Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Park For All Seasons

The rain has been pouring down on New York’s Central Park most of June. But this has not dampened the spirits of park enthusiasts who teem over its 843 acres and plentiful playgrounds come rain or shine.

Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux probably never thought that their grand design would be so enduring and central to what would become the world’s greatest city. Evening Post editor William Cullen Bryant had championed a pastoral retreat for the booming city of a half-million people jammed into the lower half of Manhattan. City commissioners spent $5 million buying up the land between 1853 and 1856, which then included sheep meadows, granite hills and Revolutionary War fortifications. The city spend $14 million and fifteen years removing five million cubic yards of stone and soil, then building 30 bridges and arches and eleven overpasses.

Today the six-mile perimeter of Central Park is surrounded on all sides by steep walls of concrete and steel. Traffic races around it, streams through it and zips across its sunken transverse routes. The park is filled with runners, bikers, hikers, picnickers and bird-watchers who watch the 275 species of birds calling the park their home. Toddlers romp in each of the 21 playgrounds located throughout the park, softball players battle it out on each of the more than two-dozen softball fields. Folks walk on 58 miles of pedestrian paths, 4.5 miles of bridle paths and sit on nearly 9,000 park benches. More than 25 million people visit the park each year.

Central Park is a place of special memories for most New Yorkers. Chances are your daughter giggled in delight as she fed the sheep at Central Park Zoo, or watched in amazement as the seals performed acrobatics for their lunch. She may have been thrilled by the skyline view from the top of Belvedere Castle, which was built in 1872. Your son may have hit his first baseball here, or made his first shot at one of the basketball courts. You may have paddled a canoe near the boathouse or listened to music at the bandshell. Your family may have joined other families from school or your parish for a picnic under an elm tree on the Great Lawn. Nearby, Frisbees float, paper airplanes soar and kites sail in blue skies dotted by puffy clouds. Somehow the din of New York City is muted in this place.

Come winter, Wolman Rink is a great place to go skating, although there are lots of beginners hanging on for dear life. And following a fresh snow dozens of young sledders vie for a clear path on one of the park’s hills near the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On any given day, no matter the temperature or weather conditions, the park is filled with joggers and bikers. Many use the road known as “the loop” that circles inside the park and is about 6.2 miles in around. Another favored route is a track circling the reservoir that runs about 1.6 miles. There are also miles of horse paths to run on.

While it is prudent to be alert at all times in the park, it is especially important as darkness settles in. Regretfully, robberies and assaults do occur on occasion in the park, so visitors should leave the park at night. Unless, of course, it is time to catch lightening bugs near the apple blossoms at Engineer’s Gate. Or you are attending “Shakespeare on the Park” and looking up at the moon as it shines down on the Public Theater.

Summer is just days away. The rain will give way to sunshine; the cool air will turn hot and steamy. Millions of New Yorkers, from Harlem to The Village, will seek greener pastures, cooler breezes and the slower pace of life in Central Park.

Thank you Mr.Olmsted and Mr. Vaux.

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