What's happening at Vannie? So very glad that you asked


(re: “Some more parks coverage, please,” July 25)

A recent letter proposes that The Riverdale Press “support the work of (Van Cortlandt Park) alliance through donations and volunteerism” For several reasons, this strikes me as an unwise proposal.

We readers depend on our newspapers to provide news stories in a careful, objective manner. This has certainly been the history of The Riverdale Press. Whether an account of happenings at the community board, expansion plans at the nursing home, or disagreements over adjustments to the Special Natural Area District, we take comfort in the fact this journal has not sought to collaborate in the financial needs of the entity being covered.

Were The Press to “support the work of the alliance through donations,” whether done directly or indirectly, that would involve an embrace utterly at odds with the appearance of objective journalism, however worthy the cause.

Further, in requesting that greater attention be paid by your reporters to the happenings in the park, be careful what you wish for.

In seeking to create a multi-million dollar conservancy (presumably the word “billion” was a typographical error), it is logical to inquire how public money is, in fact, being spent in the park.

We now know that more than a million dollars has been earmarked to spread thousands of pounds of asphalt on the park’s Putnam Trail. How many educational programs for the city’s students, employment of additional specialists, upgrading of trails, and other worthy projects could be funded with that money?

It may be argued that these involve different categories of funding, but trade-offs could be attempted.

As The Press reported, there is considerable opposition to this project from families who regularly stroll there, bird lovers, environmentalists and the entire running community — all of whose views are being ignored. Nor has any explanation been provided by the parks department as to how those who continue to walk the paved runway will be protected from harm caused by speeding bikes.

Surely this costly, indeed obscene, paving of this glorious mile-and-a-half stretch is worthy of the attention of the alliance. Is it doing so?

Indeed, as The Press has also reported, there is continuing interest in acquiring from CSX the extensive tract running from the end of the now-existing Putnam Trail south to Spuyten Duyvil. Is another million dollars to be raised and spent in order to pave that stretch as well?

Finally, here is a Van Cortlandt Park story worthy of exploring. For much of the past century, Van Cortlandt Park has been the go-to place for cross-country competition. Until the parks department mindlessly obstructed a significant portion of the historic racecourse, universities, colleges and running clubs from across the country could be viewed on most autumn Saturdays. No more.

First, the parks department barred these competitions for several years, requiring the teams to find alternate options. Which they did. Has any effort been made to bring them back?

While city officials speak of the nationally known Van Cortlandt cross-country venue, they are apparently unaware, or indifferent, to the fact that each day it is less known outside of this region. Conference championships are now the exception, not the rule.

Formerly, national championships were held. Who remembers the last one at Van Cortlandt?

The fact is that unless the parks department elects to modify the “improvements” now embedded, the storied venue will be largely limited to more local groups. The loss of revenue to the merchants who border the parade grounds has been staggering.

Does any official care? Has this been an agenda item for the alliance?

The author is a former board member and chair of Friends of Van Cortlandt Park, a predecessor to the Van Cortlandt Park Alliance.


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Eric Seiff,