To the editor:
One Saturday in October 2012, Dennis Burton — the forest manager and ecologist at Van Cortlandt Park — brought together a handful of nature enthusiasts, known to know the park’s terrain.
A visiting urban park planner, amazed at the ecological variety in the park, exclaimed, “This park blows my mind, and we are in the Bronx.”
The group hoped to somehow educate and foster an appreciation of that nature that is “right smack in our own backyard.” How do you do that?
What was begun was the Nature Group of VCP, and free monthly nature walks. A short start-up mailing list has lengthened to well over 350 recipients.
Now in its fifth year, positive response has been such to include not only park neighbors, but also some who come from afar. The nature walks provide levels of learning not gotten except for the guidance of experienced, knowledgeable and enthusiastic leaders.
Dennis Burton’s expertise on trees (dendrology), John Young’s knowledge of birds, and Debbi Dolan’s knowledge of plants add levels of appreciation to casual viewing. It is a common response to hear, “I never knew, and I love knowing.”
Debbi was a docent at Teatown’s Wildflower Island for 10 years. Besides being an author and educator, Dennis has a long history of environmental expertise. Dennis and Debbi worked together to key the plants of the park into a bloom list of flowers, trees, shrubs and other plants.
John has been birding and recording the park’s avian life for more than 60 years. Ask him about birds.
John’s wife Catherine O’Brien (Minty) sends out e-newsletters that inform and delight with photo collages that highlight flora and fauna through the seasons. Minty has also studied the history of the park, and has developed a slide show that was presented at the Riverdale Library last June. She offers her knowledge of the park’s history on the tours.
On occasions, other leaders have led tours. John Butler and Alex Byrne of the Friends of Van Cortlandt have added their perspectives on water quality and the important role that insects play in the park’s ecology.
Too many to mention are all those who contribute some gem of interest that enriches understanding and brings to the forefront the inter-relatedness of nature. Among them are Debbi’s husband Matt Turov, an active participant who regularly contributes photographs and observations from his extensive environmental research.
Dennis Burton retired this August, but the Nature Group carries on his legacy. Most tours meet up at the Nature Center and proceed to the Tibbett Meadow, and continue along the Putnam and John Kieran trails that skirt the lake and marsh.
In the spring, supplemental tours are added to view the ephemerals that are concentrated in the North and Croton woods.
All are invited to attend the walks free of charge that proceed at a comfortable pace. The next walk will be held at the Nature Center on Saturday, Nov. 18 at 10 a.m., with a rain date the next day at the same time.
Come, enjoy and delight in the wonders that nature has in store.
Debbi Dolan, Catherine O’Brien