By Marjorie Cohen
The fifth in our 7 Walks in 7 Days around the Upper West Side heads to a special part of Central Park.
Glen Span Arch, a short walk east from the Central Park entrance at West 103rd Street
Olmstead and Vaux’s plan for Central Park divided the park in two–the southern end was designed to be pastoral and the northern end was to be rustic and rugged. Enter the park at 103rd Street and you’ll be right at the spot where pastoral meets rustic. Walk past an expanse of lawns that slope down to a pond (called The Pool) that is circled by trees, including some beautiful full-grown weeping willows. (How about a picnic on the banks of The Pool after your walk?)
Keep walking east and you’ll come to the stone Glen Spa Arch. The footpath under the arch marks the beginning of the 40-acre North Woods.
The arch, built in 1865, stands next to Montayne’s Rivulet, a stream that was there when Olmstead and Vaux started their planning. But, since these two guys wanted things the way they wanted them, the stream had to be rerouted to fit into their plan. Christopher Gray, who wrote about the history of the city for the New York Times, called the re-design “a masterpiece of landscape manipulation.”
Some of the best surprises that the two designers created when they altered the course of the stream are the cascades of water that tumble down the rocks alongside its banks. I’ve always thought of them as waterfalls but that’s a bit of hyperbole; it seems that cascades is a more accurate term. Whatever they’re called, they’re a wonderful sight to see. Walk past the stream, under the bridge, and into a lush forest setting and you’ll forget that you’re in one of the largest cities in the world.
Under the bridge there’s a niche that once held a bench and a grotto, a decorative element that was popular in the mid-1900s and, according to Cynthia Brenwall’s book on Central Park was meant to make walkers think that they were strolling on the grounds of an English country house. It gave them the illusion that they were “stumbling on ancient ruins or discovering a hidden treasure.”
There is a hidden treasure here: it’s the entire span of the North Woods.