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Van Cortlandt Park

The Daily Plant : Tuesday, February 25, 2003


An account by Luke Gebhard

When I arrived at Public School 54 in the Bronx on December 2, 2002, I didn’t know that my meeting with Principal Ruth Lopez would result in one of the largest Urban Park Ranger/ Department of Education collaborations in recent history. After all, I had met with dozens of school administrators, usually walking away happy having sold individual programs that would be spread out over the course of six months to a year.

The timing of this particular meeting with PS 54 could not have been more fortuitous. A few days prior to our meeting, Principal Lopez learned that PS 54 would receive funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to make up for lost instruction time due to 9/11, with the stipulation that instruction take place outside of normally-scheduled classes. I presented the Urban Park Rangers’ Natural Classroom and Alley Pond Adventure to Principal Lopez and a partnership was born. The special Ranger-led environmental education programs at PS 54 were set for February 18-20, followed by a three-day adventure at Alley Pond sometime in the spring. It was the first time that I had brokered a deal to have the Rangers provide programming for such a large group of students. It was also the first time that I had ever given a school principal a "high-five" instead of a handshake to conclude a meeting.

Much like the eagle reintroduction project at Inwood Hill Park last summer, PS 54 began to consume me. Within days, I had memorized the school’s phone and fax numbers, made friends with Principal Lopez’s staff, and developed an unlikely familiarity with the Fordham area of the Bronx as site visits abounded.

Just hours before the program at PS 54 was to kick off, the President’s Day snowstorm arrived. The streets and sidewalks were covered with snow and the City was virtually paralyzed. Hunkered down in my Chelsea loft, I dug up Principal Lopez’s home phone number to call and confirm that the first day would be postponed. I frantically began calling Central to spread the word to the Ranger Supervisors and despite the setback, I remained optimistic that the programs would be a tremendous success. In the end, they were.

After the storm had subsided, the Urban Park Rangers and the students finally made their way to PS 54 on Wednesday, February 19. Master Falconer Tom Cullen dazzled the kids that morning with his birds of prey. Several students got the chance to hold one of the three raptors he brought. In one of the most sublime scenes of the presentation, Ranger Cullen’s Harris Hawk perched itself on the rim of one of the basketball nets, and proceeded to unleash a volume of excrement that narrowly missed a schoolteacher.

For the next two days, the students at PS 54 learned more than the ABCs; they investigated owl pellets, learned to use compasses, identified local plants and animals, and learned to make birding field guides. In late March, the Rangers plan to host the participating students at Van Cortlandt Park to take part in the release of a Red-tailed Hawk that is currently rehabilitating from an injury. From there, they will make the park a living laboratory by participating in the Urban Park Rangers’ Ornithology program.

Then later in the spring, these same students will join the Rangers at Alley Pond Park for a series of outdoor Adventure Days. When I imagine the look on the faces of more than 100 city kids hiking, fishing, and canoeing – the same look I saw that Wednesday morning during Ranger Cullen’s falconry presentation – I can’t help but smile, thinking that it only took one meeting to make this all possible.


By Hannah Gersen

Today, the first two sentences of Ann Beattie’s short story "Distant Music." The story takes place in the West Village, and the park this first sentence refers to is Washington Square.

"On Friday, she always sat in the park, waiting for him to come. At one-thirty, he came to this park bench (if someone was already sitting there, he loitered around it), and then they would sit side by side, talking quietly, like Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in ‘Notorious’."


"Man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe,

grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts,

emerges ahead of his accomplishments."

John Steinbeck


Directions to Van Cortlandt Park

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