A travel journal
to New York by Jose Kevo
Quote: Despite what you might have heard or are thinking, no trip to NYC would be complete without a visit to Central Park. This journal details a local's favorite spots and feelings about this historical, natural refuge us city dwellers would be lost without. VUELVO - I return; often as possible!
Locals and tourists alike flock to the park from every walk of life to create the city's greatest 'People Watching Paradise' in what I've deemed "the largest unfenced zoo of the human species". But if it's solitude you're seeking, there's plenty of that available, too.
Once stepping inside the stone walls surrounding the Park, the asphalt jungle you've abruptly left behind transforms into greenery and natural beauty providing needed escape from harshness of the city. While you'll likely be captivated as a tourist, you'll also begin to see why New Yorkers thrive to be here, all but transported into an entirely different world.
If there's a mode of recreational transportation or sport to be had, it will be found somewhere within...just as easily as you'll find a large grassy space to lay down on a blanket and do nothing.
Would you believe Central Park at night - when the mischief and magic unfold?
Information Centers within the park are located at The Diary, in the southern portion just north of Wollman Rink, and at the Dana Discovery Center just inside 110th St./5th Ave.
Web sites too numerous to mention give current information on all that's happening. Enter "CENTRAL PARK" in your Search-mode to get 100's of listings.
Aside from personal reflections, each of this journal's entries give key historical facts as well as specific information and directions on what to look for...as well as what to avoid.
Suggested additional readings include: CENTRAL PARK - The Birth, Decline, and Renewal of a National Treasure; by Eugene Kincaid; W.W. Norton & Co. Publishing, or THE PARK AND THE PEOPLE - A History of Central Park; by Rosenzweig & Blackmar; Cornell University Press.
Letterman's spoof of people urinating in the park are based on "When nature calls" realities. Bathrooms are scattered and likely the most risky/"risque" thing you'll encounter. They're closed in winter. Otherwise, look for a tree...yes, women too, keeping watch for police.
Walking about the Park is by far the best way to experience. The majority of sites and action are between 59th and 72nd St. up to the Boat Pond and Water Conservatory. The middle segment runs up to 86th St. to the southern edge of the reservoir and includes both museums, the Great Lawn. The northern part is less developed and contains sports fields and the Conservatory Gardens - the parks biggest secret attraction.
The Park's roadways are closed except for weekday a.m./p.m. rush hours. Joggers/bikers/bladers/walkers beware as notorious cab drivers showcase some of their most reckless driving within the Park's winding, crowded roads!
Carriage rides depart from 59th St. and are pricey, but worth the splurge; especially for special and romantic occassions.
The "mental transport" of the mind awaits; worth the heftiest cab fare.
Central Park's other "official" restaurant is located at Loeb Boathouse featuring northern Italian cuisine, sandwiches, salads/soups and basically what you'd expect. Surprisingly, the food is moderately priced considering the location and views...not to mention quantity and quality to boot! If you're coming here, definitely enjoy meals or the bar from the outside terrace, weather permitting. Also seasonal are nightly gondola rides around the boat pond. Walk-ins welcome, but expect a potential wait.
There's also a smaller cafe/eatery located just off the entry walkway to the zoo behind the Arsenal-Park Board building on 5th Ave.
However, you'll likely "munch" like the rest of park goers from one of the many vending carts. During peak seasons, it'd seem you couldn't fling a soggy hotdog without hitting yet another one selling drinks, ice creams, chips, pretzels, and about every kind of junk foods short of a Mac & fries.
"Official" permanently placed snack vendors are located in the old Mineral Springs Pavillion; a large gray marble structure just north of Sheep Meadow, and a smaller brick facility on the southern tip of the Harlem Meer in the northern section. These two places have upscale "healthy choice" selections of snacks including fruit/vegetable smoothies, muffins, mineral waters and stuff I should partake more of but don't.
If all else fails, especially in winter when vendors are hibernating, you can duck into one of the ice skating rinks which have full snack bars. Info/directions are listed in my Recreation Directories.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 7, 2001
Dining In General
Within the Park
New York, New York
Attraction | "Safer Than You Think"
NYPD heavily and frequently patrols the park by car/motorcycle/cabbed scooters/bicycle/horse and on foot. You can't go far without seeing an officer to report any legitimate problem encounter you might have.
Common sense and confidence is all it takes to ensure a safe, memorable visit. Without these two, those who victimize easy prey will spot you a mile away which makes you no safer here than anywhere else in the city, or world for that matter. And for those who go looking for trouble, you'll likely easily find it, too!
Unless you've a specific destination already in mind, or interested in one of my activity suggestions, you'll probably have no need to venture far passed the 72nd St. area which brings you up to the Water Conservatory, Boat Pond and Strawberry Fields. These areas and south are heavily populated and traversed both day and night; usually there's additional safety in numbers. And yes, I said at night as a whole new brand of natural mystique and magic appears after dark worth checking out...only if you're confident.
