The renowned ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson, who invented the modern field guide with his seminal 1934 book “A Field Guide to the Birds,” did many of his initial bird counts in the woods of Van Cortlandt Park. But the breeding grounds of woodpeckers and wild turkeys were disturbed in the 1930s when Parks Commissioner Robert Moses carved up the park with the Moshulu and Henry Hudson parkways, followed by the Major Deegan Expressway in the 1950s.
Van Cortlandt — the city’s fourth-largest park — is trying to move beyond the legacy of Moses’ roadways through an ambitious master plan that would restore it as a nature destination and bring something like Central Park’s Delacorte Theater to the Bronx.
“Of our 1,146 acres, 60 percent are forested. So it’s really beautiful… but it’s not known about,” said Van Cortlandt Park administrator Margot Perron.
The park formed a conservancy last year to raise private funds just as its smaller, yet more famous counterparts, Central and Prospect parks have had for years. But Van Cortlandt isn’t bordered by many high-income neighborhoods.
Moses’ roads, haven’t been all bad, Perron noted. They do bring drivers from all over to the park’s 37 athletic fields — including the most cricket fields anywhere in the nation and world-renowned cross-country running course that was created in 1913. But Perron has grander visions to obscure the traffic and reshape the park’s landscape.
“We’d like to bring out the beauty of the park,” Perron said.