Overlooked Central Park: Hidden Spots, Secret Places

July 19, 2016 5:50 AM

credit: Central Park Conservancy

credit: Central Park Conservancy

When it comes to Central Park, Sheep Meadow, Belvedere Castle, and the Ramble get a lot of love—as they should, considering how great they all are. But there’s more to see in the park’s 843 acres, including our five favorite hidden spots listed below. By Jessica Allen.

credit: Garrett Ziegler

credit: Garrett Ziegler

More: NYC’s Best Contemporary Art Galleries

The Park’s very own art gallery began life as a storage facility for arms and ammunition for the New York State militia in the 1850s (hence the name). Today it houses the offices of the Central Park Wildlife Conservation Center and the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, along with an art gallery on the third floor. This space — free and open to the public — hosts a variety of exhibitions each year, including photos of the city’s beaches and pools and an annual event during the holidays showcasing unique and creative wreaths.

More: NYC’s Best Historical Walking Tours

Once upon a time, Upper Manhattan was all rocky outcroppings, farmland, and sheep pasture (indeed, sheep grazed in the so-called Sheep Meadow into the 1930s.) Get a sense of what once was by taking a stroll to the Blockhouse, the Park’s oldest building — part of a long line of trenches and fortifications constructed to help defend the city from the British during the War of 1812. Although you can’t get into the Blockhouse, you can climb around it—check out the views of the Harlem Meer (see below for more info.)

credit: Central Park Conservancy

credit: Central Park Conservancy

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Those who make it north end of Central Park are rewarded with equally impressive greenery, gardens and vistas, including the Harlem Meer. The Charles A. Dana Discovery Center is located on the northern side of the lake. The park’s only environmental discovery center offers a wide range of events, from art exhibitions to family workshops to outdoor performances. Budding anglers can rent fishing rods and purchase bait, but be warned — it’s 100% catch and release.

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Central Park boasts a couple natural woodlands, including the Ramble and the four-acre Hallett Nature Sanctuary. For several decades, the sanctuary was closed to the public and preserved as a haven for flora and fauna, especially birds. Today humans are welcomed on an extremely limited basis. It does feel wild — as if you’ve zoomed out of one of the busiest urban parks in one of the world’s busiest cities and landed in the middle of a rustic, rural nowhere. You won’t see any gardeners or landscapers here.

In many ways, Central Park is meant to give city dwellers access to the natural world not found in the city’s industrial or residential areas. And it’s amazing to spend a sunny day sitting in the Park, marveling at both the grass and the surrounding cityscape. If you’d rather blot out the latter, head to the Ravine. Part of the Park’s North Woods, the Ravine and surrounding area include a deciduous forest, a stream valley, boulders and a huge arch made entirely of Manhattan schist. It’s all meant to mimic the Adirondacks, and it fully succeeds.

Jessica Allen writes about New York.