Van Cortlandt Park: A Green Refuge in the Big City

by DEIRDRE LEDLEY, Staff Writer

Frederick Law Olmsted spent the greater part of his life vouching for public green space and saw such great importance in it. Today, we thank him for his dedication to the cause.

Bronx, New York: a place notorious for many things. From pizza to the Yankees, it holds a high standing place in many lives of New Yorkers.

However, it is often not seen as a place that has open green space like Olmsted talked about so frequently. Luckily, for Bronx residents, that stereotype is untrue as it holds one of the largest parks in New York: Van Cortlandt Park.

VCP has over 1,140 acres of land. Within this land, it holds numerous attractions that everyone can enjoy.

Because the Bronx is such a diverse borough, this park caters to hundreds of different walks of life, starting with just sports alone.

The administrator and president of the Van Cortlandt Park Conservatory, Margot Perron, said, “Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy works to enhance the park as a destination for healthy recreation and the enjoyment of natural landscapes. We have the finest forest ecology in New York City here, the only freshwater lake in the Bronx and boodles of sports opportunities and cultural programming.”

VCP is home to 11 different sports fields that include baseball, basketball, bocce, cricket, football, rugby, handball, soccer and tennis. It also includes bike paths, fishing, horseback riding, golf and even a pool in the hot summer months.

One student mentioned how odd it is to see some kind of these sports up close and in person. Miles Preiss, a sophomore psychology major, said, “Once on a run, I saw horse footprints, and they just seemed like they did not belong, but I guess it is cool to be in the city and still be on a trail and to see something like that.”

For those who are not into sports, VCP is still available for different uses. Like Olmsted, the members who take care of the grounds in this park care very deeply about preservation of land.

Van Cortlandt is known as a Forever Wild Preserve, which was a program established by the Department of Parks and Recreation that protects valuable land in NYC. This shields these nature trails and meadows from any construction or possible damaging outsiders. This also protects natural wildlife within the park itself.

So while sports is a vast part of these acres, it also devotes a large sum of its land to protecting nature and public green space. For those who truly like to take in nature, this park offers some pretty great opportunities to do so.

Students who attend Manhattan College really do get the experience of going to a school in the city. With the one train at the feet of the campus, they are minutes from Manhattan. Luckily they also able to experience nature with VCP right in their backyard for any kind of activity. Many students during the beginning and end of each school year flock to the grassy fields that make up VCP for some sunshine and fresh air.

Maura Phelan, a sophomore education major, expressed her love for the park.

“I usually go down to the park to go for a run. When the weather is nice it’s such a convenient space to spend some time, get some exercise and take a moment to de-stress from work or school. And with either the large loop around the main field or the other paths there’s always a new way to change up my routine if I want,” she said.

Students like Phelan really take advantage of the park. With such a small gym on Manhattan’s campus, being able to run outside in open air seems to be the main attraction. That being said, Phelan also understands the value of open green space.

“Although Manhattan is a city school, it’s so important to have these green spaces. Not only are they vital in creating an open, free place to relax, but they’re monumental to community development,” she said. “Whether meeting for recreation, service or for other events, these spaces are constantly being utilized to host various gatherings that better both those involved and the space itself fostering a better and more unified community.”

Van Cortlandt Park, in its entirety, is truly something special in the middle of hustle and bustle that is the Bronx. Olmsted would be happy that places like VCP are following in his footsteps of the idea of green space for all to enjoy.

Today, Riverdale residents who get to have this park as their backyard truly are lucky and Manhattan College students are just as lucky to be able to experience both city and nature all in one.