Friends of Vannie puts spin on Oktoberfest

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Van Cortlandt Park might not exactly be Germany during Oktoberfest, but it came pretty close to it at the park’s second annual Hike-tober Fest on Sept. 23.

The event, sponsored by Friends of Van Cortlandt Park — a community based nonprofit focused on conserving and improving the 1,100-acre Bronx park — is a fundraiser to help the organization increase its services at Vannie. The event blends hiking Van Cortlandt Park’s popular and lesser-known trails with local beer from the Bronx and Yonkers, while also providing authentic German food. 

Throughout the afternoon, groups of hikers chose between short and long hikes where the excitement led them to take selfies atop various hills overlooking the park as well as the Hudson River. And it wasn’t long before they celebrated a weekend workout with food and beer.

The Hike-tober Fest began last year as a successor to the Friends’ “hike-athon” event, where donations were collected for people as they hiked within the park. 

After their fifth such event in 2015, Friends executive director Christina Taylor said it was time for her organization to do something more.

“We could go for a walk, but what else can we do that’s more exciting?” she asked.

And with that, Hike-tober Fest was born. Last year, some 150 people took part in the festivities, a success for the program’s first year. 

“As soon as we were done, everyone wanted to do it again,” Taylor said.

As the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, Taylor sees Hike-tober Fest as an opportunity to introduce the park to people outside of the Bronx and those who already call it home. One thing she’s noticed in the last year is how people constantly approach her telling her they had no idea Van Cortlandt Park even existed.

“This has become for us a way of bringing new people into the park,” Taylor said. “Even the people who are coming who have been to the park, a lot of times, we find that we still take them to areas of the park they’ve never seen or gone into. They get a chance to learn a little more about the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park and what we do, because a lot of people don’t realize the role we play in the park.”

That role has included various community projects such as cleaning park trails to making those park trails accessible to visitors, monitoring the park’s wetlands, overseeing a youth-run farm stand, and more. The organization also is known for employing high school students as interns to take part in keeping Van Cortlandt Park clean. 

John Butler, the Friends ecological project manager, led one of the hikes during Saturday’s event. Although he’s only been part of the team for three years, he said one of the enjoyable parts of his job is hearing feedback from the community on how the park can improve its trails.

“I think that’s the great thing about being a nonprofit, it’s that I’m able to talk to them and I can go out and do it,” he said.

With the first 25 years down, Taylor looks toward the next 25 as one where she wants to keep residents and newcomers in the know about what Van Cortlandt Park has to offer, like its own gardening and compost project, and environmental education programs for kids.

“We want to get them more aware of what is in the park, beyond the sporting field, beyond the playground,” she said. “We want to get people out.”

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