Park watchers at crossroads over trail’s history
By Adam Wisnieski
There’s no question that a celebration is in order to honor the hundreds of thousands of runners who have raced on Van Cortlandt Park’s cross-country course over the last century.
When that celebration should be held, however, is debatable.
Is it next year? This year? Two years from now?
The city says 1913 was the course’s first year, but the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park is certain it came into being a year earlier, in 1912, making its centennial anniversary this fall. And then there’s a third voice that’s been getting its say for years: the Tortoise and Hare statue in Van Cortlandt Park, the symbol of the legendary course, thinks it all started in 1914. It’s marble plaque, created in 1997, says so.
So when will the party be?
The Department of Parks and Recreation, along with the Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy, plans to honor the course at an event next year, but Friends is hosting a 5k to celebrate 100 years next month. No word yet on what the statue is planning, but it’s likely pacing itself, taking its time to catch up with a massive party sometime in 2014.
It is widely accepted that the course opened in 1913. The Department of Parks and Recreation and the closely linked Van Cortlandt Park Conservancy have both posted that timeline on their respective websites.
A Parks spokesman confirmed that the department’s records indicate that the current course was first laid out in 1913.
More than 20,000 people showed up to view what many consider to be the first race in 1913, according to an article in the New-York Tribune, but when local history buff and cross-country connoisseur Tom Carey set out to do his own homework on the subject he found New York Times articles describing cross-country races in November and December of 1912.
Mr. Carey, who is a member of the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park and the Kingsbridge Historical Society, said he started talking to other people involved with the Friends and told them, “Wow, guys, this is the year.”
But he wondered how Parks could have gotten it wrong. Perhaps they would not count any date before 1913 because the land was not named Van Cortlandt Park yet?