On Tuesday June 25th, 2002, about 25 Flyers came out for what was to be a cross between a guided tour of Central Park, and an adventure run. We had Sybil, Alexandra, Gabriella, Dana, Robin, Deb, George, Haidee, Joe, Scott, Richard, Matt, Ed, Lloyd, Vicky, Jessica, Anja, Peter, Ed, Joanna, Mitch, Alan, Melinda, Judy (who jumped in at the Museum as she was coming in for a plain old run), Richard, myself and Andreas our photographer. We chose the 25th of June, as it was the closest available date to the Summer Solstice. No, we weren’t into pagan sacrifices, we just needed the longest day of sunlight to complete our run before it was too dark to run.
The Group at Engineers' Gate
First, a word on what are these arches? When Central Park was designed and built in the second half of the 19th Century, different venues in the park were designed for different modalities of traffic. The loop roads we runners endlessly circle are actually carriage roads (no cars then, sigh!). Pedestrians spent most of their ambulations on the many walkways in the Park. And even the sunken transverse roads were built to keep east-west city traffic out of sight (this was actually the first example of placing roadways above or below the normal grade). Where a path intersected a carriage road, oft times an archway was built so the walkers and carriage riders could enjoy themselves in their own separate domains. Many of these arches are designed to be unnoticed by travelers on the road above, being obscured by terrain or shrubbery. You have run over many of these innumerable times but probably did not often notice. This group run was our chance to explore the underside of these arches and in so doing see the Park in a novel and delightful way.
By my count there are 26 of these arches left in the park as well as a number of beautiful bridges. For our definition, an arch is something made of stone or brick that you go under. A bridge is something usually made of cast iron and wood that you go over. Obviously you can go under a bridge or over an arch, but that's not what we were doing for this run. To add confusion, one bridge is called an arch (the lovely Pinebank Arch in the South West corner of the Park) and several arches are called bridges (Terrrace Bridge - really an arch, and Huddlestone Bridge - likewise). So we'll stick to our definition.
Unfortunately two of the arches are closed - locked with heavy iron gates. These are Green Gap Arch (behind the Zoo - used for storage), and the (West) 90th Street Rustic Stone Bridge (just closed - don't know why). That leaves 24 arches and we were determined, come mud or darkness, to do them all. And we did!
But we had a special cause to celebrate this year: Inscope Arch in the southeast corner of the Park (just south of the zoo) has been renovated and was open for the first time in years! It had been locked away behind a construction fence for at least three years. There were two other delightful surprises in store for those of us who were veterans of previous Arches Runs: a fence we unexpectedly had to climb over and a waterfall (yes a waterfall) we had to jump across. More on those later …
For the sake of discussion, we'll divide the park at 90th Street (the center line for runners, if not geographically) and create four quadrants.
As was traditional, we started at the Engineers’ Gate southward on the Bridle Path into the southeast quadrant. This is the most heavily populous in people and in arches as well, with a total of 11 arches (plus 1 that is closed). As we passed south of the Reservoir we came to the first of the beautiful cast iron and wood bridges that are left. You've seen this one many times, I'm sure. What you probably haven't noticed is that every bridge and every arch has a different ornamental design. By any measure, the three bridges on the Reservoir and the two other cast iron bridges to the south are beautiful structures. My favorite is the Bow Bridge on the Lake, but that was not on our route tonight.
After running along the east side of the Great Lawn, we went down and through our first arch: Greywake Arch (#1). This brought us out to the back side of the Metropolitan Museum and you have probably gone through this arch when you go in to the Philharmonic in the Park. We crossed over East 66th Street and the under Glade Arch (#2). The walkway above used to be part of the carriage road system linking the Boathouse to East 79th Street. We then ran around the Conservatory Water, past the Alice in Wonderland and Hans Christian Andersen statues and through the Trefoil Arch (#3) whence we arrived along side the Lake. We stopped for a picture at Bethesda Fountain.
Over the Lake we could see the beautiful Bow Bridge. Behind the fountain we went up through the Terrace Bridge (#4) and ran down the Mall between those beautiful American Elms. We took a left and ran down the hill and through Willowdell Arch (#5). On the other side, we were greeted by Balto the sled dog. I gave a little recounting of Balto’s story which most in the group had never heard. It’s actually quite a heroic and romantic story
Balto and Papa Bear
We passed under the East 66th Street Arch (#6), Denesmouth Arch (#7), and the Delacorte Musical Clock (#8) before we reached the Zoo. Here the crowd of tourists were thick at hand. On the West side of the Zoo is the closed Green Gap Arch. Anyone with an "in" with the Park's Department might try to get this open to the public. But the Inscope Arch (#9) south of the zoo was open for the first time in years, and we took pleasure in passing through it, under the road over to the Pond. This was the first of our annual Arches Runs to have this pleasure.
