Article Archive: Cross country trail moves forward in Cross River (2015)

Originally published in the Lewisboro Ledger Oct 1, 2015, written by Jeff Morris

Detail of original engineering drawings from March 2015.

The plan for a John Jay High School cross country training course that would also serve as a link in the town’s trail system recently passed a key milestone.

At the Sept. 17 Board of Education meeting, the board unanimously passed a resolution declaring itself the “lead agency” for the proposed installation of “a 5K cross country trail, to be located at the John Jay campus and extending onto the Michelle Estates open space parcel, with connections to NYS Route 35, Lambert Ridge and Gideon Reynolds Road.”

The lead agency designation means the school board has examined all information related to the project and has determined that the renovation work would have no significant impact on the environment, as required under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). That determination allows the project to move forward without any further review under SEQRA.

Complicated process

Plans for a cross country trail have been in the works for more than a year, part of a complicated process involving not only the school board, but the Town Board and other town officials, several state agencies, the Michelle Estates Homeowners Association, the Lewisboro Land Trust, and other volunteers. According to Tom Nohilly, John Jay’s cross country head coach, lack of an appropriate course has been a detriment to the school. “We can’t hold a home meet right now,” said Nohilly. “We don’t have a home cross country course, and it can’t be done on a track — it has to go through woods and up and down hills. We used to have one but it ran across driveways and roads, in front of buses and cars — things that are simply not acceptable.”

A successful program

Nohilly has been coaching at the high school for four years, and the cross country running program has been growing, with the girls’ team winning an unprecedented state championship in 2013. There are now 74 runners, including JV and varsity. Members of the teams may sometimes be seen running along the side of Route 121, a busy state road, where they are often just inches from speeding cars.

“They do run along a short stretch of 121 to get to Schoolhouse Road,” said Nohilly, emphasizing that they all wear reflective vests. He says the school track is simply not suitable for this type of training, even if there weren’t competition for the track from other users. “These kids are doing seven­ to eight­ mile runs, sometimes even nine­ to 11 mile runs, and it’s hard to have 60 kids running around the track for all that time; plus they need to run up hills and on a variety of terrain.”

A marathon, not a sprint

Town Supervisor Peter Parsons first appeared before the school board more than a year ago to request the district’s help in establishing the trail system between the John Jay campus and Michelle Estates. An essential part of the agreement for that development when it was approved in 1990 was a town open space easement on the Michelle Estates property. But though Parsons suggested the town wanted to get the work done right away, both Assistant Superintendent for Business Michael Jumper and board President Marjorie Schiff explained that there was no way the district could sanction starting work without detailed plans and cost estimates in place, and assurances that a lengthy regulatory approval process would not be required.

After that meeting, the district’s architect received a proposed trail map showing significant portions of the trail would pass through school and wetland property. Jumper said the district’s architect was speaking with the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to determine if the disturbance would be great enough to warrant permitting. The district was wary of a repeat of earlier problems it had run into during its Field of Dreams repairs, when failure to get permits resulted in having to redo the work.

Ready to move ahead

After a year of working out the details, last week’s board resolution finally brought the process for the cross country trail to the point where, according to Nohilly, they’re now just waiting for the DEC permit. “The permit application went in yesterday,” said Nohilly, “then it becomes a weather issue. But if things work out we could start doing some clearing.”

Town Councilman Dan Welsh, who has been among those attempting to coordinate the process, first met Nohilly when, as the father of a then member of the track team, he learned of the coach’s desire to create a legitimate trail for the team. “We have been at it in fits and starts,” said Welsh. “As this involves the Michelle Estates easement to the town, I was able to bring in the town engineering consultant (Kellard Sessions) to give us guidance and generate some drawings. We met with the Open Space and Preserves Committee and made a preliminary presentation to the Planning Board. The project also fits under parks and rec as a town preserve, and Superintendent Dana Mayclim was out there walking it with us.”

Welsh said the project is attractive for a number of reasons. “Number one, of course, is it will be used by what is now a very strong cross country team,” said Welsh. “The same trail should be a nice amenity for area residents for jogging, hiking and taking a walk to the shopping center. It fits nicely between Pound Ridge Reservation and the Mt. Holly Preserve and so has value in the context of townwide connections. Because of this the Lewisboro Land Trust has shown great enthusiasm.”

Nohilly noted that a stream that runs through the site means that three small bridges will need to be constructed, with some other moist areas just requiring surface walkways. “With the school district being the lead agency, an engineer for the school district will design it, and Mike Jumper will be in charge,” said Nohilly. “We hope to get people involved once we get everything approved — cross country parents, booster club parents; it will benefit not just the cross country team but the local community. It will make a connection where there’s currently none.”

Originally published in the Lewisboro Ledger Oct 1, 2015, written by Jeff Morris