Location: 240th St. and Broadway, Bronx
Van Cortlandt Park, on 1,146 acres in the ridges and valleys of the northwest Bronx, is New York City‘s third-largest park. A major supplier of recreation space, this green retreat has dozens of playgrounds and ball fields, and miles of beautiful trails. But this park offers more than recreation. It is where an urbanite can get in touch with history and with nature.
History is evident in the abandoned railroad track that cuts through the park‘s center, in a stately mansion that is the borough‘s oldest building, in its aqueduct trail, and in the Parade Ground.
Meanwhile, nature can be sampled in the woods surrounding the Cass Gallagher Nature Trail in the park‘s northwestern portion, in rock outcroppings that are links to the last ice age, and in the wide variety of living things that call it home.
Van Cortlandt Mansion and Museum
Built in 1748, the Van Cortlandt Mansion and Museum is the oldest building in the Bronx. Inside are rooms furnished as they were in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Van Cortlandt‘s farmed around this structure and, although it was behind British lines, George Washington used it as a meeting place during the Revolutionary War.
Van Cortlandt Lake
Van Cortlandt Lake, which is man-made, is the largest freshwater body in the Bronx. This beautiful feature was formed when Jacobus Van Cortlandt dammed Tibbetts Brook in 1699 to power two mills. The lake offers inspiring vistas from the golf clubhouse area, which scores of ducks and a few swans call home. It can also be viewed from the railroad track and the Van Cortlandt Golf Course.
The Parade Ground has been the area‘s center of human activity for centuries. Although city property since 1888, the Parade Ground was not made available to the public until 1902. Until that time, it was used as a training ground for a National Guard squadron. In 1917, it served as the headquarters for the training base the U.S. Army established in the park.
The Northwest Forest is the largest forest in the park. Its 188 acres lie between Broadway and the Henry Hudson Parkway. A wide variety of trees make up this forest with tulip and red oak trees as the dominant species.
The three interconnecting trails have many loops and informal paths to provide park users with a variety of choices. Users should exercise caution as there are many blind corners. The trails can be reached from Mosholu Avenue near the stables and from the Parade Ground.
The Croton Woods is wedged between the Henry Hudson Parkway, Mosholu Parkway, and the Major Deegan Expressway. The 127.5 acres include both moist and dry areas. Sugar maple, oak and hickory trees predominate in dry areas in the north, while black walnut, American sycamores, and American elms are most common in the moist southern end. Access to the trails is from East 233rd Street, the Old Putnam Trail, and Yonkers.
Old Croton Aqueduct Trail
The Old Croton Aqueduct Trail (1.1 miles) runs through the center of the Croton Woods. The segment is part of the 41-mile-long aqueduct that brought water from the Croton Dam to New York City. Built in the 1830‘s as the city‘s first extensive water supply, it was used until 1897 when the New Croton Aqueduct replaced it. The large stone building along the route is a weir which maintained the flow of water and controlled air pressure.
An informal path connects the Aqueduct and the Railroad at the north end of the golf course. A paved trail connects the Van Cortlandt Golf Course with East 233rd Street. The trail offers a feel of the area‘s geology and, in sections near the city line, magnificent forests of tulip tree, oak, and maple.
The Northeast Forest is between the Major Deegan Expressway and Van Cortlandt Park East. This 117 acre forest is comprised mainly of red oak, sweet gum and tulip trees. Two major paths cross the area-one parallels the Major Deegan Expressway, the other runs east-west toward the Croton Woods. Informal trails crisscross the woods and when overgrown are hard to follow. Access to the area is from Van Cortlandt Park East, Yonkers, or trails from the Croton Woods.
John Muir Nature Trail
The John Muir Nature Trail traverses the park from east to west, the only such trail in that direction. The trail passes through forests, with 100 foot trees, wetlands with frogs and salamanders, and grasslands filled with songbirds.
Work on the John Muir Trail began in the summer of 1997 by participants in the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park and Urban Park Rangers Program. The trail is named after the great Scottish- American conservationist John Muir, the founder of Yosemite National Park and the Sierra Club.
Old Putnam Railroad Trail
The Old Putnam Railroad Track has not seen a train since the early 1980‘s. That‘s good news for hikers because it has become a spectacular nature trail. The trail serves as a primary wildlife corridor as it passes through wetlands and divides the Van Cortlandt Golf Course. It was originally part of a route that ran between High Bridge and Brewster, NY, where travelers could make a connection to Boston. It ceased passenger operations in 1958, but carried occasional freight until 1981.
Along this path, one can see where testing took place to determine which type of stone would be best for Grand Central Station. Marble slabs are visible off the western side of the rail, just north of the lake‘s dam.
John Kieran Nature Trail
The John Kieran Nature Trail, named in 1988 for a famed naturalist and newspaperman, takes one through the park‘s lake area and freshwater wetlands. It utilizes the railroad tracks and a wetland path, and offers an array of plant and animal life.
Riverdale Equestrian Centre
Riverdale Equestrian Centre was founded in 1994 by former Olympians Rusty Holzer and Ashley Nicoll and has since then grown into the New York metropolitan area’s premiere horseback riding facility. The Centre is located in Van Cortlandt Park at Broadway and W. 254 th St.; just 15 minutes from Midtown Manhattan by car. It is also easily accessible by public transportation. The facility includes 4 outdoor riding rings, an Olympic-sized indoor arena and easy access to the trails of Van Cortlandt Park. Lessons are offered year-round to riders of all ages and levels of ability. Other programs include therapeutic riding for the disabled, after-school riding groups and summer day camp.