Autumn tranquility in New York's Central Park

Central Park Conservancy
14 E. 60th Street
New York
NY 10022
Tel: +1 212-310-6600

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This archived article was published in July 2003
In its 150th year, Central Park
enjoys unprecedented popularity

The year 2003 marked the 150th anniversary of New York’s Central Park. On 21 July 1853, the New York State Legislature approved a bill designating land in the middle of Manhattan for a great public park.

Designed in 1858 by landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, Central Park is New York City’s backyard. The two architects envisioned the Park as a place where people of all social and ethnic backgrounds could mingle. Out of the treeless, rocky terrain and stagnant swampland, they created a wooded urban oasis that has been enjoyed by generations. Today Central Park has more than 26,000 trees, 58 miles of scenic pathways, and nearly 9,000 benches on 843 acres. Each year, 25 million people from New York, across the country, and around the world visit the Park.

In recent years, Central Park has undergone a renaissance. By the 1970s it had become forsaken and dilapidated: its trees and gardens untended, its landscapes reduced to barren ground, its picturesque bridges and buildings covered with graffiti, its statues defaced, its benches broken.

In 1980, under the leadership of Mayor Koch and Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis, the Central Park Conservancy was founded with Betsy Barlow Rogers as the first Central Park Administrator, and William Beinecke as its first chairman. The Conservancy's mission is to restore, manage, and preserve Central Park for the enjoyment of present and future generations. The Conservancy developed and implemented a major management and restoration plan that has set new standards of excellence in park care. In 1998, the Conservancy signed a management contract with the City, formalizing the Conservancy’s role as manager and steward of the Park.

The Central Park Conservancy is a private, not-for-profit organization founded in 1980 that manages Central Park under a contract with the City of New York/Department of Parks and Recreation. Thanks to the generosity of many individuals, corporations, and foundations, the Conservancy has raised nearly $300 million to date and has transformed Central Park into a model for urban parks nationwide. Since its founding, the Conservancy has prescribed a management and restoration plan for the Park; funded major capital improvements; created programs for volunteers and visitors; and set new standards of excellence in park care.

With 20 million visitors each year to its 843 acres, Central Park is the most frequently visited urban park in the United States. The Conservancy provides more than 85 per cent of Central Park's annual $20 million operating budget and is responsible for all basic care of the Park. Approximately three out of every four Central Park employees are funded by the Conservancy. Conservancy crews aerate and seed lawns; rake leaves; prune and fertilize trees; plant shrubs and flowers; maintain ballfields and playgrounds; remove graffiti; conserve monuments, bridges, and buildings; and care for water features and woodlands, controlling erosion, maintaining the drainage system, and protecting over 150 acres of lakes and streams from pollution, siltation, and algae.

Since its founding, the Conservancy has spent nearly $70 million to restore Park landscapes, more than three-quarters of the Park to date. Both the Conservancy and the City matched this unprecedented gift within three years, and the Conservancy went on to raise an additional $26.2 million toward operating support and endowment for the ongoing care of restored landscapes. The Conservancy recently renovated the Great Lawn; created Naturalists’ Walk across from the American Museum of Natural History; rebuilt the 79th Street Maintenance Yard; and constructed a public plaza at Merchants’ Gate, the Park's entrance at Columbus Circle. In the coming year, the Conservancy will restore the 18-acre North Meadow and the landscape surrounding the Reservoir.

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