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Ten Reasons to Love Central Park

Although it sits smack in the center of Manhattan, many times we’re too busy to take notice of one of the greatest parks in the world.

Some people have referred to it as the lungs of the city. For me, it’s been a great place to tap into my inner peace, nature, fitness, and family fun. I really love Central Park. When I moved into New York in the 80’s, Central Park was in many ways a scrub-filled wasteland and dangerous territory to traverse after dark. But thanks to the unflagging efforts of the Central Park Conservatory, things have changed for the better. Although we all have our favorite places inside this great urban oasis, I humbly offer up ten great things that make up my Guys’ Guy’s Guide to Central Park.

1. The Running Paths: Whether you are a weekend warrior or a marathoner, Central Park provides runners with a top shelf training ground. The six-mile outer loop is scenic and challenging with its non-stop rolling hills. There are innumerable cutoffs built into the loop that allow runners to chart shorter courses and avoid the hills. You can’t get lost and you can’t go wrong. Just stay in the running lanes and avoid the bikers who also frequent their lanes inside of the loop.

During business trips and vacations I do my best to find time for a run. It’s a great way to reset the body clock and check out the local terrain. I can honestly say that Central Park offers the premier running experience of any location I’ve run in the world. That includes waterfronts and roadways everywhere from Chicago to Sydney, South Beach, Santa Monica, Honolulu and Jalisco, Mexico. Nothings beats Central Park.

2. The Playgrounds: Now that I am the parent of a toddler, I pay attention to the myriad of playgrounds sprinkled throughout the park. In fact, there are twenty-one playgrounds filled with swings, sprinklers, and things for kids to climb on. The upkeep is top notch and they continually upgrade the facilities. Beyond the official playgrounds there are acres of land where you can let your little ones run free and explore nature. My son loves the park.

3. The Obelisk: Cleopatra’s Needle is 3,500 years old, seventy feet tall and weighs 220 tons. It was brought here over a century ago and sits a top Graywacke Knoll on the park’s east side at 81st Street behind the Museum of Modern Art. It’s covered in hieroglyphic text inscribed in its native Egypt from the time of Thutmosis. Although scaffolding now covers the obelisk as it goes under a sorely needed $500,000 refurbishment, most New Yorkers are unaware of this magnificent structure and its history. Just the story of how it was shipped across the Atlantic and then schlepped it to Central Park is amazing.

4. The Pool: Situated just off of 103rd and Central Park West is one of the park’s most pristine and quiet sanctuaries. Birds, waterfowl and turtles inhabit a crystal clear body of water surrounded by a walking path that is thankfully closed to bicycles. Like most New York celebrities, none of the creatures that live near the pool seem are bothered by the attention of the passersby’s.  The moment you step off of CPW onto the path, you can feel the energy change. It doesn’t feel like you are in a city, much less NYC. I have pushed my son’s stroller along the path around the pool in all four seasons and it’s always serene and visually stunning.

5. The Ball Fields: Guy’s Guys love sports, games and Central Park. Central Park houses twenty-six official baseball and softball fields, not including the open space where you can kick a soccer ball, toss a football, or play an ad hoc game of badminton. And there are thirty tennis courts available in the Central Park Tennis Club. So whatever is your preferred sport, I’m sure you can find a place to play it.

6. North Woods: One of the park’s three woodlands (the others are The Ramble and Hallett Nature Sanctuary), the North Woods offers visitors a feeling of hiking through the Adirondacks. That was what they had in mind. Nicely done. This is considered the most remote and woodsy section of the park and also one of the top ten locations for bird watching in the nation. Located just north of the 100-103 Street entrances by The Pool, you enter through the Glen Span Arch and are on your way to The Ravine featuring wildlife and rough terrain you can walk via a system of paths and bridges.

7. The Water: Besides The Pool there are at least half a dozen other significant bodies of water in Central Park including the Harlem Meer- northeastern corner, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir- East Side, Turtle Pond- below the Great Lawn, The Pond- southeastern corner, Conservatory- east seventies, Lasker Pool- near Harlem Meer and used for swimming and hockey, The Lake- west seventies, and The Boathouse which connects with The Lake. So take your pick. You can always find a nice place to enjoy water in any area of the park.

8. The Upkeep: With over 1.317 square miles of land and water, the park could easily fall into a state of ill repair. But, fortunately the opposite is happening. The park’s upkeep keeps getting better. With teams of landscapers constantly canvassing and sprucing up the grounds, you also rarely see any litter. Hats off to the Conservatory.

9. The Events: Whether its Shakespeare, Summer Stage, yoga, Pilates, taekwondo, concerts, movies, and architecture walking tour, or a Swedish puppet show Central Park has an event for everybody. And most of them are free. Just check out their web site for constantly updated info.

10. The Zoo: Rebuilt by the Wildlife Conservation Societyin 1984, the Zoo and the Children’s Zoo have always been anchor attractions for the park. Study any kid watching the sea lions during feeding time and you’ll see what I mean. Whether you are part of a stroller parade or just waltzing by, the zoos are enchanting. More importantly they serve as reminders of the importance of man’s connection to the animal world.

Are you taking advantage of Central Park?

This week’s Guy’s Guy of the Week, for the second time, is Frederick Law Olmsted who designed Central Park along with some of the great parks in Chicago, Boston, Milwaukee, Montreal, Detroit, Louisville, Rochester, and many other cites.