linear park spanning the county and beyond.

You can thank the "Putnam Line Champions," as longtime advocate Phil Pepe called them, who in the early stages had the vision to acquire the abandoned tracks. Pepe, an aide to Yonkers Mayor Angelo Martinelli in the early 1980s, was among the early proponents, some of whom did not live to see the trail fully realized.

In a ribbon-cutting Monday in Yonkers, four Westchester County executives -- Alfred DelBello, Andrew O'Rourke, Andrew Spano and Robert Astorino -- opened the final leg of the trail more than 30 years after the difficult work and negotiations began. They were joined by Martinelli and generations of planners, advocates and bikers to celebrate the opening of the last major section of the pathway: A two-mile Yonkers portion from Redmond Park to Tuckahoe Road.

Converting the "Old Put" is an example of how leaders, including political rivals and those from different generations, can create something great when they put aside politics and the battles of the day.

The idea originated during DelBello's tenure in the early 1980s. Different segments were completed during the O'Rourke, Spano and Astorino administrations. Astorino now has the task of finishing one final segment, a half-mile detour between Route 119 in Elmsford and Warehouse Lane in Greenburgh, where the track in unsuitable for use as a trailway.

The Putnam Division of the New York Central Railroad ended passenger service in 1958, when ridership declined because of the popularity of automobiles and the growth of interstate highways. Freight service ended in 1970.

Just as the old freight line was vital for farmers and manufacturers north of New York City, this newest incarnation is great for residents. With access points and parking all along the route, it's quite possible that this trailway will be one of the most utilized parks in Westchester -- not bad for the "Old Put."

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