Testimony for FY19 Parks Budget Hearing

The pedestrian side of the bridge along the John Kieran trail which is currently closed due to safety reasons.

Friends of Van Cortlandt Park’s Executive Director gave the following testimony at the NYC City Council Parks Committee Preliminary FY19 Budget Hearing on Tuesday March 27th, 2018.

Good afternoon.  Thank you for allowing me to testify. My name is Christina Taylor and I am the Executive Director of the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park.  First of all, I want to thank our Councilman Andrew Cohen for his vital support of parks.

We all know that NYC Parks is underfunded.  They have been for many many years and this needs to change.  The Friends would happily join you to urge Mayor de Blasio to increase funding for NYC Parks.

A few years ago, NYC Parks approved a comprehensive Master Plan for the first time in the park’s history, however that Master Plan will never be accomplished in 20 years with the current rate in which project are funded and implemented. Read more »

Natural Selections: It takes about half a day to get there, if you travel by Dragonfly.

Editor’s note: In honor of World Water Day (March 22nd annually) today’s Natural Selections post is focused on Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) who call Tibbetts Brook and Van Cortlandt Lake home.  Alex Byrne will introduce you to these fascinating creatures and share with you why you spend some time watching them in the Park.

It takes about half a day to get there, if you travel by Dragonfly.

By: Alex Byrne

Predators have always been a part of human culture and experience.  Our intimacy with this act, read in tooth and claw, is a product of being predator and prey, hunter and the hunted. In some way the elevated status we have granted the predator in our species is a reflection of our own inherent and learned sensitivity to danger. The walls of caves have been manipulated through the use of saliva and plant fruits to display cave bears, dire wolfs and hunting human (Siva 2007). The Egyptians created gods out of birds of prey and the predatory perfecta, the felines (Pettigrew 2003). We have managed to take the big bad wolf and create 339 different dog breeds.  In 1902 the US Army Medical Corps adopted the caduceus as an emblem which displays two snakes entwined around a staff, a behavior consistent with the mating behavior of serpents. The evidence for a predator centric society is abound, however a common theme in these predatory idols is the lack of entomological (insect) admiration. Most people do not spend their weekends in wetlands watching dragonfly’s hunt, but they should. Read more »

Natural Selections of VCP: Meet the Carpenter Ant

Editor’s note: We would like to introduce you to our newest blogpost series- Natural Selections of Van Cortlandt Park.  This series will focus on the creatures that call Van Cortlandt Park home.  With well over half of its 1,146 acres being comprised of natural habitats- forests, wetlands, a lake and meadows- many plants and animals live in or rely on Van Cortlandt Park.  Each post in Natural Selections will highlight and introduce you to one or a family of those creatures.  During this first post, Alex Byrne will introduce you all to some of the Carpenter Ants in our beloved park.

Meet the Carpenter Ant
by Alex Byrne

Odds are if you are walking down the sidewalk next to Van Cortlandt Park, or along a forest trail in the Park and see a caravan of large black ants, you have just been acquainted with one of the most functionally important groups of insects within the park; carpenter ants. Carpenter ants within the genus Camponotus consist of 1,489 species world wide, with the most Camponotus rich continents being South America and Australia (Bolton 2012). In New York City and across the world, carpenter ants form large colonies inside dying and dead standing trees, hollowed out branches, soil and even human dwellings and utilities where they can induce millions of dollars of damage in some situations (Ellison et al 2012). In urban forest ecosystems such as Van Cortlandt Park, carpenter ants are key players in the production and turnover of soil. Read more »

Mapping Ant Diversity Across Van Cortlandt Park

The Buggy Down Bronx:
Mapping Ant Diversity Across Van Cortlandt Park
by: Alex Byrne

Early experimental design for examining nutrient use in ant communities. This picture shows a preference for sugar which seems to be habitat dependent (cotton ball pictured on left is soaked in sugar, cotton ball on the right  is soaked in oil).

As the Jurassic faded into the Cretaceous, planet earth began to experience a revolution in sociality with the radiation of one of the most ecologically dominant groups of animals to date, the ants. By living communally in colonies that can number in the thousands of individuals in some species, it is thought that ants turnover more soil than earth worms, provide habitat for a number of organisms, cycle the majority of the forest floor organic material and are typically the first animals to arrive to newly arisen resources on the forest floor (Holldobler & Wilson 1999). For example it was recently shown that in the rain forests of Borneo ants were responsible for consuming 51 % of baits placed within the forest when considering both foraging insects and mammals (Griffiths et al 2017). In addition, the majority of ant mediated flow of nutrients is performed by only a hand full of dominant species (Houadria et al 2015). In forest ecosystems around the world this suggests that ants are keystone players that mediate a large part of the functionality of ecosystems and constitute often the majority of the animal biomass (Holldobler & Wilson 1999). Read more »

Meet the Friends’ New Intern!

Jasmin Jimenez, a senior at NYU, is interning with the Friends this semester.We are proud to introduce our intern for this school year, Jasmin Jimenez. Ms. Jimenez started working with the Friends in October assisting with educational programs, trail work and Tibbetts Brook water monitoring. Jasmin is a senior at New York University studying Environmental Studies and Animal Studies. Her areas of interest include urban ecology, industrial ecology, and marine ecology.
This upcoming semester, Jasmin will be working on a research project in Van Cortlandt Park. She received a Dean’s Undergraduate Research Fund grant through NYU to conduct a habitat analysis for the reintroduction of amphibian species in Van Cortlandt Park. If you see her out in the park, say hello and ask her about the habitat necessities of Spring Peeper’s and Wood Frogs.

25 Accomplishments This Summer

The Grand Central Stones after the cleaning was completed. This fall, we will be adding signage and doing some clean up around the stones to finish the project.

The Grand Central Stones after the cleaning was completed. This fall, we will be adding signage and doing some clean up around the stones to finish the project.

As we continue to celebrate our 25th Anniversary year, the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park have been very active in and around Van Cortlandt Park this summer. We wanted to share with you this list of 25 things we accomplished during the summer:

1.) We hired 20 summer interns who worked on our Summer Trails Crew or Garden 2 Market internships and successfully completed their terms.

2.) We had 25th Anniversary Banners installed on the Park border along Broadway and Van Cortlandt Park South to celebrate our anniversary thanks to 11 local sponsors.

3.) Our Summer Trails Crew Interns maintained 8.1 miles of hiking trails within Van Cortlandt Park.

4.) We worked with the Municipal Arts Society and Tatti Art Conservation to get the Grand Central Stones cleaned removing many layers of graffiti and paint so that the original stone can now be seen. Read more »