When I noticed several years ago that the Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct was awarding badges to those who walked the 26-mile Westchester trail (or all 41 miles, which includes the route through the city), I thought it was an interesting idea, and quickly forgot about it. But when my wife, Linda, a far more goal-oriented and ambitious soul, heard about it, she immediately said, “We have to do that.”
So, we did.
We knew some sections well, of course. Back when I had functioning knees, I ran on the trail from our home in Dobbs Ferry to Irvington, or sometimes Lyndhurst, and back, hundreds of times. We knew some sections a bit; some not at all.
Years ago, on a fine spring day, I decided to walk to Manhattan. But I got tired—and, mapless, lost—in the Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park and took a bus home.
So, time to try again in more moderate fashion.
We set out on our quest, accompanied by our beloved mostly-Beagle Maggie. I got out the Friends’ trusty Aqueduct map and started plotting strategy. We planned to do roughly mile-and-a-half sections, then loop back. (Thus, we really did the trail twice. Should we have gotten two badges each?)
With one unplanned six-month interruption, we did the 26, and it was a marvelous experience in many ways. We saw fascinating new sections of the trail but also got a newfound appreciation of the whole sweep of this part of the Aqueduct, and the astounding engineering achievement it represented for the early 1800’s.
We started at the Croton Dam and worked south, a piece of trail we’d walked before, but did it again to put an official stamp on our endeavor. From there, I planned subsequent walks, searching for parking opportunities in the right locations. (Finding parking, I have to say, was sometimes a challenge.)
At one spot south of Ossining, we found ourselves walking on Route 9, and I was sure the map was wrong. But, no, I’d misread the map.
Over the course of that fall, we made our way south, bit by bit, through downtown Ossining, past the fancy houses in Scarborough—one of the sections, clearly marked on the map, where you have to detour because the Aqueduct route is inaccessible—and eventually to one of my favorite stretches, just below Hastings, with the lovely view across to the Palisades.
Then just when we could taste victory, with only one section left, I bounded into our backyard, slipped on some ice, and was out of commission for months with a leg injury. But as soon as I was able, we told Maggie it was time again, she reluctantly agreed, and we soon arrived triumphantly at the northern edge of Van Cortlandt Park.
We got our badges, which Linda sewed onto our Aqueduct hats. Though I have to confess that several years later, I inadvertently left the hat on the train. Does that mean I need to walk it again? I wouldn’t mind. Or maybe I’ll wait till I finish the city section: I’ve got just one piece in the northern Bronx left to walk. Then, even better: A “41” badge!
You may have your own regular stomping grounds on the trail, but I urge you to tackle the whole thing. You’ll find it a rewarding experience, and you’ll get a great badge to trumpet your feat to the world.
For maps, badges, walks, tours, and all things Aqueduct, head to aqueduct.org.