The sounds of a walk in the forest — a babbling brook, the crunch of leaves beneath your shoes — are familiar sounds on the trails in Van Cortlandt Park in the North West Bronx. It’s a remote journey that is not really that far away from city life.
"To be able to be here and feel like you are some place else, it's tranquil, it's peaceful and it's just beautiful,” said Stephanie Ehrlich, the park administrator for NYC Parks and executive director of the Van Cortlandt Park Alliance, a non-profit which works in partnership with the Parks Department to preserve and support the park.
Van Cortlandt is the third largest city park with 1,146 acres. There’s a lot a lot to do there, from ballfields and playgrounds to picnic areas and the historic Van Cortlandt House Museum.
The main attraction for many is the storied cross country course and more than 20 acres of hiking trails. They are popular year-round, with staff and volunteers from the alliance working to keep the trails passable for cross country events and everyday walkers, hikers and runners.
"That staff is really very much focused on forest restoration and aquatic restoration, so they take care of the trails here and work with interns, volunteers and do a lot of the trail maintenance,” said Ehrlich.
Depending on the route, a hike may bring you to a remnant from the Old Croton Aqueduct, New York's first water supply system. There’s an old Weir Chamber that just kind of shows up out of nowhere in the woods, plus an old Croton water sewer cap from long ago.
There's a few tunnels along the way connecting the trails under some of the parkways and highways that were built here. You can use a trail map or just follow the trail markers along the way.
"If you want to feel like you are in the country, just come to the Bronx, just take the number 1 train all the way to the end and there you are,” said Ehrlich. “You can walk in the woods, feel like you are somewhere in upstate New York and we have over 600 acres of urban forest.”
To find out more and download a trail map, head here.