A Bronx Tale: The Ins and Outs of Van Cortlandt Park
by Heather Liang, 09/17/2014
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At nearly 1,200 acres, Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx is New York City's third-largest green space, behind Pelham Bay Park and the Staten Island Greenbelt. Maintained by the Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy, the grounds cater to many by being a spot for recreation and leisure as well as a place of natural beauty. The area was the property of Van Cortlandt family members—first Jacobus, later Frederick, among others—until the City acquired the land in 1888, officially naming the park after the clan in 1913. The first municipal golf course in the United States opened within the park in 1895, and it is still in operation today.
Bordered by West Gun Hill Road to the south, Broadway to the west, Forest Avenue to the north and Jerome Avenue to the east, the park abuts the neighborhoods of Fieldston, Riverdale and Woodlawn. Though located in the far north of the City, it's very easy to access via subway. Take the 1 train uptown to the last stop—Van Cortlandt Park-242nd Street—to emerge on the park’s west side. Another option is to hop on the 4 train and ride it uptown to the last stop, Woodlawn/Jerome Avenue; this deposits you on the park's east side.
What to See
Make your first stop in the park the Van Cortlandt Nature Center, where visitors can sign up for walking tours and educational programs geared toward families. The Nature Center is also where to find informative brochures, maps, a newsletter and calendar, along with exhibitions that highlight the area's diverse landscapes. For a look into the park's history, visit the Van Cortlandt House Museum, a Georgian-style fieldstone manor built in 1748, and the oldest house in the Bronx. This landmark is the centerpiece of Van Cortlandt Park; it served as the home of the eponymous family until 1888 and has been operated as a museum since 1897. Inside, visitors will find 18th- and 19th-century furniture and decorative arts.
Amenities, Facilities and Activities
Van Cortlandt Park has the same amenities as most NYC green spaces—playgrounds, picnic areas, greenways, bicycling and hiking trails, sports fields, running paths and dog-friendly areas—but it also contains some unexpected facilities, like a stadium, golf courses, skating rink (which is closed for the 2014–15 season) and one of the largest freshwater lakes in the City. The 3,000-seat Van Cortlandt Stadium is used by Manhattan College and Fordham University for many of their athletic competitions. The stadium grounds hold handball courts, baseball diamonds and a running track; basketball courts are directly outside. As mentioned, the Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course—known to many as "Vanny"—was the first municipal golf course in the country and the place where the country's first public tournament was held, in 1896. (Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and the Three Stooges are among the famous figures who have played the links.) The nine-hole Mosholu Golf Course is great for beginners, veterans and everyone in between. It also offers a 20,000 square-foot putting green, chipping area and driving range to help you refine your skills. If fishing is your sport, you've come to the right park. Van Cortlandt Lake, created in the 1690s, is the largest freshwater lake in the Bronx and contains species such as largemouth bass, pumpkinseed, golden shiner and bluegill.
More to Do
Events in Van Cortlandt Park occur throughout the year, some recurring annually and others more frequently. The most famous of these is the free New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks, a summertime favorite. The park also features yoga and walking (both for seniors) and is a premier bird-watching site. Audubon experts and park rangers guide weekly walks on Saturday mornings (except in January and February), where birders casual and obsessive are welcome. (Walks are conducted in English and Spanish the first Saturday of each month.) Enthusiasts should also check out the annual 12-hour "Bird-A-Thon," a race to determine who can identify the most species in that time allotment. Those who have serious avian interests can even consider applying for the park's urban birding internship. Support restoration and stay in shape by participating in the BronxNet Fitness 5K, a 5-kilometer run that puts its proceeds toward preservation of the 101-year-old park trail. And dog lovers won't want to miss the annual Howl-o-ween costume contest for the canine set. More details about the park's calendar can be found at vcpark.org. As you might expect, there are opportunities for the public to help keep the park in tip-top shape. For more information on how you can help, visit the Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy Support Page.