Native American Programs at Inwood Park
By Lauren Shapiro
What better way to raise awareness of a Native American Indian’s life than to walk a mile in his moccasins, and you can do exactly that, in Inwood Hill Park. Walking through the last natural forest in Manhattan, you will come across the Indian caves of the Lenape tribe. You can look down at the stone marking the spot where Peter Minuit paid what would now be $1,000 worth of trinkets and beads for Manhattan. On a recent visit, a young man exclaimed “that rock should have yellow police tape around it.” Whatever your point of view, the stone is a certain conversation piece.
For official commentary, the Urban Park Rangers “Natural Classroom” programs housed in the in the Inwood Hill Nature Center, offer guided tours programs.
Sergeant Rakeem Taylor says of the Native American Pathways program, “the great thing is that after we give students the overview, we have things they can actually see. After we’ve explained how the land was used, what specific tribe lived here, we take them to the Native American housing in this park. We have a wigwam, a small little hut built from tulip bark, and we explain how the household was established—who did what, the different responsibilities of the different members of the household and the tribe. From the wigwam the kids walk around the park”
The estuary of brackish waters where the Hudson and East rivers wash into each other via Spuyten Duyvil, makes the Inwood Park estuary home to the last salt marsh in Manhattan. This marsh is home to swans, ducks, raptors (birds of prey, including bald eagles recently introduced into the park) and other marine life. An environmental lesson is inevitable.
“One stop is along the estuary,” says Sgt. Taylor, “and we talk about birds, and clothing, and how some Native Americans used feathers to symbolize their status in the tribe; so we tie that in. After that stop, we go to the Native American shelters. That is another type of housing and we talk about how they would have lived in these smaller caves and what they would have done with the overhangs, such as store food and smoke food. Most of the time is walking, and keeping the kids safe, especially in the rock shelters.”
After the tour, classes return to the nature center for discussion and to view artifacts, such as turtle shells, arrowheads, and a mounted owl. Groups can eat lunch in a picnic area right outside the nature center.
The Inwood Park Rangers have a host of programs: ecology, conservation, botany, trees, geology, ornithology, raptors (birds of prey) ichthyology (fish), entomology, explorers (compasses to canoeing). All programs follow the same 90-minute format “We greet kids at the nature center and give them a formal introduction as to who the rangers are and what we do. Different rangers have different specialties, but everything we do is basic unless a teacher requests otherwise. There’s usually one ranger per group,” says Sgt. Taylor
All the programs are tailored to different age groups, with more hands-on activities for younger children and an introduction of technical terminology and a wider focus for the older grades. The rangers are ready when you are, rain, snow and shine; Sgt. Taylor does let the intrepid eat inside the center. The rangers also offer 45-minute outreach programs, in schools. For more information including fees, contact 212 304-2365 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a different experience of culture and history, walk 12 blocks, past two playgrounds, public bathrooms, and numerous refreshment opportunities, over to the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum for a 90-minute look inside. #