At any time, your comfort level should determine how much of the 'off-the-beaten pathes' you explore through woods, bushes and lesser explored areas which can be pleasantly rewarding but can often conceal the sleeping homeless, drug dealers/users, pervs and other assorted sex mongers - all which also make the scattered public restroom facilities creepy. If that's what you're looking for, you'll surely find them...but otherwise potentially expect it and don't let it scare you off. Go about your business keeping comments to yourselves.
Police will tell you the majority of their daily duties involve assisting with a random purse snatching, lost child/people, vagrancy and lesser "Quality of Life" issues/infractions including urinating in public; especially when bathrooms are closed for the winter. Enforcing the Open Container law is definitely hit and miss so proceed accordingly and don't be surprised to see people drinking and to smell burning reefer everywhere.
FAST FACTS - The first Central Park murder happened in 1870 between a fueding Irish Catholic and Irish Protestant; the first mugging/murder happened to an "out-of-towner" in 1872.
The Park has a 1:00 a.m. curfew closing. Expect to be summoned if you're "caught" beyond this.
At any time of day, if randomly stopped by police, inability to produce a photo ID nets a guaranteed trip to the station.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 7, 2001
59th To 110th Streets Between Fifth Avenue And Central Park West
New York 10023
Attraction | "The Biggest Hidden Find - Conservatory Gardens"
Located only a few blocks from where I live in Spanish Harlem and even closer to our Youth Center, this has became a haven and anchor as a place to escape to often as possible whether lunch breaks, student conferences, doing reading/paperwork outdoors or simply excercising mindless contemplations. But don't let the location scare you off...as it has a lot of New Yorkers. Perhaps our most famous East Harlem resident - Jackie Onassis, used to live in a 5th Ave. penthouse just across/down the avenue. However, one block east beyond is entering the straight-up 'hood! And it never ceases to amaze me at some of the comments I "overhear" from local garden goers; some quite humorous while others quite infuriating.
The main entryway to the Gardens is on 5th Ave. through huge iron gates that once stood at one of the Vanderbilt mansions. On either side of the well-manicured lawn are the garden wings with the left/south side having the largest variety of plants/flowers while the right/north side has seasonal theme beds. A smaller entry is on the northern edge along the path which borders the southern rim of the Harlem Meer-(lake). Garden hours are usually 8:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. The Gardens have water fountains/public restrooms and plenty of bench space for enjoying company or solitude among the beauty.
Gardeners take great pride in their work and are willing to answer any questions about the many plants and flowers. There are various forms of botany for enjoying all seasons, but Spring is by far my favorite for visiting; especially in early/mid-May. During this time, almost every tree within the garden is of the flowering variety and pink/red/white blossoms provide a shaded canopy...great for sitting under while fluttering petals waft around you. About every spring perennial is blooming in the south wing while the north wing features colorful tulips. Wysteria arbors cover the rotunda trellaced walkway and aromas from all the tree-sized lilac bushes can be nauseating.
For getting here, take a cab or bus up Madison Ave. to 105th and walk one block over or, take the local 6-train up Lexington Ave. exiting at 103rd St., walk up to 104th and then go left heading back to 5th Ave. Also, read my directions in this journal's 'Northern Section entry.
Central Park Conservatory Garden
East Side from 104th-106th Streets (5th Ave.)
New York, New York
Attraction | "The Northern Section - Dare you NOT to Come!"
If not taking a cab, by far the quickest/easiest/cheapest way to arrive is by the red-2/3 express subway lines exiting at 110th & Lenox/6th Ave. which puts you at the Park's northern boundary. You'll immediately see the Harlem Meer (both Dutch words; Meer = Lake). I'll detail what you'll see by taking a left or right.
To the left at the Meer, you'll find a remodeled building known as Dana Discovery Center. I suggest picking up additional Park/Nature info brochures...and if you've urge to join many locals fishing, simple pole/line/hook fishing rods with doughball bait are issued free; a great experience for kids! There's an enjoyable walking path around the lake lined with benches filled with locals and "my/our" kids cutting classes. While most expect Blacks & Hispanics, ethnic diversity has greatly changed; especially with the new Parkview Hotel across the street which draws many foreign students.
Near the brick snack kiosk on the southern edge of the lake is a side entry to the Conservatory Gardens; something I highly recommend and reviewed seperately. On the SW-side of the lake is Lasker Recreation Center - a swimming pool in summer and ice skating rink in winter.
I've no qualms recommending safe parts "left" of the Park entry. "Right" is a naturally beautiful/secluded experience not for the timid or adventureless. Walking around the lake to the east, look back to the west and find an American Flag flying up in the woods. It marks the remains of a bunker from the War of 1812; the "oldest structure" standing within the Park. Cross the looping thoroughfare and find one of the pathes heading up the hill through the woods. There's historical facts/info boards at the Blockhouse bunker. The park has done wonders for cleaning up/policing this area, but you're still likely to see "strange types" out and about. DON'T be here after dark!
From here, you're best bet is to come back the way you came and head south on the loop towards the Recreation Center. When coming to the bridge, take a side trail down on the right which puts you on a path which follows The "Loch" waterway through the ravine and up to The Pool, another small lake. This is an easy trek for anyone looking to get away or nature lovers (remember this area's not developed!) From the pool area, you'll see the western boundary wall; beyond it is Central Park West Ave. where you can catch a local B/C train back to where you came from.
