Bronx River Stewardship and Internship Program
Renewing Fordham's Environmental History
Fordham University enjoys partnerships with three premier environmental education organizations located on the historic Bronx River in New York City: Bronx River Alliance, New York Botanical Garden, and Wildlife Conservation Society. These partnerships allow environmental studies majors to intern for one or more semesters in order to gain invaluable hands-on learning and professional experience.
Fordham University has been a citizen and steward of the Bronx River since its founding as St. John's College in 1841 on the site of the 17th-century Rose Hill Farm on the bank of the river.
A branch of the Bronx River named "Mill Brook" also ran along the west side of the campus, forming a large "trout pond" (see 1872 map). "The 'college pond' was a regular body of water probably 200 by 50 feet... It was about three feet deep, the home of muskrats, mud turtles, terrapins, and small fish. Here the cattle were driven to drink; from this water was hauled every day to fill the tanks in the students' wash rooms and to the kitchen for cooking purposes..." (The Fordham Monthly, 1891). The Mill Brook was the original Bronx River, which changed its course eastwards through the present day New York Botanical Garden 200,000 years ago due to glacial activity.
Until the close of the 19th century, when it was sadly diverted into the city storm drain system, the Mill Brook provided important provisioning, regulating, and cultural "ecosystem services" for the farms and communities along its course starting from present-day New York City Botanical Garden, Gates Place, and Mosholu Parkway,along Webster Avenue and the Fordham campus, and then along Brook Avenue to the Bronx Kill.
The streambed of the original Bronx River and Mill Brook is still visible in the ravine alongside the college campus in which the Metro-North Railroad runs, and the brook itself still flows underground in the Webster Avenue storm drain, as if it were waiting all these years for some enterprising soul to reawaken and "daylight" it. The college had entered into an contract with the railroad that in exchange for land, it "construct a culvert [under the tracks] which would allow the continuation of the little stream... into the college pond," but despite a legal injunction attempted by the college, the railroad did not fulfill the contract, much to the loss of campus history and aesthetics today. The "Mill River Road" on campus still bears the brook's name, as does Brook Park in the southern Mott Haven neighborhood, where plans are underway to "daylight" a small section of this historic stream (see plan).
The Rose Hill farm and campus extended eastward all the way to the bank of the Bronx River, where agricultural fields, rock quarries for the university church and other buildings, hiking trails, swimming places, and the university cemetery were located. A notation on an early campus map of this area reads: "Stone wall was built all along our river bank by Bro. Byrne in 1872."
In 1889, this land along the Bronx River was sold to the city for the creation of a conservation area called the "Bronx Park" (which eventually became the "New York Botanical Garden"). The cemetery providing final repose for the original Jesuits who had come from Kentucky was moved to its current location on the Rose Hill campus.
Back then, students, faculty and university workers on the "Rose Hill Farm" were closely connected to the Bronx River and its ecosystem services through activities of farming, quarrying, hiking, swimming, boating, fishing, study, prayer and remembrance.
Today, environmental studies majors are returning to the university's heritage of Bronx River citizenship and stewardship through internships with the Bronx River Alliance and its partners, the New York Botanical Garden and the Wildlife Conservation Society (Bronx Zoo), contributing to the ecological restoration of the river, to its accessibility to local, predominantly immigrant, poor communities in the name of environmental justice, and to the university's Sustainability Plan and campus ecology program.
Majors can apply for an internship for one or more semesters with one of the following three educational partners of Fordham University.
Environmental History Resources
Environmental History of Rose Hill Farm and Campus
Environmental Audit of Rose Hill Campus
Environmental History of Bronx River
Environmental History of Manhattan
New York City Sustainability Plan
Fordham University Sustainability Plan
Bronx River Alliance
The Alliance serves as a coordinated voice for the river and works in harmonious partnership to protect, improve and restore the Bronx River corridor so that it can be a healthy ecological, recreational, educational and economic resource for the communities through which the river flows. The Alliance works in close partnership with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to achieve these goals. Alliance partners include local community organizations; city, state and federal government; schools and colleges; and business. For more information, see the website.
Students can apply to join one of the following teams.
River clean-up and restoration efforts are driven by the Ecology Team, which includes scientists, regulatory agencies and community-based organizations. The Ecology Team’s goal is to restore the health of River through policy and planning, as well as fieldwork, using a full-time Conservation Crew and a large array of volunteers from within the community.
The Greenway Team, comprised of community-based and agency planners, designers and advocates, guides the planning and implementation of the Bronx River Greenway. The Greenway will be a continuous bike/pedestrian path and linear park along the Bronx River from the East River to Kensico Dam, including new, reclaimed parklands.
The Education Team, made up of teachers, community-based educators, and scientists, guides programs that enable educators to use the river as a classroom, educate the public about the river, and train volunteers to monitor the river’s conditions.
The Outreach Program includes community, civic, and business representatives joined together to promote the Alliance and the Bronx River and to organize events that draw people to the river, including the Amazing Bronx River Flotilla in the spring and the Bronx River Festival. The Outreach team offers numerous volunteer opportunities, like clean-up days and restoration projects.
The Recreation Program sponsors recreational bike and canoe trips, bringing hundreds of people to river every year.
To apply, see the Volunteer program on the Alliance website.
New York Botanical Garden
The Garden has an internship program that ranges from research to public education and community gardens. Please see the volunteer web page.
Wildlife Conservation Society (Bronx Zoo)
The Bronx Zoo has an internship program in the areas of public education, research and animal husbandry. Please see the volunteer web page.