Secrets of New York

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We take you beyond the forbidden gate into

We take you beyond the forbidden gate into Central Park's Hallett Nature Sanctuary. (Credit: Meghan Giannotta)

outdoors

Secrets of Central Park's Hallett Nature Sanctuary

Avenue of the Americas & W 59th St, Manhattan, 10019

Central Park's Hallett Nature Sanctuary is now fully open to the public for the first time since 1934.

The area of the park was preserved nearly a decade ago by former NYC Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. It was restored as a bird sanctuary in the 1980s, with the intent that it would develop naturally and maintain itself. It didn’t. Instead, the invasive vine wisteria took over the area and began suffocating the native trees.

The Central Park Conservancy's gardeners and volunteers have been working for years to weed, plant and build walking trails through the closed-off area so the public can finally enjoy its beauty. The sanctuary opened its doors in April for three-hour spans, two days a week, to give curious nature lovers a peek.

Wondering what the four-acre preserve looks like now? You can wander the trail with park guides on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Central Park Conservancy chief of operations Russell Fredericks took amNewYork beyond the forbidden gate to share the area’s secrets.

If the thought of an 83-year-old area of

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

The forbidden gate is made from old trees

If the thought of an 83-year-old area of the park reopening doesn't instantly intrigue you, the sight of this gate will.

This intricately wound gate leads the way into the sanctuary, which was once blocked off from the public by a metal fence. The entire gate was crafted out of wood from trees that once stood tall around Central Park. It was designed and pieced together in May by the Conservancy's rustic crew, Fredericks said.

Benches and trail barriers with the same fancy

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

The benches and trail barriers are, too

Benches and trail barriers with the same fancy design as the entrance gate can also be found throughout the path. Atop the highest part of the sanctuary sits this rustic bench, a circular rotation of five benches connected around a tree.

"It takes a particular knack and talent [to design the benches]," Fredericks said. "I see our crew as artists of sort."

The wood, mostly from black locust trees, was chosen for its ability to resist decay, he added.

You can easily forget you're in the city

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

Signs of the city still poke through

You can easily forget you're in the city while inside the sanctuary, let alone still in Central Park.

It "instantly takes you into an oasis. You go from the hustle and bustle and the taxis to this," Fredericks said. But, don't forget to look up while you walk through. You can see Upper East Side rooftops poking through the trees, reminding you that you're still in Manhattan.

You can thank New York City's high schoolers

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

NYC school kids helped lay down the trail

You can thank New York City's high schoolers (and the Central Park Conservancy) for sprucing up the forgotten area. Students involved in the park's semester-long ecological restoration program ROOTS helped build and define paths that wind through the sanctuary, Fredericks said.

Almost 600 students involved in the program help manage and maintain Central Park's rustic trails and also helped remove invasive plants from the sanctuary, the Ramble and North Woods.

It may not be the highest peak in

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

It’s home to one of Central Park’s best views

It may not be the highest peak in Central Park (Fredericks said it's most likely the third highest, though), but it's still home to one of the best views of the city that the park has to offer, he said. Follow the trail toward the rustic bench and you'll find yourself looking down upon the pond that wraps around the preserve.

The best part? Look up and you'll take in a skyline view above the treetops.

On your way back down the trail, past

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

A reminder of Sandy purposely remains

On your way back down the trail, past the highest peak in the sanctuary, you'll run into a fallen tree. The near 75-year-old oak fell when superstorm Sandy tore through the East Coast in 2012. Yet through months of restoration, the fallen tree remains with its branches entangled in nearby bushes.

It's actually kept there for educational purposes and serves as an informative talking point and reminder during tours, Fredericks said.

On your way out of the sanctuary, there's

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

The waterfall flows with a little help from the park crew

On your way out of the sanctuary, there's a waterfall just off the path that's nearly hidden -- don't miss it! Flowing into the pond below, the conservancy hid pumps within the rocks to create the water feature, Fredericks said. The rocks themselves have been in place for thousands of years, he added.

Fish, ducks, birds, gray squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, woodchucks

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

Animals take refuge from the city streets

Fish, ducks, birds, gray squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, woodchucks and snapping turtles call the sanctuary and the nearby pond home. Fredericks says there are actually even more birds and animals taking refuge in the area now than before the gardeners stepped in.

"Now that we have restored diversity in the plant material, it helped bring the animals back," Fredericks said.

You just missed one of the best times

Credit: Meghan Giannotta

May is one of the best months to go for a stroll

You just missed one of the best times of the year to wander through the sanctuary. Hundreds of azaleas are in full bloom throughout the trail in mid-May, making it one of the best times to visit, Fredericks said. But, don't worry -- wildflowers will continue to bloom through the summer.

How will opening this wilderness to the public

Credit: Nina Ruggiero

There’s minor concern about how humans will impact the area

How will opening this wilderness to the public affect its development? The Central Park Conservancy isn't sure yet. As long as visitors stay on the trail and respect the plants, the area should be able to remain open for nature lovers without concern. Although it has already become an incredibly popular spot for tourists and locals alike, the park is taking precautions to limit the human impact.

The park will only be open four days a week from July 1 through Aug. 31. This gives the park crew three days to recoup per week, weeding and tending to the area after it's disturbed by the public. A "good balance of maintenance and public use" will keep the area in good shape, Fredericks said.

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