By Steve Holt
Devotees of the Central Park Reservoir running track may not be jumping for joy just yet. But in a few months, at least they won’t be jumping over puddles. That’s because the Central Park Conservancy is resurfacing all 1.58 miles of the Stephanie and Fred Shuman Running Track, part of a larger effort to keep some of the most popular elements of the park in good working order.
Potholes in the track happen as its soft surface gets wet, especially during the winter cycle of freeze and thaw. Vegetation and other debris also build up along the outside edge of the track. The result: poor drainage, so water sits trapped in the potholes, and runners either must dodge the puddles or splash right through them.
The conservancy periodically regrades the track when there are major shifts in the surface. But it’s just not practical to fill each pothole as it appears, says Gary Gentilucci, the conservancy’s director of landscape management, who is overseeing the revamp with colleague David Turner, the director of construction.
The longer-term remedy, now underway, is to repair or replace the infrastructure of the track (plastic boards) and top it with crushed stone, ranging in size from quarter-inch pebbles to fine dust. To avoid shutting down the track completely, the conservancy is doing the work in five phases, with runners temporarily diverted onto the Bridle Path (which makes a wider loop around the reservoir before heading towards Central Park South), while crews make the repairs. Phase one began just after Thanksgiving and covers the east side of the track north of East 90th Street. The work will then proceed counterclockwise until the entire track has been resurfaced.
How long will all this take? Gentilucci is cautious, pointing out that foul winter weather can delay progress. Nevertheless, he predicts the entire track will be ready to welcome runners by late spring 2024, early summer at the latest.
Of course, avid runners aren’t going to sit home and wait for that to happen. On a recent, post-rain, very puddly morning, an Upper West Sider who gave her name as Kendra was gamely dodging the puddles and the construction. “I run here every day,” said Kendra. “The puddles make it hard to navigate, that’s for sure! It’s difficult because it’s narrow and really congested. A lot of times it’s kind of like a little bit of a maze. It’s hard to keep going and get into a rhythm.”
The Rag asked Gentilucci and Turner if they, too, enjoy running around the reservoir.
Then they both admitted they aren’t runners. But Turner added: “If I was a runner, that’s where I’d run.” Gentilucci agreed.
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