Attraction | "The Legacies FROM Central Park"
With construction beginning shortly after, the Park was built by the poor for the rich to enjoy who still lived a long carriage ride away; the city hadn't passed beyond the 30's. By 1866, 20,000 immigrants were working 10-hour construction days for 90-cents to $1.50. From the beginning, nearly 2.5 million cubic yards of stone/earth were excavated, moved or brought in by horse-drawn cart...enough to raise the level of a football field 80 stories! Yet with progress, the wealthy and politicians continued to manipulate development in ways that made or broke careers including eventually those of Olmstead and Vaux.
The Park officially opened in July, 1859 with a concert attended by 4000+ people in The Ramble, the first completed area. However, first "unofficial" park frolickers were in December, '58 when about 300 people congregated to ice skate on the newly formed boat pond. Word spread, and more than an estimated 10,000 showed up the following Sunday. Not long after, the politicians/wealthy "closed" the Park on Sundays to officially keep out the poor who worked six days a week. Rioting ensued until access "for all" was permitted and the victory is still celebrated as New Yorker's definitely have to have "park" on Sundays; what I've referred to as likely the most devout and widely practiced pagan religion of the city.
OTHER NOTABLE FACTS - The proposed "wasteland" which became Central Park cost NYC $7,389,727.96. Year's later, the U.S. paid $7.2 million for 600,000 square miles...which became Alaska.
166 tons of gunpowder (more than used at the Battle of Gettysburg) was used for blasting more than 300,000 cubic yards of Gneiss rock veined with granite; much of which can still be seen within the park today.
In 1860, 2.5 million people visited Central Park. Over the next decade, attendance more than tripled growing 15 times faster than the city's population; almost 900,000 by this time.
Central Park was created in spite of the politicians, though their commotions at the Local, State & National levels did create a model for what the National Parks System was/is built on including the NPS and Yellowstone which didn't come about until 1872.
Attraction | "Believe what you DON'T see - Optical Illusions"
My favorite of their optical illusions can unknowingly be found on "The Mall", located in the central southern portion, which is also often referred to as The Promenade or Great Literary Walk for statues of famous writers. Much like today, people from the 1800's liked to see and be seen and this portion was designed for park patrons to be dropped off in their carriages for stolls. One of the creator's greatest concerns was the narrow width of the park boundaries. I'm not sure how they did it, but here's the key hint for discovering this mysterious masterpiece which deceptively manipulates the experience.
Approach The Mall from the south, as early park goers would, and stop at the beginning to gauge the distance to the other end. It'll look really far! Then, stop half way and look back/ahead to see how actually short it really is. Then, look back again from the other end to have your eyes deceived again. This tree canopied walkway draws the visitor forward into the plaza area in front of the bandshell and to the steps descending into Bethesda Terrace/Fountain therefore keeping you focused on the Park's length rather than the narrow width.
In the early days, the dense trees of The Ramble were also much shorter allowing promenade strollers to be drawn forward with glimpses of the distant turret of Belvedere Castle; the second optical illusion. Today, the castle houses one of the City's main weather monitoring centers which is open for tours. Access to the castle is from side trails; best views from The Great Lawn. Take a good distant look at the sizeable structure before you get up close and see just how small it really is. The illusion comes from being built at such a steep, ascending scale...that was later copied in building Disney's Cinderella castles that if you've ever seen, you know what size illusions I'm referring to.
The other wonder, you'll likely hear before you ever see or figure out what's actually going on. Since the Park extends 51 blocks, part of original requirements was for 4 passageways to connect east to west. Olmstead & Vaux, being the nature freaks and perfectionist designers they were, struggled with having the Park's natural effect interrupted with traffic and progress. The passageways are still here today just as originially concocted...sunken below the Park. You'll cross over them on bridges but in seasons when vegetation is thickest, you'd never know or see the rush of traffic if it weren't for the sounds.
Attraction | "Little Bo Peep & The Flock of Peops"
When it comes to warm sunny weekends, there's a NY saying - "You can't see the grass for the people"! Sheep Meadow is definitely the showcase proof of this statement as all walks of the spice of life descend upon this expansive open area to present a free "side-show" better than any performances you'll pay to see on Broadway. Tourists, don't be suprised if numbers you find are greater than your home population.
Bring a blanket or sit on the grass. Keep your clothes on or strip down to your "bare essentials", but at least take your shoes off to feel the grass, not asphalt, under your feet! Yes, you can stake personal space amidst the sea of people and still have privacy or interaction. Nap. Read a book. Meet others. Gawk to your heart's content including celebrity sightings inconspicuously blended into the crowd. Boom boxes are banned, but music from the street skate or somewhere is usually loud enough to lay the soundtrack for the non-stop video which transpires within the mind. Roving vendors sell sodas/water/beer and even airplane shot-sized bottles to mix your own, but keep in mind "circumstance" enforcement of Open Container laws not mentioning nearest restrooms are a distant walk north to Mineral Pavilion concessions.
