High on Grass

The news from New York's Central Park has been grim lately, but Maria Hernandez is holding up her end

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Central Park is one of New York City's crown jewels, but a few years ago the Great Lawn in this Manhattan oasis was a rutted dust bowl. After the Central Park Conservancy, a private group, spent more than $18 million restoring the lawn, it gave the job of protecting its investment to Maria Hernandez. As the keeper of the Great Lawn, Hernandez, a horticulturist, devotes as much time to cultivating the park's human fauna as its flora.

When the 55-acre Great Lawn first reopened, New Yorkers were skeptical about the new restrictions Hernandez was in charge of enforcing. But the message slowly seeped in. People saw how hard Hernandez and her crew worked at keeping the space clean and litter-free. Boom boxes were quickly silenced. Dogs could no longer swim in Turtle Pond, and softball teams needed permits to use the eight fields. The Great Oval stayed lush and green, and the quiet pond eventually attracted dragonflies, butterflies, cormorants, ducks and egrets.

Think of it — egrets in mid-Manhattan!

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