Friday, August 12, 2016

Central Park's Newly Opened Garden

Central Park’s Southeast corner sees its share of crowds. In fact, with the Zoo, Wollman Rink and The Pond all located in that sector, it might very well be the busiest spot in the  park. And yet, for decades, since the early 1930s, a four-acre plot of wilderness remained truly a hidden treasure, sealed off as an inaccessible (to the public) bird sanctuary where nature was allowed to take over. Hidden, that is, until last month when it reopened with limited hours. It’s well worth visiting the Hallett Nature Sanctuary, a wee, wild landscape with rustic wooden gates, benches and overlook balustrades -- all constructed of black locust wood -- that reminded me of features I might’ve seen in The Hobbit. The skyscrapers around Columbus Circle are all visible through the dense foliage and yet this crowded part of the park may be one of the most serene. I recently took a guided tour -- though I don’t recommend the tour which I found lacking in terms of providing much in the way of informative bird and botanical information -- and fell in love with this small parcel of land with its curvy wood-chipped paths, and schist outcrops. (This is the rock that’s the bedrock of Manhattan.) Even on a day when the mercury hit over 90 degrees with muggy humidity, my visit was saturated with shade, the scent of fresh foliage and the sounds of birds. The Central Park Conservancy thinned out many of the invasive plant species, such as black cherry trees, as well as the Norway maple that the Asian longhorn beetle attacks. As I roamed about, we spotted hoary mountain mint, native grasses, pokeweed, tulip trees, mayapples, and strawberry bushes. The conservancy planted trees that are wind resistant, such as the hackberry. One lovely specimen sits at the center of a wraparound wooden bench perfectly positioned beside a scenic overlook, and my favorite part of this garden that feels like a micro Manhattan oasis.