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A “hidden” Central Park woodland is returned to New York’s citizens.

The Hallett Nature Sanctuary

When Central Park was designed, it was architect Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s intention to bring nature to the citizens of New York. Rather than just building paved gathering areas or gardens, they built meadows, and lakes, and three wooded areas. Up until this year though, most people only had access to two of the wooded areas: The Ramble and The North Woods.

Hallett's Wild Woodland

The third woodland sits on the rocky western shoreline of The Pond (located near, 59th Street between 5th and 6th Ave). The three and a half acre area, once known as The Promontory, has mostly been closed to the public since 1934 when former Parks Commissioner Robert Moses fenced it off to “to see what happens if you let nature take care of nature,” as Gal Lavid, operations director for the Central Park Conservancy told the New York Times. Commissioner Moses seemed to have a thing for nature sanctuaries, he knocked down an entire fishing resort town on Jamaica Bay to create one.

The Department of Parks continued Moses’s sanctuary experiment for decades. As Central Park is not actually nature, but rather a man-made re-creation of nature, the Promontory experienced the same problem most parks would have if they were left unattended, it became overrun by weeds. In 2001, The Central Park Conservancy began an extensive restoration of The Pond and the surrounding Promontory, tearing out Tree of Heaven, Wisteria, Black Cherry, Norway Maple and other invasive species that had completely saturated the area.

Closeup: Plants in Hallett Nature Sanctuary

In 1986, the Promontory was renamed the Hallett Nature Sanctuary to honor George Hervey Hallett, Jr. a civic leader and lover of nature. It remained closed though until 2013. After 79 years, The Central Park Conservancy finally opened the Hallett Nature Sanctuary to the public for a special viewing. Then finally, this year the hidden woodlands received regular hours. Starting in July, you can visit Hallett Nature Sanctuary on Monday from 2-5pm, Wednesday from 2-7pm, Friday from 2-5pm, and Sunday from 11-1pm. The Conservancy will only let 20 people into the area at once so be prepared to wait in a line. These hours will continue until September when they will be amended for the fall season.

Inside Hallett Nature Sanctuary

As you walk through the area, you’ll find park officials stationed throughout as if you’re visiting a museum. Even though it’s open to the public, the park wants the area remain primarily a wildlife sanctuary. You won’t find benches or street lights and will be asked to stay on the wood-chip path. However, if you walk up to the top of the waterfall, you’ll be able to spot a reminder that the park is still man-made nature. Hidden beneath a log is a white plastic pipe that serves as the source of the falls. For many years this was just a garden hose but it was upgraded before it was open to the public.

The Source of Hallett's Waterfall

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The Ladies Pavilion

The Ladies Pavillion
The Ladies Pavillion – photo by Heather Shimmin

— This guest blog post was written by Heather Shimmin. —

The Ladies Pavilion in Central Park is a delectable Victorian fantasy in cast iron. This delightful little structure sits on The Lake near West 75th Street. Its whimsical decorative ironwork, broken columns, and elaborate cresting topped with gold-leaf finials makes it one of the finest examples of the Decorative Arts movement in the United States.

The pavilion was designed by Jacob Wrey Mould in 1871 as a trolley shelter that sat on the southwest corner of the park at 8th Avenue and 59th Street. It served as a respite from the elements for parkgoers for over forty years until the construction of the Maine Monument began in 1912 when it was moved to its present location.

When the shelter was moved, it was renamed The Ladies Pavilion because of its close proximity to the Ladies Skating Pond. To the city’s surprise, the Ladies Skating Pond was never used much. Women preferred to skate on the large co-ed rink where they could hold a gentleman’s hand in public. Physical contact with the opposite sex in public was strictly frowned upon in the Victorian Era. Ice skating was one of the few activities where men and women could have physical contact in a public space, so naturally the women-only skating rink proved quite unpopular. In 1920, it was filled in and covered with azaleas and other plantings.

By 1971, the pavilion was dilapidated and finally torn apart by vandals. Fortunately, pieces of the pavilion were salvaged and the structure was rebuilt. To prevent future destruction, the pavilion was anchored with steel rods sunk into a three-foot concrete foundation.

Except for its monochromatic slate roof and some missing decorative foliage elements from the arcade frieze, the pavilion looks very much as it did when it was moved to its present location. Having only Mould’s working drawing of the pavilion, done in the autumn of 1871, it is impossible to know what the original finished structure looked like.

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Betty and Veronica join a long line of bears living in Central Park

Welcome Grizzle Bears Betty and Veronica to The Central Park Zoo
Welcome Grizzle Bears Betty and Veronica to The Central Park Zoo – photo by Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society

Bears have existed in Central Park since 1859 when a young park messenger named Phillip Holmes unwittingly became the caretaker of a young black bear cub. A wealthy New Yorker insisted that guards in the park take the trained cub as a symbolic gift. It was a way of saying, “thanks for bringing this wilderness to the city, here’s some wildness for you.”

Holmes job as messenger meant that he essentially carried out odd tasks for park employees. This was the first time he’d taken care of a wild animal but would not be the last. New Yorkers were so taken by the bear that more gifted animals began to arrive until the area where the zoo currently is situated became a “menagerie” for the animals to live. Holmes would eventually become the nation’s first zookeeper.

Bears living in an earlier version of the Central Park Zoo
Bears living in an earlier version of the Central Park Zoo

Much has changed since Victorian times and our city’s zoos are now home to many animals who might, under normal circumstances, not have survived in the wild. Betty and Veronica, who have moved into the habitat formerly belonging to Gus the polar bear, are two such animals.

The newest residents of the Central Park Zoo.
The newest residents of the Central Park Zoo. – photo by Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society

These beautiful grizzle bears were rescued from Montana and Wyoming when officials deemed them a threat to humans in their respective areas. Bears such as these have typically shown repeated signs of violence and aggression and are often shot. Instead the Wildlife Conservation Society brought them to The Bronx Zoo where they’ve lived since 1995.

Veronica the Grizzly Bear - photo: Julie Larsen Maher
Veronica the Grizzly Bear – photo: Julie Larsen Maher

Zoo officials have reported that these seasoned grizzlies, who know prefer games to violence, will open the Grizzly Bear exhibit in Central Park but it will eventually become the home of three young cubs. The cubs recently lost their mother and the zoo officials need time to work with them before they introduce them to the public.

“It’s a new species and a new exhibit,” Jim Breheny, the society’s executive vice president for zoos and aquariums, told the New York Times. “That’s why we’re sending Betty and Veronica down there. They’re really solid, they’re responsive animals, they really like each other, have great relationships with their keepers. And they’re beautiful.”

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Jazz and Colors brings Central Park a swinging soundtrack

Jazz and Colors
This coming Thursday, in addition to the beautiful changing leaves and the crisp feeling of autumn, Central Park goers will be treated to music by thirty different ensembles spread out throughout the park. They’ve all been given the same set list with songs by Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Billy Strayhorn, Dizzy Gillespie and more. The idea being that as you move throughout the park you’ll experience a seamlessly shifting soundtrack. This beautiful idea is called Jazz and Colors and it’s sponsored by Jazz at Lincoln Center.

The music starts at noon on Thursday, November 7th and goes all the way to 4pm. It just so happens, we’re giving a park tour during the concert… bonus! But even if you don’t join us, head over to the park. It’s going to be magical.

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