It's rather ironic how the almost 150-year old existence has came full circle when it comes to the questionable crowds which assemble here. The area was one of the official requirements to be included within the Park. A large military parade and drilling site was deemed necessary, though no one knew exactly how timely it would be. Our Civil War broke out sending eager militia groups into a flurry of action that quickly trompled the newly laid lawn. Omstead and Vaux, the Park's creators, were outraged but ignored on requests to Keep Off The Grass despite it serving the intended purpose.
In 1864, Olmstead check-mated his adversaries in borrowing a page from London's Hyde Park which had largely inspired his recreated American version. He turned a flock of sheep loose to graze the lawn; something to present a peaceful and tranquil setting while preserving the natural setting he'd created vs. the rowdy soldiers he opposed from the beginning. To insure there'd never be a repeat, Military parading was officially banned by law within the park by 1865 and Sheep Meadow emerged onto the page of history; the sheepfold built in 1870.
During the turn of the century and Great Depression/Wars that followed, neglect of Central Park had it's "first" massive decline into disarray until Robert Moses took over as Park Commissioner. One of his first monumental changes came in 1934 having the long-since suffering flock removed from the meadow and the sheepfold converted into a restaurant - Tavern on the Green.
Attraction | "As you like it - The Live Entertainment"
When weather's decent, you can't go far without coming across various forms of street entertainers singing, playing music, dancing, juggling or anything for the love of performing and, helping support their incomes through appreciation contributions. While you could quickly go broke assisting them all, let your conscience be your guide whether hearing a favorite song, seeing the extra efforts from raw talent, or the bizarre whackiness which captures your attention in pushing creativeness to new limits. Performers also provide a great cultural exchange often coming from all around the world - some of the more popular ones even selling their own CD's/tapes or goods from their countries; especially the South American Indian groups with their smooth brands of "Inka Jazz".
The Naumberg Bandshell, located in the plaza between The Mall and Bethesda Terrace, is one of the Park's original structures obviously where earliest concerts were held. Perhaps you'll wonder what's kept this central attraction not crumbling from the amplified sounds generated from directly behind where the majority of the Park's concerts are held today. SUMMER STAGE is a series which sometimes can have up to three shows a week featuring various forms of music and ethnic/cultural entertainment. If you're in the Park during the summer, check the area as event calendars are always posted. The majority of concerts are by donation admission, though they'll frequently slip in headlining groups and charge for special fundraisers. Unless you're one of those that has to "see" what you hear, save the admission cost and enjoy the freebie from a bench outside...plus, the views are better.
Other entertainment within the Park takes place at the Delacorte Theatre, an outdoor amphitheatre presenting a series of Opera and Shakespeare performances with admission fees, and free puppet shows at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre. Both are located on the southwest corner of the Great Lawn.
FOR OFFICIAL PARK PERFORMANCES - the larger the production, the earlier you'll need to arrive for seating/space; Great Lawn events often not opening until 6-hours before curtain. I've only done one...with a staff member and 18 of our kids. Free passes to Disney's premier of Pocahontas. What an experience for them, but with the long boring wait, immense crowds and confusions, I'll take them to South Dakota before we do that again!
Central Park Summer Stage
72nd Street off Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10063
+1 212 360 2777
Attraction | "TRIVIAL TRIVIA in case you cared to know"
Rocky terrain remaining within the Park is what was scattered around most of the island purchased in 1626 from Wappinger Algonquins for the equivalent of $24. "Manhattan" is derived from their original Native American name "Manah-atin" meaning Island of Hills in reference to the rocks our skyscrapers are embedded on.
24 Sparrow Cops were hired in 1858 to police the Park and made 228 arrest for violations of driving carriages too fast, walking on the grass, picking flowers, public displays of affection, other minimal charges.
The general public was outraged that $63,000 was spent on the angel which caps the Bethesda Terrace Fountain - the first ever publicly commissioned and displayed work by a woman, Emma Stebbins, in NYC.
Early recreation within the Park was restricted and deemed only acceptable for children; adults expected to display modest, genteel behavior. Lawn tennis was the first organized sport allowed in 1884 by permit only. A ban on baseball within the Park was lifted in the 1920's.
The largest artwork display is the Maine Monument at the southwest/Columbus Circle entrance in memory of the 260 crewmen who died in the Battleship explosion in Havana. William Randolph Hearst funded it's placement in 1913.
The oldest artwork is an obelisk positioned behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art along the main loop bordering the Great Lawn. Donated by William Vanderbilt in 1881, this 71-foot-tall Egyptian structure predates 1460 B.C. and is likely the oldest thing in the entire city.
Squelched plans for sites inside the Park included for an airport, race track, Grant's Tomb, elevated el-trains, a burial ground for NY's prominent, and other privately funded "self-glorifying" monuments and statues.
7,674 benches can accomodate 23,022 adults. Demonstrations/rioting broke out in 1902 when a city commissioner thought he could ease city debt by "renting" bench space for 5-cents a sit!
The 106-acre reservoir accounts for one-eighth of park space and is under review for what to do with this body of water which no longer serves it's intended purpose. The current reservoir replaced the smaller, older Croton Reservoir which was filled in to become the Great Lawn.
