After giving free tours for years, the Central Park Conservancy is now charging for many of them in order to raise money.

The conservancy, a nonprofit organization that manages Central Park for the city and contributes about 85% of its budget, offers all sorts of guided tours. They range from walks around Belvedere Castle, to tours showcasing the history of sports in the park, to tours of the park’s forts. In general over the last couple of years, the conservancy has offered about five to ten tours per week.

About half of the tours will now require tickets, which cost $15, or $10 for members. Those tours, the conservancy argues, offer more expertise and are worthy of a fee. The tour guides, which include volunteers and paid staff members, haven’t changed (The fees go to the conservancy, not the guides).

We received the following statement on the change from the conservancy:

“The Conservancy offers eight free tours and seven ticketed tours, all of which are built on 33 years of experience in Central Park and unparalleled knowledge of its history, horticulture and design. While we’re thrilled to continue to offer the majority of Conservancy tours for free, a select few have required special curation of information and are led by Conservancy experts in different aspects of the Park. These uniquely designed tours are perfect for Park visitors who want a detailed, expert’s take on different parts of the Park.”

“It’s not much of a ‘change’ — it’s the introduction of new, ticketed tours, which didn’t exist prior to June 2013,” spokesperson Dena Libner added.

However, many of the tours appear to be the same — the only difference now is that you have to pay for them. Art in the Park, for instance, was a free 90-minute tour where people got to learn about how the park was constructed. That tour is now offered for $15. The Views from the Past Tour, which has also been around for quite a while as a free tour, now costs $15. And there are few if any free tours on the calendar, at least for the next few weeks.

“We have begun and will continue making the newly ticketed tours more comprehensive and colorful than the free originals,” said Libner.

The conservancy has also been giving preference to its own members for various park activities, including fitness classes. The moves come as the park would seem to be more financially secure than ever: hedge fund investor John Paulson dropped off a $100 million check a few months ago, and other donors have made major gifts in the past couple of years.

The conservancy has become a lightning rod in recent months, because some people think the city ought to share the wealth with other parks and the conservancy should become more transparent about its activities. Comptroller John Liu recently rejected the city’s new $90 million 10-year contract with the conservancy, and asked for a variety of changes. For instance, he thinks the conservancy should not get to keep half the money it raises through events and concessions.

In a statement, Liu suggested that the city:

When we’ve asked the conservancy about whether the city should spread the wealth to other parks, we’ve gotten no comment.

Photo by Tadson.

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 4 comments | permalink
    1. denton says:

      The more they get, the more they want.

    2. dcortex says:

      Instead of taking the High Road, they’re taking the low line

    3. Pedestrian says:

      Isn’t this the same Conservancy that just received 100 million from Mr. Paulson? I guess that wasn’t enough or didn’t they get something they wanted from the CITY and this is their way of acting out.

    4. dcortex says:

      Paulson may have to re think his gift because his investments all tanked