WATERWAYS, WETLANDS, WATER SUPPLIES AND WILDLIFE

Because of Westchester and Putnam Counties’ hilly terrain, railroads like the Putnam and Harlem lines were built in valleys and lowlands formed by north / south flowing waterways. Sewers, water lines and highways that preceded and followed the railroads also were built to take advantage of these naturally occurring transport routes. In Westchester, these waterways include the Hudson River, the Croton River, the Saw Mill River, the Pocantico River, Tibbetts Brook, Sprain Brook, the Bronx River, the Hutchinson River and Long Island Sound.

In Putnam and Dutchess Counties, between Patterson and Wingdale, the east branch of the Croton River is fed by the Great Swamp and Swamp River. Farther north in Dutchess County, the route between Wingdale and Wassaic parallels Ten-Mile River, which flows into the Housatonic River in Connecticut. North of Wassaic, the route stays near Webatuck Creek, originating near Whitehouse Crossing.

Heading to Poughkeepsie, southwest of Pine Plains, the route is never far from Wappinger Creek. If you look carefully, you'll see vestiges of former railroad embankments to the east of route 82 south of Old Conklin Hill Road and also crossing Salt Point Turnpike immediately west of the steel grate bridge over Wappinger Creek.

Wetlands are vegetated aquatic ecosystems. They are places where soils are occasionally but repeatedly saturated by water, favoring the growth of specially adapted water-loving plants and promoting the development of hydric soil properties. They include some of the most productive natural areas in the world.

Wetlands provide many irreplaceable environmental benefits. They act like sponges, slowing the rate of surface water flow, reducing the erosive forces of running water, and absorbing large volumes of potentially damaging flood waters. The roots of wetland plants and the soils surrounding them help to purify water by filtering out and processing nutrients, suspended materials, pesticides, toxins, chemicals, and other pollutants that might enter streams and subsurface drinking water supplies.

Water continues to play an important part in shaping the region's ecosystem. The impact of higher density development throughout the region has raised public awareness about the benefits of open space and wetlands.

Railroad construction altered wetlands. Massive amounts of fill were brought in to provide both a solid base and a moderate grade for the railroad bed. Built-up railroad beds filled in wetland areas and altered drainage patterns by restricting water flow from one side of the railroad embankment to the other. Altered drainage patterns and resultant flooding of low-lying areas may have, in some cases, contributed to the creation or enlargement of wetland areas.

Along with railroad construction, acquisition of extensive watershed lands and the construction of a network of reservoirs and aqueducts for New York City’s water supply system shaped the evolution of Westchester and Putnam Counties. The system involved construction of three aqueducts, six reservoirs, and seven major dams starting with the Old Croton Dam in the 1830s and continuing through the early 1950s. The Croton system drains a vast watershed area in northern Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess Counties and to this day has greatly influenced development patterns.

Common wetland plants you can spot along the trails include Cattails (Typha spp.), Reed (Phragmites communis), Tussock Sedge (Carex stricta), and the opportunistic but beautiful Purple Loostrife (Lythrum salicaria). You might also be lucky enough to see a Red-Winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) showing its red epaulets, Spotted Turtles (Clemmys guttata), dragonflies such as the Green Darner (Anax junius), and, perhaps, a tiny skipper butterfly (Poanes ssp.) feeding on the phragmites or sedges.

Wetlands provide unique habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals and they offer opportunities for recreational enjoyment. The region's streams, rivers, wetlands, lakes, ponds, and the Hudson River and Long Island Sound are natural treasures that add significantly to the quality of life. Enjoy our wetlands. Help protect them.


Compiled from signs along Westchester's South and North County Trails and from other sources, Summer, 2005; updated Spring, 2008