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Central Park Opens Up Its “Secret Sanctuary”

Closed for 80 Years, the Park recently announced it will open the restored Hallett Nature Sanctuary to vistors

(Central Park Conservancy)
smithsonian.com

When Robert Moses, the powerful city planner who shaped modern New York, became the Parks Commissioner in 1934, he decided to fence off a 4-acre bit of Central Park that juts into the Pond known as The Promontory. Ostensibly a bird sanctuary, it remained off limits to the public for the last 80 years, but tomorrow, birders will be given an opportunity to visit the area from 8 A.M. to 10 A.M. It's a sneak peak into the recently restored area, which will open to the public this summer, the Central Park Conservancy recently announced.

While Moses’ intentions were good, over the decades, The Promontory—which was renamed the Hallett Nature Sanctuary in 1986—did not fare so well. According to James Barron at the New York Times, the woodland was overrun with invasive species, including Norway maples, black cherry trees, Japanese knotgrass and tons of wisteria, which choked out any native vegetation.

Over the last 15 years, however, thanks to the $45 million Woodlands Initiative, park personnel have been slowly clearing the invasive species and replacing them with native spring wildflowers like trillium, shooting stars and Dutchman’s breeches, as well as native trees and shrubs. They also created pathways through the sanctuary and added a new gate at the entrance.

Beginning in July, the public will be allowed to visit the carefully managed urban sanctuary in the late afternoon on Mondays Wednesdays and Fridays, and from 11 A.M. to 1 P.M. on Sundays. 

John Paul Catusco, the Woodlands Manager of the Park tells Jeff Smith at ABC7 that the Sanctuary is managed differently than other parts of the Park and its other two woodlands, The Ramble and North Woods, pointing out a large uprooted pin oak that fell during Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

“The is another unique aspect of Hallett,” he says. “You don’t really see this kind of thing around the rest of the park. Normally, when a tree comes down in a storm, we remove it, we chip it up, we turn it into mulch and we restore the area.”

But the Conservancy won’t leave much else to nature. Maintaining the restored Sanctuary will take constant vigilance to protect it from invasive species—not to mention tourists.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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