Just when we thought we knew all of Central Park’s secrets, we learned that the Central Park Conservancy was holding open hours for the Hallett Nature Sanctuary. Clearly visible but fenced off from the rest of the park, this 4-acre piece of land was completely controlled by flora and fauna for 67 years. People frolicking by the lake at the southeast corner of the park can see it, but they can’t enter it.
In 1934, NYC Parks Commissioner Robert Moses sealed off this natural woodland area, preserving it as a bird sanctuary. For decades, it served as a sort of experiment, showing the Parks Department what would happen to the land if they did nothing to maintain it. In 1986, it was renamed to commemorate George Harvey Hallett, Jr., a naturalist, birdwatcher, and civic leader. It remained untouched until 2001, when the Conservancy began to restore it, reintroducing native plants and weeding out invasive species.
In 2013, the Conservancy opened the Hallett Nature Sanctuary up to the public for the first time in 79 years. Today, the Conservancy constantly tends the plants, though they’re unsure of how many plant species thrive here. They’re working to increase the numbers of birds and butterflies too.
“Hallett Nature Sanctuary is a perfect example of how even the ‘wildest,’ most naturalistic habitats in Central Park require constant planning and care in order to thrive,” says a statement on the Conservancy’s website. Yet, human intervention is limited. When a large tree was uprooted by Hurricane Sandy, it was left to become part of the natural habitat instead of being cleared away.
It’s pretty amazing to see the striking contrast between the overgrown wooded area and the buildings behind it on Central Park South. The Hallett Park Sanctuary boasts a promontory overlooking the lake, the Gapstow Bridge, and the buildings just beyond.
There are new expanded days for access in 2016. The Hallett Sanctuary will be open regularly, three days a week through June 30th from 2-5 pm and four days a week from July 1st to August 31st. A. It’s located just south of the Wollman Rink on the eastern edge of the park between 60th and 62nd Streets.