The Central Park Conservancy was formed in 1980 to assume full responsibility for the Park's full upkeep often neglected by the financially-burdened city. $8.8 million, received by donations, was spent in 1985.
Attraction | "America's First zoo"
In 1858, a bear cub was accepted as the potential zoo's first animal. By 1865, more than 250 unwanted pets and animals were housed in "make shift" pens behind the Arsenal on unofficial display that accounted for drawing over half of the Park's visitors. 5th Avenue residents, living in mansions that now house the popular "Museum Mile", were in an uproar - complaints about smells second only to free admission drawing the lower-class. The locals' bittersweet victory came in 1895 when influencing the NY Zoological Society to open The Bronx Zoo, which forever squelched hopes of a larger facility here. However, the Central Park Menagerie continued to outdraw the highly touted yet distant facility in The Bronx.
Today, this small zoo is a pleasant, convenient day-trip for locals/tourists alike. The main compound was rennovated in the 1980's; the petting zoo refinished in the 90's. A small admission fee allows entrance to both with the polar bears and sea lion pools capturing the most attention. My favorite are the penguins and Amazon Rain Forest indoor display. The zoo is located behind the Arsenal building on 5th Ave. in the lower 60s.
The Hayden Planetarium just got a new make-over in 2000 I've yet to experience. As for the Metropolitan Museums of Art & Natural History, they're definitely worth checking out once, but unless a special exhibit is on display, the "regular" attractions have NEVER been changed/rotated during my time in NYC. General admission for these three are by "suggested donation". Special exhibits entry requires a separate ticket anywhere from $8 up. The Planetarium/Natural History museums are on Central Park West in the lower 80's. The Metropolitan is part of Museum Mile along 5th Ave. which also includes The Guggenheim, Museo del Barrio, Museum of the City of New York, and more than a dozen others. Admission and opening hours vary.
HERE'S THE BEEF - Philadelphia's zoo was founded in 1859 not opening until 1874. However, their proud claim as "America's first zoo" doesn't hold up considering animals began showing up in Central Park in 1858 and temporary-turn-permanent cages were finished in 1870 on the present site.
Central Park Zoo
830 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10021
Attraction | "A Suggested Simple Walking Tour"
When finished, cross the street to the left and you'll see The Carousel; a revamped, electrified version of the original which used to be turned by a blind mule and horse in the basement. It cost 10-cents a ride when opening in 1870; expect to pay more today. If you're with children, the Hecksher Playground is also within view from here.
Poceed forward on the road crossing over the first sunken/hidden roadway. The road will begin winding to the right passed the edge of Sheep Meadow and volleyball courts on Dead End Alley. Keep going until coming to the southern entry to The Mall/Promenade which is detailed in my "Optical Illusions" entry. At the far end is the Naumberg Bandshell and plaza area. Keep heading north descending down one of the staircases.
Bethesda Terrace and Fountain were completed in 1873; don't miss the detailed stone carvings on the stairways. It's a central drawing point for the Park. Follow the path which leads left/NW along the Boat Pond and you'll come to Bow Bridge; the Park's most famous cast iron bridge. In looking left/west from the bridge, the green-copper gabled building is 'The Dakota' where John Lennon was killed. Turning back, follow the path along the southern lake until heading left/uphill which brings you to Cherry Hill; an original concourse built for carriages to water horses while guests frolicked.
When leaving, the road from here forks. To the left puts you on course for Dead End Alley famous for it's street skaters and volleyball games. The right takes you on a more scenic route which feeds back into the main loop. When coming to the intersection with the Daniel Webster statue, following the pathes up/off to the right will lead into Strawberry Fields; the 2.5 acre memorial to John Lennon. (There's also exit access back to 72nd St.)
If returning to the loop, you'll walk through natural settings before coming to the Lawn Bowling Green and Sheep Meadow on the left and Tavern on the Green to the right. As the road starts angling to the left/east, you'll find exits to 59th St. at 8th Ave./Columbus Circle, 7th Ave., or 6th Ave. where you entered.
Attraction | "Tips & Information for Seasonal Highlights"
I'd wager Spring is by far the best season. In March, daffodils and other flowers begin appearing scattered about poking their heads through late snow when necessary. Moderate temperatures begin luring NY'ers out of dreary, cramped apartments; park attendance especially swelling after the first Sunday in April and DST.
The fountains get filled and drinking fountains turned on while new buds on trees/bushes cast a fresh light-green coating across the horizons. By mid-May, flowering trees are beautiful; the highest concentrations around Tavern on the Green, Cherry Hill, the eastern park look behind the art museum, the eastern bridle path along the reservoir, and in Conservatory Gardens - a definite must.
If you can't stand the heat, head for the park! Vegetations are at their lushest providing cool shade during summer months, but it's the massive amounts of people which become the main attraction. The park is abuzz with activities everywhere, though quiet moments are still available whether amidst the crowds or in solitude. Street performers, as well as the Summer Stage concert series and performances at Delacorte Theatre, provide daily entertainment beyond obvious people watching opportunities. Ferocious night time thunderstorms, conjured up by the most wicked humidity, can cause the ground to produce steam which yields a ghastly, eerie ambiance to the natural magical mystery.
