A path in the woods with trees in the background.

Reflections and Recommendations on Safe Usage of Van Cortlandt Park


As we enter into the second week of “NYS on PAUSE”, New York’s parks have become a refuge from isolation and large crowds. Recent spikes in the usage of Van Cortlandt Park’s trails have caused us to reflect on the role of parks in urban spaces during events such as a pandemic. If used responsibly, open space and trail systems can become a therapeutic environment to reduce anxiety, alleviate cabin fever and entertain our senses to the fullest. For those of us who have been taking advantage of the park during the COVID-19 outbreak, it is clearer than ever that parks are central to health security in cities. Human survival has been a result of cooperation and adaptation and so will it be in the present and future. As long as the parks are kept open, we encourage people to use Van Cortlandt. However, we must follow some basic rules while on trails.

  • In the face of crises animals have three survival options: evolve, modify behavior or move. Right now, the best option is to modify our behavior. We must practice “Social Distancing” which has been defined as at least 6 feet between you and another person. Reducing the density of people will slow the rate of spread of COVID-19. This means no activities where items are passed from hand to hand like basketball and tennis, and no walking together in groups.
  • Follow hygiene guidelines provided by the CDC before entering the park.
  • Be aware of people behind you on trails. Let people pass you by following social distance guidelines.
  • Practice aseptic technique by reducing the number of surfaces you touch in the park, and limit disposal of used tissues to home receptacles.
  • Bring your own water to reduce the use of fountains.
  • Do not feed wildlife.
  • Hospitals and healthcare workers will need to allocate as much resource and energy to COVID-19 so keep park activities safe to reduce the possibility of injury.
  • Continue tick checks after a hike.
  • Help keep our park clean by carrying out all trash that you brought in.
  • If NYC closes the parks, obey the rules and stay home.

Spring peeper frogs are calling in the northeast forest, a Pileated Woodpecker has been flying around the Croton and Northeast and the first signs of spring flowers such as Trout Lily and Dutchman’s Breeches have been documented. If you are looking for a helpful solo activity in the park, try downloading the app called “inaturalist” on your smartphone and join the “Van Cortlandt Park Biodiversity” project. Any pictures taken through this app are downloaded to a single database, with nearly 10,000 current observations of plants, animals and fungi in the park.  Stay safe, follow procedure and we will see you in the field as soon as we can.

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