Central Park in New York: A user's guide
This famous urban greenspace is where the locals go to shrug off big city living and where the tourists go to see what all the fuss is about.
Fri, Sep 02, 2011 at 08:00 AM
No other city park in the U.S. enjoys as much notoriety as New York's Central Park. A strong argument could be made for calling it the world's most famous urban greenspace. Located in the middle of Manhattan, the park is large by any measurement. It covers 6 percent of the borough and welcomes an estimated 36-38 million visitors each year.
The park regularly hosts musical performances and art installations, and it contains a wildlife sanctuary, a zoo, bridges, playgrounds, and a host of other attractions. Though the landscapes are mostly artificially made (including man-made lakes and ponds), Central Park's gardens, grass, and trees create a welcome counterpoint to Gotham's urban landscapes.
Central Park's life began when land was set aside for the development of an urban greenspace in central Manhattan in 1857. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.It took 18 years to landscape the 843 acres.
Though it became known for hosting events in the 1960s and '70s, budget problems and poor maintenance practices plagued the park's management during this period. Central Park's modern era began in 1980 when the newly created Central Park Conservancy took the reins, adding a zoo and other attractions and updating management and maintenance practices.
Things to do
A recent survey showed that a vast majority of visitors to Central Park come simply to sit or stroll. There are paths throughout the park, and the six-mile drive is closed to cars in the evening, making running and walking even easier. Taking to the water is possible on paddle-boats or kayaks that can be rented on-site.
Tourist-centered rides, in pedicabs or horse-drawn carriages, launch from the southern part of the park. There is a driveway around the park that is open the vehicle traffic during the daytime. This is a good way to see the sights without having to seek out a notoriously hard-to-find parking space.
A zoo, managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society, is also located inside the park. Other trademark Central Park experiences, such as ice skating, attending a summer concert, or riding the Central Park Carousel, are popular amongst tourists, although not so amongst locals (who usually use the space for relaxing or exercising).
Why you'll come back
Most people plan their first visit to Central Park just to see what all the buzz is about. Yes, it can get crowded, but there is enough space to find a quiet spot. A majority of the park’s visitors are locals seeking a break from the urban landscapes of the Big Apple. That's the reason to visit and revisit this park. The sizable area means that there are different places to explore, but its the simple natural atmosphere that draws people again and again.
Flora and fauna
There are more than 25,000 trees inside Central Park. Species like maple, oak, and elm are well represented. More exotic species, such as black birch, honey locust, and tulip trees, are also found on the grounds. The park's gardens contain flowers and plant life, with both local and introduced species represented.
Though small mammals like racoons, squirrels, chipmunks, and possums call the park home, birds are the most visible animal residents. But the winged species are not limited to typical New York nesters like sparrows and pigeons. Migrating birds make use of the parks trees and bodies of water during the spring and fall.
By the numbers
- Website: Central Park
- Park size: 843 acres
- 2010 visitation: About 38 million visits by 8-9 million different people
- Busiest time: About 220,000 people visit on Sundays during the summer
- Slowest time: approximately 40,000 people visit on weekdays during the winter
- Funky fact: According to a survey by the Central Park Conservancy, 75 percnet of all visitors only set foot in the southern half of the park.
This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States. We'll be adding new parks all summer, so check back for more.
Inset photo of carriage horse taking a lunch break: Ciorra Photography/Flickr