Mild fall temperatures generously extend summer-like activities with trees offering little seasonal hints. They're not many Maples and others with vibrant fall foliage, but many shades of yellows/browns paint an entirely different landscape whether leaves are still clinging to trees or carpeting the ground. Judge for yourself, but there always seems to be a sense of desperation in the air the last Saturday of October as people fully indulge before losing the hour of park daylight come Sunday with the time change.
Enjoyable weather has usually stuck around until the week of Thanksgiving and Mother Nature drops the bottom out of temperatures. While not as great in numbers, you'll note the serious park patrons still walking dogs, jogging/biking and seeking refuge in this Edenistic escape...just more bundled up.
Central Park is not to be missed in winter! Bare tree limbs no longer conceal the towring rows of buildings surrounding the space; even more evident after 5:00 p.m. when all the lights come on. Take a walk with someone special; snuggled up for warmth...imaginary mistletoe hanging off any/everywhere! When there's snow/ice, proceed with caution walking across the frozen lakes. I see people doing it every year - yet someone always falls through!
And then, counting the days until Spring...
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 8, 2001
Attraction | "The Jungle From Within"
In 1982, there were 147 different kinds of trees (not counting saplings) accounting for 24,595 trees within the Park. Pay close enough attention - you'll come across some of the obscure indentifying markers giving brief descriptions on what kinds they are.
"Tree Poaching is a legitimate concern for Park officials as it's believed an average of 20 large trees a year are quickly, quietly chopped down, cut up and sold for firewood. If you want the real "bark" on trees, speak with park employee Bob Redman...a once illusive teenager who was tracked by park employees during an 8-year period for illusively constructing/living in 13 different treehouses in the densest northern sections. Once caught, living in a 5-room split level model, his love/knowledge for trees landed him on the payroll.
As for fauna, 238 species of birds have been found in Central Park including the Snowy Owl and Bald Eagle. The Park is a bird watcher's paradise and the most popular sightings take place in The Ramble; a highly controversial area often pitting city officials against bird watchers from efforts to rid/clean up the area's "other" attractions by culling out the vegetative thickness which attracts birds but also conceals susupect activity. Let's just say you'll likely see more than birds through your binoculars!
To no suprise, pidgeons and brown norway rats top their respective categories followed closely by a thriving mallard and squirrel population. A pair of swans have nested on the Boat Pond for years; their "ugly duckling" young transforming into regal beauties before moving on.
If you're in the Park at dusk or beyond, don't be surprised to see VERY LARGE raccoons brazenly roaming around foraging for food. Perhaps you remember recent headlines about the roving coyote found within the woods. This perceived savage beast - likely dumped-off house pet was definitely out of it's element just as you might end up feeling on the Park's "perceived" survival of the fittest food/prey chain; something daily played out around the waters where pidgeons, seagulls, ducks, geese and song birds compete and outwit each other for bread crumbs "illegally" fed by park goers. Signs say, "Don't Feed The Wildlife", but...
In 1890, 80 starlings were imported from Europe and released in Central Park spawning the country's obnoxious population we've today. The English Sparrow also originated in the U.S. from here.
Entering the 20th century, two giant Sequoia trees were still thriving near Cherry Hill.
Free guided nature tours can be arranged at The Dairy in the south or Dana Discovery Center in the north.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 8, 2001
Attraction | "The Park in the Dark"
One of my favorites comes at dusk around the Harlem Meer...though any body of water will do. The sky's sunset pallet provides an excellent background for all the buildings which tower over the trees lining the Park walls. As if this site isn't inspiring enough, you'll get a double dose with reflections on the water...sometimes shimmering from a fallen leaf or passing mallard. There's nothing better for clearing your mind as your day "reflects" are soothed from the beautiful reflections.
The numbers of people out and about in southern sections of the Park up to 72nd St. might have you wondering if these people ever go home whether a large group of rowdy revelers on the plaza or a lone skater with walkman in hand practicing their moves under a street lamp. This is the most developed area and closest to midtown which brings safety in numbers from/for both locals AND tourists alike.
If you're curious yet still somewhat skiddish, I highly recommend taking a horse-drawn carriage ride which departs from the 59th St./6th Ave. entrance to at least sense the magical feeling of escaping to this haven while the "now lit-up" buildings are looming all around...ready to engulf you the second you step outside the boundaries. If on foot, you definitely won't/shouldn't miss a walk-through of the year-round highly lighted and decorated courtyard of Tavern on the Green, or a stroll down The Mall/Promenade - especially in the fall when leaves are still randomly trickling down from gentle breezes. Most areas are very well lit though there's plenty of darkness should you choose to stop and steal a kiss or moment together.
Romance is certainly in the air...and a lot of other related mischief and then some even aside from the safety issues. Exposure of the "exposed" is inevitable after dark and comes with the territories...kind of like the air that's just there. I've stumbled across "beyond bizarre" especially when combing areas looking for my Youth Center kids gone AWOL. Without specific cause, avoid most areas north of 72nd St. unless you're running short of drugs or peep show tokens.
