Today I checked another box off my bucket list. I explored the extremely rarely open (as in a few hours per year) Hallett Nature Sanctuary.

The Hallett Nature Sanctuary as seen from across the Pond.

So the history here is that in 1934, Robert Moses, the Parks Commissioner at the time, closed these 4 acres of Central Park to the public for use as a bird sanctuary. And it stayed closed to the public for 79 years. It’s like the Forbidden City, but in Central Park.

Forbidden for us at least. The birds love it. Here’s a robin’s nest. It’s still a bird-watcher’s heaven.

Over the next several decades, Parks Department officials used the sanctuary as an experiment: what would happen to the parks if we didn’t take care of them at all (just let them grow wild)?

A few invasive species got in, along with some invasive insects, so the Central Park Conservancy stepped in in 2001 to clean things up.

That’s the sanctuary on the left, across the water, taken from the path that encircles the Pond (on the right).

But they still didn’t let the general public in. Not until the Fall of 2013, when they allowed a few special guided tours. I was in Alaska and then Asia. Visiting the other Forbidden City.

In 2014 and 2015, they opened it up for a few hours per month, only in the summer months. Still with Park officials as tour guides. I was in Alaska again for work. :/

But this year, they opened it early (before the summer months), so I’m still in New York! So I worked late last night so I could take the afternoon off today. Having run every path in the Park multiple times, I have circled the Hallett Nature Sanctuary many, many times, always wanting to explore it.

Olmsted and Vaux designed this to be a promontory. This is the viewpoint from atop the lookout point.

It was wonderful. It was exactly what I thought it would be. Peaceful. I was so happy in there.

They only allow 20-30 people in at a time so the noise doesn’t disturb the birds and butterfly population. So if you can get in (which right now is not a problem since they’re not promoting it), you’ll have it mostly to yourself. Especially because this year they’re allowing you to explore on your own – no tour guide! There are friendly volunteers hanging around though, making sure you don’t fall off the waterfall while checking out this view:

It’s open for a few hours a day on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday now, with slightly extended hours in the summer. Check out the Conservancy’s page for specific times here:

Hallett Nature Sanctuary Open Hours

If you want to go, head to the Southeast part of the Park. Cross the Gapstow Bridge and follow the fence to the right. You’ll see the entrance on your left.

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