Central Park's hidden sanctuary

November 12, 2009 2:29:47 PM PST
There's an area in Central Park that's a safehaven for wild animals, where the public is kept at bay. Many people don't even know it exists.

In the latest edition of our "Be Part of Your Park" series, Eyewitness News reporter Sandra Bookman takes us inside.

It is an oasis in the midst of Midtown. It's a place where birds bathe with abandon and where native plant life thrives.

It is a secret garden of sorts. Central Park's Hallet Nature Sanctuary sits behind a locked gate, just yards from busy 59th Street.

"It's very well-protected," said Maria Hernandez, of the Central Park Conservancy. "The plants that go in here are all native and are designed to enhance the habitat for our wildlife."

Hernandez is the director of horticulture for the Conservancy. She describes the three-and-a-half acre preserve, which is off-limits to the public, as an ecosystem that mimics the wild.

It is a place where animals and birds can frolic and feed without interference from humans.

"With the 25 million people that we have coming through here a year, if we didn't have these pockets of sanctuary, we wouldn't have any wildlife at all."

During the day, you won't see much of the raccoons, rabbits and ground hogs that shelter there. But an azalea bush, chasmanthium grass and even an American robin are more easily spotted.

If you'd like to to visit the secret garden, the Central Park Conservancy does offer tours once a month.

Student volunteers help Conservancy staff with the sanctuary's upkeep, but much effort is put into allowing this important plot of land to remain, what the Conservancy likes to call, "forever wild."

For more information, visit the Conservancy's Web site by clicking here.