"Headline Crimes" are not exclusive to nightly hours though a 1:00 a.m. park closing curfew is enforced best can be. Working with the local precinct on youth-related issues has given me an inside track to info and experiences with the Park; especially in the springtime when large packs of uptown kids invade the Park at night on mostly stolen bicycles reeking havoc and high speeds on the roads clocked at 40+ mph.
Attraction | "Sports & Recreation Directory, Part One"
JOGGING - The NY Roadrunners Club have an information kiosk at the 5th Ave./89th St. entrance which is also a good place for locating the mile-half+ "natural" course circling the reservoir which is rather well lit, basically safe, and heavily used at all "decent" hours. Die-hards use the asphalt thoroughfare which loops around the Park and, by detected use, would appear safer for late-night runners. This circular route is closed to traffic except a.m./p.m. weekday rush hours. Jogging/biking lanes are marked, often crowded.
Those in town the first weekend of November, the finish line for NYC's Marathon is across from Tavern on the Green.
ROLLERBLADING/SKATING - This popular mode of transportation/recreation is purposefully, leisurely everywhere. Competitive/skilled in-line skating takes place on the loop near Tavern on the Green.
Weekend Street Skates along Dead End Alley have long been a popular attraction. Chances are you'll see the crowds and hear music long before you realize what's going on as people of all ages, races, social statuses "get busy" to the thumpin' beat displaying skills that can keep you watching for hours.
The second most popular area is the nearby courtyard at Naumberg Bandshell. There's no music, but performances just as impressive including those "grinding" on benches or taking Bethesda Terrace stairs backwards.
BICYCLING/RENTALS - Bicycling is popular around the loop and for those lesser inclined, riding basically anywhere you'd like. Standard bicycles can be rented in the parking lot in front of Loeb Boathouse. If you've access to mountain/all-terrain bikes, challenges await in The Ramble and northern areas.
*Joggers/skaters/bikers MUST SHARE THE ROAD! Countless accidents occur daily from those not paying attention. You also run potentially greater risk of inflicted injury from the person you cluelessly hit than the accident itself...or at least a good tongue lashing!
BOATING - As seen in many movies, you too can seasonally rent a rowboat behind Loeb Boathouse to skim across the pond for hefty rate and limited time. The Boathouse restaurant also offers seasonal gondola rides complete with Venetian oarsmen and song.
Remote controlled boating takes place at Water Conservatory downhill from the 5th Ave./72nd St. entrance.
HORSEBACK RIDING - Bridle pathes are obviously scatterd about the western, central and northern parts. Where you get the horse, I've no clue!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 9, 2001
Attraction | "Sports & Recreation Directory, Part Two"
In the northern end off the 2/3-train 110th St. stop is Lasker Memorial rink which is least expensive, less crowded. It's also home of Harlem's youth hockey leagues.
* Both rinks have snack bar facilities. Admission and skate rental are seperate with fees annually creeping upward.
SWIMMING - The only public swimming pool is also at Lasker Memorial in the north. Admission is free; there's a mixed and interesting crowd. Swimming in natural bodies of water is prohibited.
VOLLEYBALL - Located on "Dead End Alley" between Sheep Meadow and The Mall, there's two asphalt and one sand court. Pick-up games are easy to get into. (Brazilians rule these courts!)
SNOW/WINTER - After a good coating of snow, Cross Country Skiers take to the Park everywhere. Sledding is also widely popular with the best/steepest hill on the north of The Ramble.
ROCK CLIMBING - Natural rocky terrain makes this a great activity, but those serious about their skills head for the northern sections scaling cliffs/rocks along the loop and also walls of the War of 1812 blockade. A good indicator of what/where are the white chalk hand prints!
FISHING - The Harlem Meer-Lake on the northern end issues free fishing poles/lines/hooks with doughball bait for those who don't have their own. It's great for kids; they can actually catch abundant smaller fish, too.
LAWN BOWLING - Definitely only for spectators, this long-standing league of lawn bowlers can be found on the greens north of Sheep Meadow just off the loop.
TENNIS - A large complex of newly refurbished courts are in the South Meadow just NW of the reservoir.
TEAM SPORTS - Softball/Baseball is by far the largest organized sport within the Park on clusters of fields in the southern Hecksher Ballfields, Great Lawn, and North Meadow which has larger diamonds and hosts local Hispanic adult/youth league competition.
Soccer is mostly found on/around East Meadow with the Central American population; pick-up games available.
Basketball courts are on the NW corner of the Great Lawn and at the North Meadow security center.
I'll never forget my first visit to NYC or Central Park. It was a cloudy summer Sunday with several friends. We hadn't been there long when I'd finally convinced the last of them to "rush" on. I'd be fine...and safe, but knew even then I wanted to thoroughly, leisurely experience this natural wonder thinking it might be my only visit to the City and this forbidden yet inviting treasure. I had no idea I'd be living here soon, or that more than 10-years later something could still hold the magic found on that first visit.
