The John Kieran trail is a magical sliver of dirt trail right in our very own Van Cortlandt Park. Surrounded by wetlands, forest, grasses and an abandoned rail road track, the trail makes for great exploration and viewing of the natural wildlife living within the park. Various trees, animals and plant life can be found walking on the trail. One can even find the great stone pillars used for the testing of the stone used to build Grand Central just off the trail on the Putnam.
Many of us have walked on the John Kieran nature trail in Van Cortlandt Park, but does anyone know who John Kieran is? Well, first off, he was a Bronx native, who grew up and lived in Riverdale for most of his life. He was a nature lover, but his actual profession was as a newspaper writer for sports, as well as the host of a popular radio show and television program in the 1940’s.
John Kieran was renowned for his wit and insight in the sports world, but what is really fascinating is how much time he dedicated to observing nature in NYC during his spare time. In fact he even wrote a book entirely on the nature within the city, aptly titled, “A Natural History of New York City.”
The extensive book is chock-full of species one can find without ever having to leave the five boroughs. Everything from insects to birds are identified and explained in the binding. Even though John Kieran wrote, “A Natural History of New York City,” in 1959, it is still a joy to read today. The Friends of Van Cortlandt Park actually have our own copy hidden away on a bookshelf in our office.
I picked up the book today and it came to me that John Kieran, a man of many talents, understood something in the past that we still don’t understand today. Even though he had a successful career unrelated to nature, it did not stop him from pursuing his hobby as an observer of the natural world. He did what he enjoyed, followed his passion and wrote it down. By writing it all down he was able to share his enthusiasm with like-minded New Yorkers who are fortunate enough to pick up an old copy of his work. We can all be inspired by something as profound as that.
So, next time your wandering down the nature trail in Van Cortlandt Park, or come across a tree, flower, or insect you’ve never seen before, don’t feel hesitant to take a picture, draw it or write it down. We can all be observers of nature, whether we devote a weekend or a lifetime, and why not, it’s awfully fun to do.