The John Jay Community Trail project was initially originally conceived in 2013 by John Jay Cross Country Coach Tom Nohilly and David Gordon JJHS ‘15. David performed an initial survey of the school property. Then he undertook GPS, terrain, and trail mapping and he grabbed every opportunity to get others involved in the project.

The trail clearing started in Spring 2013 initially only by students and coaches. As the concept and reach of the trail expanded, the need to be able to safely cross the north branch of the Cross River was apparent.

Originally the river bridges were constructed of logs and timber made from trees cut down on site and fastened together with screws. But the rustic bridges were not inviting to runners and hikers — and were frequently swept away by high water levels.

The original log bridge located at the current site of Bridge #2 (finished).

Soon the project moved into the next phase.

David and Tom along with Mark Patek and the Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) for the Town of Lewisboro presented the proposal for the John Jay Community Trail to the Katonah-Lewisboro Board of Education in 2014.

The longtime CAC members made planners aware of the trail easement the town had on the Michelle Estates Association land bordering the school from when that neighborhood was developed starting in the late 1980s. The addition of this easement section would increase the land for a longer trail loop and allow the course to be long enough for significant training runs and also home cross country meets for the John Jay Cross Country teams. At the conclusion of this phase, the Katonah-Lewisboro Board of Education took lead agency role in late 2015 and the Town of Lewisboro offered its assistance.

The trail clearing commenced again in Spring of 2016 with members of the John Jay Cross Country and John Jay Track & Field teams, the Lewisboro Trails Committee, and community volunteers pitching in.

JJTrail Map detail showing locations of the bridge, causeway, and boardwalk structures. Update: the JJMS-Pit boardwalk is now called the Frog Hollow Boardwalk

Experienced trail project coordinator and Lewisboro resident Mike Surdej — who is an active member of the trails committee and the Westchester Land Trust — came onboard as chief volunteer in 2016 when the bridge building part of the project received the requirements from the school and athletic association. Bridges had to be six feet wide to meet New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) requirements. The bridges also had to be strong enough for the John Jay Athletic Department Gator utility vehicle to cross over in case of injury evacuation during a race.

Volunteer and Bridge designer Mike Surdej drives the gator over the bridge the first time.

Mike took these revised specifications into account and redesigned the bridges to be able to hold at least twenty two hundred pound runners at once. He also improved the design of the foundations to improve the clearance above the high water line of the stream. This proved to be essential when the area experienced several very heavy storms and the newly build bridges were untouched by the flow. “We don’t want to go through all of this effort just to have the bridges washed away by one of these big storms,” said Surdej “especially since we seem to be getting a lot more of them recently.”

Flooding around Bridge #2 on April 16, 2018 – no bridges washed away in this significant rainfall which brought water levels up 24 inches on the river.

The first bridge to be completed was Bridge #1 which has a span over the river of 26 feet and a total length including ramps of 56 feet. This bridge was begun in the Summer of 2017 and completed in the October 2017.

Bridge #2 was started soon after that – and was a much more ambitious project. The span across the river was 26 feet, and the west ramp was 24 feet, but the east side crossed over persistent wetlands and the decision was made to extend the bridge with level boardwalks on top of piers. The length of the pier boardwalk is 46 feet in addition to the 24 foot west ramp and the 26 foot bridge span for a total length of 96 feet.

Bridge #2 was finished in April 2018 in time for the inaugural John Jay 5k Trail Race.

Members of the John Jay Track & Field team hauling one of the four 800 lb beams over bridge #1 to the site of bridge #2

In addition to labor, bridge building requires a lot of material and lumber.

Each bridge has four main beams are 26-28 feet long (depending on which bridge) and weigh in at 750 pounds each. These beams had to be specially ordered in advance since most lumberyards don’t keep them in stock. They are essential to the strength and durability of the bridges.

Key early donations of $10,000 from Cross Country parents Gary Page and Bob Hackett through the John Jay Boosters helped underwrite the initial large material purchases for the bridges in 2016-17.

More recently with the race committee and the cross country / John Jay Boosters account being formed, the organizers have sought donations from a wider group and received additional donations in 2018 and 2019 from over 80 families and individuals totaling over $20,000.

Community and student volunteers work to place the first of four 26 foot long 8″x14″ beams across the bridge foundation.

Donations are open once again (http://runsignup.com/jjtrail/donate) for Fall 2019 to Finish The Course which includes Bridge #3 (45 feet total length, 28 foot span) and two remaining boardwalks on the trail over the wetlands, mud, and rocky drainage spots.

We estimate we need approximately $4,000 to finish the trail. September 2019 Update: Progress is being made steadily using available funds, and we are raising additional funds as the work is rapidly continuing.

Note: Donations are open – we hope our cost estimates bear out, but there is always the possibility of unexpected costs or an increase in project scope.

Community and student volunteers have done all of the labor on the project so the only cost has been materials.

Some workdays are focused on specific tasks and need only a handful of volunteers. Other workdays are “all hands on deck” and the call goes out far and wide to the team and town volunteers.

One example of an “all hands on deck” work day was moving the 750-pound beams by hand down to the work sites. In December 2017, members of the Track & Field team did a rope carry of the beam from “the pit” field through the trail to the bridge site a quarter mile away.

Volunteers took hold of a rope snaked underneath the beam and walked the beams into the staging area near the bridge location. It was a true example of many hands making light work.

Members from the JJ Track & Field team moving the fourth and final beam for Bridge #2 to its location. They are shown here crossing Bridge #1, demonstrating its strength and ability to hold over 25 team members at once who are also carrying a 750 lb beam.

We accomplished this feat for the third time in August 2019 moving the beams to the work site for Bridge #3 – the Championship Bridge. Work there began July 2019 and we are currently excavating the foundation holes for Bridge 3.

In addition to the trail system entrances from the schools, there are also access points from Orchard Square Shopping Center, Michelle Estates, and The Meadows.

Mike Surdej, Rob Cummings, and Steve Warshauer at bridge #1

The trail is open to the community and is becoming a well-used amenity for residents and visitors.

Video showing early clearing, building Bridge #1, and start of bridge #2 construction.

If the video above is not visible, check the site directly here: https://leathermansloop.smugmug.com/OtherEvents/2019/John-Jay-Trail-Building/Video-version-1/i-hzqTPpN/A

Time-Lapse of Boardwalk #1 building in early May 2019

More photos and video from the trail building can be found here: