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Secrets of the Hallett in Central Park

The Hallett Nature Sanctuary on Central Park South been in the news this month as the daytime napping place of at least one coyote/coywolf. This four-acre island of nature is normally almost invisible to park goers, even though it’s in the most popular corner of Central Park.

When the park was created this whole area was a big, smelly swamp known to carry malaria. The New York Times describes how the wealthy residents of 5th Avenue finally fixed the problem of stagnant water in their cellars. Frederick Law Olmstead drained the swamp and created the Pond, with a promintory left natural.

The pond was popular for “swan velocipede boats.” An 1887 Times story says the boats “got no rest from morning to night,” as a quarter million people visited the park on the first day of spring, watched a black swan protect her nest on a rock in the Pond and observed only two prairie dogs emerge, “the most certain sign of warm weather.” In the winter the crowds headed to the pond for ice skating. Trolleys used to wear a signal red ball if it was currently frozen enough to skate. The current Wollman Rink is built over a filled in section of the pond.

The preserve area has been off limits to regular New Yorkers since 1934, when it was named the Bird Sanctuary. In 1952 the Times reported:  “59TH ST. PARK LAKE TO BE RID OF FILTH; Complaints of Offensive Debris Bring Admission of ‘Laxity.”

Supposedly a group of teen docents from the Central Parks Conservancy gives small, regular tours. Or at least that’s what NYC24 says. I did find pictures of a 2009 outing for homeschooled. I didn’t see it on the conservancy’s current list of tours or hear back from them yet.

Nature photographer David Liittschwager recently did a neat study of wildlife in the Hallett and several other places for National Geographic. He puts out a one square foot cube, then documents all the creatures in it. You wouldn’t believe the variety of bugs that live in Manhattan leaf litter. He says in a video he knew the raccoons (more often seen in the North Woods) were in his foot because they actually moved the cube.

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