If you speak with most New Yorkers, they will tell you they know Central Park from 59th Street to 110th Street. Some people know certain areas more than others, but most New Yorkers have visited most sections of the park. At least, that was what most of us thought until a few months ago. During the month of May 2016, we heard about a secret sanctuary, Hallett Nature Sanctuary, and it was going to be open to the public for a few days in the week during the summer.
Of course, I wanted to see this place to tell you what I saw and thought about it. Initially, I thought that it would be like a deserted forest area, similar to Inwood Park where it is natural, the hands of man have not landscaped it, nature at its best. At Inwood, there is a hiking trail, but it does have roots and vines crossing your path. Whatever nature has inflected on it, it is still there, so it is a little challenging to walk at times. Well, that was my idea of what I was going to find, a little wilderness in the middle of Central Park.
The week that it opened we went to it. The only direction that we had was south of Wollman Rink. As we approached the rink, we spotted a young lady selling park maps and asked her directions. She pointed to a bridge to our left and said to follow the sign. The bridge is named Gapstow Bridge. The current bridge replaced the 1874 Jacob Wrey Mould’s original bridge. By 1896, the Mould’s bridge had deteriorated and a stone replacement, based off of the design by Howard & Caudwell was built. Great views of New York City skyline from here. As we crossed the bridge, there was a line waiting for entry to the Hallett Sanctuary.
Our turn to enter, people are allowed in as people leave. Currently, entry is managed by park workers. As we entered the wood chip trail, we were surprised that the area had been landscaped. Many of the plants and flowers were identified with markers. We met one of the workers who had a number of potted plants that they were planning to add to the sanctuary. We spotted a couple of large downed trees which gave the appearance of sculptures on the grounds. We continued exploring the 4-acres. We came upon a bench area where many people were seated. The bench was circular and around a tree. As you looked down, you could see the sections that were still wild and untouched.
From the very beginning of the creation of Central Park, the area north of the swamp/pond was to be untouched, it was to be wild. In 1934, Robert Moses closed it from the public and it was only for the birds. In 1986 it was renamed from Promontory to Hallett’s Nature Sanctuary, to honor George Harvey Hallett, a nature lover and bird watcher. It continued to be closed to the public.
In 2003 the Central Park Conservancy began to have students do restoration work on this part of the park, but it still remained closed. The students worked on some major landscape and the creation of a woodchip trail. As we walked the trail, we noticed that there were no squirrels stirring about, the way you find them throughout the park.
We spotted a blue bird and a red bird and two butterflies. We spoke with one of the park workers who said that they hoped by next year there will be more butterflies and birds in the sanctuary. It is possible that this is a stopping path for birds as they migrate from cold to warmth, but we didn’t see this.
Our impression is that they will continue to monitor entry into this area of the park for this year and perhaps for many to come. As we learn more about Hallett Nature Sanctuary, we will bring it to you. If you want to visit it, please check the Central Park Conservancy for the days and times when this part will welcome you.
Since my first visit, I have gone to several more times and it was still monitored by Conservancy personnel. I have not been to it since last summer, but I’m looking forward to seeing what has changed since last year.
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