Walking Trails Create Community

Neighbors interested in walking trails create community when they establish the Westchester Wilderness Walk preserve.

| November/December 2006

  • conservation group
    Paul Zofnass leads a conservation group along the trail of the Westchester Wilderness Walk preserve. Groups interested in similar projects often visit the Pound Ridge area.

  • conservation group

Neighbors establish a preserve and the walking trails create community in the process. 

Pound Ridge, a beautiful wooded area 40 miles from New York City, is a place people go to get away from other people. Some past and present residents have included Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, Glenn Close, Chevy Chase and Richard Gere. Mostly they buy large tracts of land to insulate themselves from others — including neighbors.

That's one reason Paul Zofnass, president of Environmental Financial Consulting Group, had such trouble rallying his illustrious neighbors to action.

Zofnass, who bought a place in Pound Ridge in 1982 with his wife, Renee Ring, was cross-country skiing one day and noticed some red markers in the ground — a clear warning that development was about to hit his pristine community. Driven by the specter of hundreds of houses crowding the neighborhood, Zofnass hatched a plan whereby neighbors would all contribute land to a huge nature preserve. It would have a trail they could enjoy and even open to the public. The land could either remain in the owner's name and be designated a permanent conservation area, or it could be donated or sold to the Westchester Land Trust, which would manage the preserve. He studied tax maps to discover who owned the surrounding properties, then launched what would turn into a 10-year campaign.

"We pledged that if they wanted to participate in this with us we would take responsibility for coordinating with other neighbors and constructing a trail everyone could walk and enjoy," Zofnass says. "Most people didn't respond. Some people responded a little bit. One by one we were able to gather a little bit of interest."

Zofnass' efforts flew in the face of everything the neighborhood was about, says Christopher Shimkin, whose father owns one of the largest tracts in what became the Westchester Wilderness Walk preserve. Shimkin is founder and executive director of Global Village Engineers, a nonprofit he describes as "a cross between the Peace Corps and Doctors Without Borders." Shimkin is also the grandson of one of the first owners of the publishing company Simon & Schuster, Inc. And finally, he is a former environmental consultant who volunteered to help Zofnass map out the best route for the trail.

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