Friends of Van Cortlandt Park’s Executive Director, Christina Taylor, presented the following testimony at NYC Council’s Committee on Parks and Recreation hearing on “The State of Natural Areas Under the Care of the Parks Department” on Tuesday December 16th, 2014.
“Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to testify. My name is Christina Taylor and I am the Executive Director of the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park. The Friends is an independent community based organization which actively promotes the conservation and improvement of Van Cortlandt Park through environmental education and restoration and enhancement of the Park, its forests and trails. The Friends of Van Cortlandt Park focus the majority of our efforts on the natural areas of Van Cortlandt Park. This focus has evolved over time as we realized that this was not a priority for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. We do not blame the Parks Department for not making the Natural Areas a priority as we understand that they have to focus their limited budget on the areas such as sporting fields, playgrounds and the perimeter of the Park.. However, there is a definite need to make the natural areas more of a priority.
Van Cortlandt Park is the 3rd largest park in New York City with 1,146 acres. Approximately half of the park is comprised of natural areas with over 500 acres of forest and almost 60 acres of freshwater wetlands and a lake. 553 acres of the Park is designated Forever Wild. Unfortunately, the forest of Van Cortlandt Park are not very healthy especially with three highways cutting through the Park which segments and distrubs the forest. According to the Master Plan for Van Cortlandt Park which was released earlier this year: “At the current rate of expansion without increased management, Norway Maples will dominate another 50 acres by 2032, killing the understory and preventing the succession of the native forests.” Norway Maple are non-native species of trees that currently dominate 130 acres of our forests. In addition, the Master Plan states that “At the current rate of expansion without increased management, 30 acres of forest will be killed by invasive vines by 2032”. Both these statements are cause for alarm and need to be addressed.
Over the last ten years, there has been a crew of 4 full-time employees dedicated to forest restoration in Van Cortlandt Park. In addition to general forest restoration this crew is also responsible for removing hazardous conditions such as dead and dangerous trees and falling limbs. The Van Cortlandt Park Forest Crew is a result of mitagation funding from the construction of the Croton Filtration Plant in the Park and will run out in June of 2015. Currently, Parks Department is seeking extensions for this funding but there are no definite plans and it is possible that come next summer there will be absolutely no staff dedicated to the forest of Van Cortlandt Park. In addition, Natural Resources Group does have a crew of approximately 5 dedicated to forest restoration in the Bronx; however they spend most of their time in Pelham Bay and visit Van Cortlandt Park only a few days a month. The Friends of Van Cortlandt Park assist where we can by having volunteers remove non-native invasive plants and planting native trees and shrubs but without a dedicated crew also working in the forest there is no way our volunteers will complete the work that needs to be done.
Besides the forest, there are almost 60 acres of freshwater wetlands in Van Cortlandt Park which is over half of all the wetlands in the Bronx. There has never been any Parks staff dedicated to working on the wetlands in the park. The Master Plan points out many concerns about this wetland including the highways blocking overland flows, a large pipe that discharges street drainage into the wetlands and the lake needs to be dredged again.
The Friends of Van Cortlandt Park are dedicated to restoration and enhancement of Van Cortlandt Park especially the natural areas. We will do what we can to maintain the natural areas but as a nonprofit with a small staff we are limited in what we can do. The Friends of Van Cortlandt Park believes that the New York City Department of Parks needs to make the natural areas more of a priority and that they need support from the New York City Council to do so.”