Westchester officials are grappling with how to respond to a small mountain bike jump and skills park that was illicitly built in the county-owned Graham Hills Park in Mount Pleasant during the past two months.
More than a week ago a series of jumps made of dirt, wood and other materials was discovered by David DeLucia, director of park facilities for the county who is also an avid mountain biker. The park features a network of trails for bikers that was built in the 1980s.
The area where the jumps are located is more than a quarter-mile through the woods that can be entered on the southbound side of the Saw Mill Parkway at Marble Avenue. Most visitors, however, come in through the entrance to Graham Hills Park on Route 117, across the street from Pace University, and ride on the trails for at least a mile to the site.
DeLucia said it was apparently constructed by a loosely-knit group of biking enthusiasts. “It was just random people deciding ‘Oh, I’m going to build a jump here, I’m going to build a jump there,’” said DeLucia. “They did a lot of work.”
On Friday morning a group of county officials, led by DeLucia and County Executive George Latimer, inspected the site. At the time of their arrival there were at least 20 bikers in the vicinity, from children to adults, some of them using the jumps.
The key issue for the county is liability if someone was injured, said County Attorney John Nonna.
“They’d sue the county, claiming we’re on notice with this,” he said. “It’s a dangerous situation where we are liable and saying it’s a dangerous situation because we allowed it.”
Latimer, who was also informed of its existence by Assemblyman Tom Abinanti, said on Friday that he was unsure what course of action the county will take. He said he would like to talk to the mountain bikers who built it and those who have been using the jumps.
While there was no ill-intent by those responsible, Latimer said, building the jumps without authority on public land is a serious matter that has to be addressed. He expected a course of action to be decided in the coming week.
“We’ll sit and talk about it and figure out what kind of response, a plan that’s going to be,” Latimer said. “That’s why I was looking for people who were active in the mountain biking community, who’ll sit with us and have a rational discussion and have a rational plan going forward. But we can’t let people do whatever they want on public property.”
Since the county found out about it, a petition drive was launched containing more than 2,000 signatures from people afraid that officials will bulldoze the area.
Bob Dillon, head coach of the Pleasantville mountain bike team that competes in a New York league created by the National Interscholastic Cycling Association, said the jumps were likely built by those with newfound time on their hands, people who are home from school or furloughed from work.
Some of the youngsters Dillon coaches have gravitated to the site. With no youth sports or other organized activities, he hopes the county can reach a compromise with the bikers.
“It’s very well built,” Dillon said. “This wasn’t done by 12-year-olds with shovels. They knew what they were doing. They put in quality tabletops. It’s become like a community of people that come and hang out now and enjoy it. There’s nothing like it in the county.”
Jason Bell of Briarcliff Manor, who was at the park with his young son Aaron, said it’s a place to not only have fun but where you can socialize safely.
“This is one of only two areas of the park where you can social distance,” Bell said. “If you go through the part of the trails, the raw, rooty, rugged trails, obviously we can’t, you have bikes whizzing through at 30 miles per hour. So we can’t stand and have a conversation.”
Another frequent visitor, John of White Plains who asked that his last name not be used, said the area is actually safer than many of the park’s trails, some of which have steep descents that are littered with remnants of fallen trees and other debris. He said bikers from all over the county and Connecticut have been coming to the park for the jumps.
“With COVID, there’s no school, no sports, a lot of people out of work right now, this is our outlet,” he said. “My children are in travel sports. Without this, they’d be inside playing video games.”