During my early "honeymoon days" in becoming a full-fledged New Yorker, I confess much of daily life was like a non-stop tourist within my new surroundings. But something about Central Park became almost an obsession. When I couldn't be there, I found myself reading anything I could get my hands on to self-educate myself about this place which captivated me, and best summarized is like "Mother Nature's Magnet" drawing peoples negative charges to it's positive ones for the necessary survival and renewal from living in a wonderful, yet intensely stressful city.
Escape is too vague a word, but one senses it only a few steps into the Park no matter which gate you enter through, or what your motivation for coming. It's more of a friend than the faithful house pet which always needs walking or a spouse who should have 50% of a relationship. The Park is always there to genuinely welcome you just as you are, alone or together, no questions asked and to provide solace for needs whether celebratory or in hiding to escape from or reflect on realities. These unique and varied experiences allow people to justifiably develop a "My Park" mentality despite their commonly and knowingly sharing it with millions; each individual with a different cause and definition.
A favorite example of 'my/your/our' Park was on a care-free summer night passing through the Bethesda Courtyard; the sounds of Hip-Hop floating through the air from a party at nearby Loeb Boathouse. From the infectious rhythms, I found myself breaking into a "Flash Dance fool" performance around the brick terrace and fountain with the Angel of the Water statue as my unobtrusive audience. The song ended and as I prepared to climb the stairs, I heard a slow, deliberate applause coming out of the darkness - not from the angel, but a homeless person unknowingly watching and sharing in the moment.
Partaking in Park with others is a given whether by choice or circumstance, but as discussed in my "Everybody knows your name" entry, what would any park be without people? I experienced the answer one very late night when an emergency call beckoned me from the Upper West Side. Lost within my reeling mind, I didn't even think to take a cab but habitually set-out on my walk home through the Park to the east side. The air was bitter cold as I trudged across the North Meadow ballfields; my crunching steps through the snow even more burdensome from the latest "weight of the world" I was carrying. At this point in time, I stopped to experience what it WAS like to feel I was the only living, breathing soul within the Park and City...and yes, I remember being scared. Not because I was in Central Park in the wee hours, but because of the harsh realities that certainly awaited once I reentered the "real world" across 5th Avenue. Alone...yet with the Park's warmest embrace even on the coldest of nights.
The at-risk youth I work with have mirrored a lot of my own narcissistic make-up when it comes to how one feels about the Park. Thankfully, we've only a few blocks until we're lost within the boundaries and ourselves in one of the few places within the City where people can actually be "real people. They, too sense the desperation and privilege for needing something natural and wide-open available; something they can't explain but that obviously soothes their fears while feeding budding curiosities as well as commanding a reverant respect not often displayed elsewhere.
Over the years, we've taken full advantage of our "outdoor" Youth Center whether aimlessly roaming and playing, intense Capture The Flag tournaments in the woods, or during the "Great Blizzard" of 1/96 when I raided the Center cafeteria of serving trays and baking sheets to take a horde of bundled up kids sledding after midnight. Regardless of the amount of scheduled or spontaneous activities, there's rarely ever an "after the dinner dishes are done" walk around the Meer that I don't encounter someone, whether student or family member, out and about. Sometimes it becomes a shared experience of release from cramped aprtments. More than often, it involves a whole lot more.
Central Park has also became their safety blanket and comfort zone, too; their place for retreat and escape from a host of mind-boggling dilemnas ranging from trivial to life-threatening survival. I know the looks...even from strangers, and I've often wondered what if the grass and trees would dare to whisper all the painful details and secrets that have been concealed and revealed upon, around them and break the loyal confidence and trust found within the Park? Thankfully somewhere, for every tear there's a laugh and for every doubt there's hope until seeking the next "fix" which seems to help so many of us carry on with life in the City.
In my "Park in the Dark" entry, I'd mentioned looking for those gone AWOL within the Park and being exposed to about everything imaginable. There's a lot of self-assurance and determination when trekking through such questionable surroundings; my often contemplating who's watching over me as I'm compelled to be out trying to watch over them? Thankfully, I've been shielded from any harm but it's certainly not by luck, fate or chance.
An afternoon break of blading had inevitably gone longer than planned and I was running late and distracted as I skated toward one of the Park's roadway exits. Within a split second, a taxi came barrelling around a blind curve zeroing in on me. Somehow I managed to propel myself upon to the hood at impact before rolling into the windshield and off the side to the ground. I immediately scrambled to my feet not sure what had just happened as the cab sped away. As I began to realize my only blemish was a small scratch on my hand, it's likely the cabbie came out a lot worse from the humorous image of the purse beating upside his head being administered from his passenger in the back seat.
I've no "sound" explanation for how I managed to leap, with weighted feet from the skates, onto the hood of the car just in time to keep from being completely ran over or, how I wasn't even bruised or sore the next morning. It's one of those questions on a long list to someday ask my over-worked Guardian Angel who's been put to quite the test over the years and undoubtedly, has also found comfort, relief and immense joy within Central Park...all but manifesting theirself in everything I see and do and in everywhere I go within the heavenly boundaries of my other angel in disguise.