Where to Skate: Westchester

Before reading about potential areas to skate in Westchester County, you should first take note of the county map of rail trails and bicycle friendly routes:

More info is on the Westchester county website.

Valhalla to White Plains

The following description of the Kensico Dam Plaza and the Bronx River Parkway is by Lise Broer and originally appeared in the October 1995 issue of the New York City edition of MetroSports magazine.

If Central Park is the social center of the skating scene in New York City, then the Kensico Dam at Valhalla is Westchester County's Central Park. It was first built as an earthen dam between 1880 and 1885. Stone quarried from nearby Cranberry Lake Park replaced the earth in 1915 and created a paved plaza. Named after the great hall in Norse mythology where the souls of heroes are honored, the plaza has several turn-of-the-century attempts to invoke Teutonic imagery. The Kensico Dam holds 30,573,000,000 gallons of water in a reservoir covering 13.3 square miles. It supplies water to New York City and to several Westchester communities. Local skaters recognize its real value as a skating center.

The plaza is mostly flat and well-paved. The t-shaped circuit varies the scenery and keeps the skate interesting. This is a good place to learn how to skate. Although there is no official direction of travel, most skaters follow a counterclockwise path.

Some of the local skaters maintain a slalom course at the western edge of the loop by the dam. While this course has only 20 cones and a slight grade, cones are spaced at standard 6 foot competition width. Slalom skaters accelerate along the dam and make a right turn to enter the course for high speed "ballistic" runs. As with other slalom sites, keeping the course clear is a constant concern. Here the main danger is from novice skaters who stray close to the cones as they do a loop.

Near the center of the plaza away from the loop is an area favored for roller hockey. The rough quality of the concrete here creates a great grip, but is notorious as an eater of wheels. Wear pads to play here. It isn't any easier on the skin.

Fitness skaters may be bored by the small size of the plaza. One way to add a few more kilometers to a workout is to go south along the Bronx River Pathway. The Pathway is an 807 acre linear park extending 13.2 miles from the Kensico Dam south to New York City. It runs parallel to the Bronx River Parkway and the Metro-North Harlem Line. To reach it from the Dam, exit at the southeast edge of the plaza and go east. The Pathway picks up across Broadway.

The pathway portion from the Kensico Dam Plaza south to the Westchester County Center in White Plains is fair for skating. This comprises slightly more than half of a 5-mile trail. Several other portions of the Bronx River Pathway are open to bicycles. Westchester In-line Skating Association president Eric Paulson shares a warning. "I would discourage anyone from skating most of it. The pavement is just too patchy." On Sundays during May, June, September, and October skaters have an extra treat. The Bronx River Parkway itself is closed to traffic from the Westchester County Center in White Plains to Fisher Lane in North White Plains. While the program is named Bicycle Sundays, the Westchester Parks Department invites skaters to take advantage too.

Although the above was written long ago, the Bronx River Parkway summer Sunday closings have continued in subsequent years. Note, though, that the closing only lasts a few hours, finishing up in early afternoon. It's a scenic skate/ride, hilly but quite manageable. Members of the Empire Skate Club will head up for a group skate along the parkway two or three times every summer.

Also note that although there has been an effort to create a good bike trail paralleling the Bronx River Parkway, from the NYC border at Mt. Vernon in the south to the Kensico Dam plaza in the north, it is not complete. A couple significant gaps remain, but it is possible to get around them on local streets. If you want to explore, see the county's map:

North and South County Trails

The North and South County Trails form a near-continuous rails-to-trails project along the right of way of the former Putnam Line Railroad. It offers a route from the New York City limits 40 miles north to Baldwin Place on the Putnam County border. Westchester County acquired the easement and gradually paved the route, first doing the North County Trail in the 1990s and then the South County Trail.

County bike maps showing the route are:

South County Trail - 5110

South County Trail in Yonkers

The South Country Trail and part of the North County Trail closely parallel the Saw Mill River Parkway. However, there are relatively few road crossings, and in some sections you can skate a couple miles without having to cross a road at all. For example, skating north from the Shepard Place entrance in Yonkers, the first intersection is about three miles away at Palmer Road (marked as Bryn Mawr on the SCT map linked above).

Elevation changes on the two trails are very mild due to the route being a former railway. If there is a negative it is that the asphalt on older sections is showing its age, so in some places you may find the asphalt just a bit chewy and there may be cracking due to tree roots. So for example, on the South County Trail, the asphalt is (as of early 2016) almost perfect south of Nepera Park (again, see map linked above), but not quite so nice to the north. On the North County Trail segment, we understand that the asphalt by Yorktown Heights is not in good condition.

Unfortunately, there is a very big negative in getting to the trail combo if you want to skate to them from the city — access at the south end of the South County Trail, at the New York City line, is via an atrocious trail through Van Cortlandt Park. The Van Cortlandt trail is not paved, but is dirt and gravel and also fairly narrow. Although the city Parks Dept. has proposed upgrading the trail for multiple use, there has been resistance, partially due to its potential impact on the Van Cortlandt wetlands. Consequently, if you are trying to reach the South County Trail via a paved route from the city, you will have to skate into Yonkers and maneuver your way on hilly streets to the trail access point at the intersection of Alan Shephard Place and Harrison Ave., two blocks north of the intersection of McLean Ave. and Tibbetts Road and one block south of Tibbetts Brook Park. But once onto the trail, you will find it very sweet skating for about six miles until you reach some older asphalt as you approach the Mt. Hope Cemetery.

Another issue is that where the South County Trail reaches its juncture with the North County Trail, there is a gap to contend with. Just east of Tarrytown in Elmsford, the South County Trail stops at W. Main St. The trail doesn't resume until about a half mile north at Warehouse Lane in Greenburgh This hole is in a neighborhood of industrial parking lots, which means some days of the week there will be commercial traffic to deal with if you try the more direct connecting route along Hayes St. to get from one trail segment to the other. An alternative is to use the sidewalk along Saw Mill River Road (Route 9A). The good news is that of mid 2016, the Westchester County government has committed the funding to filling in this gap, and supposedly it will be completed by late 2017.

A couple of extra notes: First, where the trail passes through Eastview, just east of the Tarrytown Reservoir and where Old Saw Mill River Rd. crosses over the parkway, it is only about a mile and a half from the Kensico Dam. The Tarrytown-Kensico bikelane provides a route to head over to the dam and reservoir.

Second, where the North County Trail hits the Putnam County line at Baldwin Place, the trail continues north as the Putnam Trail for another twelve miles as far as Brewster Heights. The nice thing about this is that there is a Metro North station at Brewster, not far from the bike trail terminus.