Mike Zamm, Director of Environmental Education for Grow NYC and our December 2015 Friend of the Month, is assisting the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park with our Wetland Stewardship for a Healthier Bronx program. Mike wrote this article after he attended a program lead by the Friends in the Park for the Sustainability Classes at Dewitt Clinton High School.
The activity for the day was an interpretive walk in Van Cortlandt Park for DeWitt Clinton High School students led by John Butler of the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park. The ten Clinton youth are in the Sustainability classes at Clinton; they are participating in GrowNYC’s Environmental Education Program which in turn is collaborating with the Friends on a project to protect the wetlands in the park. Ray Pultinas, Clinton teacher and Sustainability Coordinator, Sara Kempton, the Director of Education for the Friends, a number of other adult chaperones and I accompanied John and the students.
It was close to peak fall season. The oranges, reds, and yellows lit up by the sun made for a walk suffused with color.
As we traversed the perimeter of the Parade Ground/athletic fields area, John told us that troops preparing for World War I marched on this ground and that the forerunners of the herd of American Bison in the Bronx Zoo once roamed this space until removed to their permanent home in the zoo. In addition to soccer, baseball and track and field, the athletic fields attract teams of cricket players from all over the region.
We passed a very, very old ash tree, which had been spared the ravages of the Emerald Ash Borer. We also learned that Roger Tory Peterson, the author of the great series of bird guides produced by the National Audubon Society often walked along the periphery of the grounds.
We embarked on a hike over the John Kieran Nature Trail, named for the naturalist whose book, “A Natural History of New York City”, was standard reading for NYC outdoorsmen for many years.
Right before the opening to the trail we observed a patch of mugwort, that ever present invasive that also plagues the Clinton garden and some areas along the Bronx River. On the first section of the trail we saw water running off from Broadway through a pipe into Van Cortlandt Lake.
Van Cortlandt Lake itself, the largest lake in the Bronx, was surrounded by wonderful hues and several large turtles could be seen in the water.
We came upon the perimeter of the golf course, the oldest public course in the nation and discussed the need to control runoff of fertilizer from the links into the lake. The freshwater marsh that opens into the water acts as a partial filter of the chemical pollution as well as controlling stormwater flooding and providing habitat for the organisms that make the park their home. The focus of the action/service projects the students will implement in the spring will be the preservation of the wetlands in the park.
We then stopped for a peaceful lunch in an opening in the forest along the lake. After lunch we continued to a place where 1.45 million gallons of water a day from Tibbetts Brook enters the NYC sewer system on its way to the Harlem River. Finally we walked to the yellow school bus to return to Clinton.
This walk plus the three classroom lessons on watersheds, watershed mapping and project planning will prepare the Clinton youth and the students from other schools to take action to protect and preserve the park and its wetlands.
– Mike Zamm, GrowNYC