The Friends are excited to announce that our February 2014 Friend of the Month is our good friend Chrissy Word. Chrissy is the Director of Public Programs and Community Partnerships at Rocking the Boat. However, we work mostly with her at our Garden & Compost Site and during our teacher workshops while she is wearing her Butterfly Project “hat”. Chrissy co-founded Butterfly Project, an all-volunteer organization that works with community and school gardeners to assist in the development of native plants pollinator gardens.
How and when did you get involved with Friends of Van Cortlandt Park?
I learned about FVCP years ago when I lived on the south side of the park but didn’t get involved until my colleague and friend, Betsy Ukeritis, invited me to attend a Project Wet workshop series that FVCP was hosting in 2008. I was very impressed with the workshop and started paying attention to some of the things that FVCP was doing. By then, though, I was living in Westchester County and so had less opportunity to be more involved. Happily, Betsy and Christina thought of me again and invited me to give a workshop on behalf of Butterfly Project NYC at the Professional Development series for NYC Teachers that they were planning back in 2010. This was a great collaboration and I’ve enjoyed participating in that event for the past four years. I recently moved back to the Bronx and am happy to finally have the chance to work more closely with the dedicated and caring staff.
What is your favorite place in the park?
I love many areas of the park but I have a soft spot for wetlands. On the west side of the park, there is a swamp between the old rail trail, the south side of the golf course and the playing field. My favorite spot is the short trail that runs along the north side of that wetland and connects the rail trail to the playing field. I’ve been nearly face to face with bull frogs there and gotten close to secretive birds that I could only hear. Mostly, I love the wild feeling of that place. There are certain places in the Park where one can feel very far away from the urbanity of our city and this spot does that for me.
What is your favorite memory of the Park?
I grew up spending a lot of time in rural Florida where my grandmother lived. There were very few other people around, particularly kids my age, and so I learned to enjoy playing outside by myself. Most of my fondest memories in life are ones in which I have come in contact with a wild animal (once I sat on a black snake and he shot out from under me just in time to miss being squished – so exhilirating!). This is the case with the belted kingfisher that I met in the Park about 12 years ago. It was a pretty warm January but I was still surprised to see it was still there. It had been perched close to the path on a bare branch in the same swamp that I mentioned before. All of the sudden I heard the familiar rattle-like chatter right next to me and turned in time to see it dive head first for a fish. It quickly flew a few yards away to perch and eat its catch. It was early morning, the air was still and cold and the kingfisher was focused on its meal. In that quiet moment, I was able to observe up close this very primal act of a beautiful wild animal and I was thrilled. I went back frequently after that to see the kingfisher. It finally left a couple of weeks later as the temperature dipped again but I’ve seen it there in subsequent years and I think of that moment each time.
What improvements would you like to see over the next twenty years?
I love Van Cortlandt Park for its naturalistic areas – the forest, the wetlands, the lake – and see so many opportunities to improve these areas for the benefit of wildlife and humans alike. As a spokesperson for Butterfly Project NYC, I think its the responsibility of park managers and users alike to learn more about our native flora and work to restore it to the Park. Many animals – butterflies , birds and others – would return to the Park in greater numbers if they could find the plants they need to survive. I’d also like to see improved playgrounds. As a mom, I understand the importance of playgrounds for a child’s physical and social development. Magical butterflies and state-of-the art playgrounds will ensure lots of fond memories for the up and coming stewards of Van Cortlandt Park.