Ed comes through the newly renovated Inscope Arch
We crossed over Gapstow Bridge (also newly renovated) and circled by the Hallet Nature Sanctuary and the Wollman Rink. Here we passed under Driprock Arch (#10), turned right, and passing by the Carousel, went under the aptly named Playmates Arch (#11), In a departure from previous practice, we took an abrupt U-turn and went right back under Playmates. This saved us from climbing the hill by the Dairy and recrossing the road.
Next we ran from the Carousel down to Hechster Playground for a water stop. This was now the West Side. The SW quadrant has fewer arches (8) and fewer pedestrians to dodge. First we ran through Dipway Arch (#12) and up to Artisan's Gate at Seventh Avenue. At this point I gave a little spiel on the naming of the entrance gates to the park. Dana (indignantly) asked why there was a Boy’s Gate but no Girl’s Gate? I assured her there was indeed a Girls Gate: it’s the one at Fifth Avenue and 102nd Street. Everyone who has done the NYC Marathon (prior to last year’s wimp’s re-route) has turned right into the Park through this gate and climbed that terrible little hill at mile 23.
We crossed over to the Merchant's Gate at Columbus Circle and started north. First came Greyshot Arch (#13). We then ran over Pinebank Arch (which as noted is really a bridge, not an arch), another of the five extant cast iron bridges left in the Park. You've probably seen this pretty structure in the SW corner of the Park. It appears to jump from nowhere to nowhere over the bridle path. Next we went under Dalehead Arch (#14) and through West 66th Street Arch (#15) which brought us out of the Park near the Tavern on the Green. We crossed the traffic and reentered the park and proceeded on the bridle path to Rifstone Arch (#16). This is the longest and darkest of the arches. Conversation echoes as you pass through. It goes under West 72nd Street and Strawberry Fields.
Rifstone Arch, under Strawberry Fields
Next ahead were the twin West 77th Street Arches (#17). Ed dutifully passed under the lower arch as the rest of us traversed the upper. After crossing West Drive we entered a corner of the Ramble and passed under the lovely Rustic Stone Arch (#18) - a delightful narrow arch off the beaten path. We turned back to the west, passed by the Swedish cottage and then got back on the bridle path.
At this point we took a little side trip to the only natural spring still flowing out of the ground on the entire island of Manhatan. A few bird watchers were there and we saw a raccoon in a tree. Then, passing under Winterdale Arch (#19) brought us to the west side of the Great Lawn and soon we were back at the Reservoir. We ran over the SW Reservoir Bridge and along the Reservoir track. We were now moving into the northwest quadrant of the Park.
Unfortunately, the NW quadrant's first arch is closed (the 90th Street Rustic Stone Bridge). There are but 4 other arches in this quadrant, which is equally bereft of people. To me it's the prettiest and most natural area of the Park. Unfortunately safety concerns and unfamiliarity keep most of us from exploring this area. After crossing the NW Reservoir Bridge near the tennis courts, we circled the west side of the North Meadow. We passed down through Springbanks Arch (#20) which goes under the 102nd Street transverse (did you ever notice?) and after skirting some mud, we proceeded west through the upper part of the Ravine. Then came what I consider the most beautiful arch in the Park - Glen Span Arch (#21) where we ran next to a waterfall where the water of the Pool plunges to the Loch on it's way through the ravine to Harlem Meer.
Glen Span Arch, one of the most beautiful spots in the Park
At this point we had a bit of unplanned excitement: the Park is relandscaping the area around the Pool, and the path that passes above the waterfall was blocked to us. No problem: having just returned from a hiking trek in Vermont where this was normal, I led the group over a few precarious rocks and jumped over the top of the flowing waterfall. I hope the Flyers have paid up their insurance policy!
Jumping over a waterfall
Our hill workout followed as we ran up the Great Hill to the small track in the NW corner of the Park known as the “Dog Track”, where we saw groups of runners (as well as a few dogs) doing a workout. At this point we took a water and bathroom break and I led the groups down the hill to the 110th Street Bridge (#22) at the very NW corner of the Park. Lucky for us (as it was getting dark), this is the best lighted arch we were to see, with bright mercury vapor lights. We proceeded along the north side of the park to The Warriors Gate at Seventh Avenue, turned to the right to run along the side of Harlem Meer and the Lasker skating rink and pool, and finally came to our final arch, Huddlestone Bridge (#23). This is unique in the Park in that is was built without any mortar. All the stones are held in place by the force of gravity. In the twilight it looked like a forbidding cave as we stood in front of it for a picture.
In the darkening twilight we made our way up the lonely path along the ravine and after a slight detour up the side of the hill where we rejoined the 102nd Street transverse. Those who weren’t completely lost by nowz`z knew to turn east and return along the Bridle Path to our starting point. This was the NE quadrant of the park and there are NO arches in this quadrant. We finished back at the Engineers' Gate in near darkness, tired but happy from this unique tour of the Park.
By now, perceptive readers will have noticed descriptions of 23 arches, but at the start I said we went through 24. So what happened to the 24th? Well, if you have been on one of these runs in past years or have read a description of one, you know that would be "The Secret Arch". Somewhere in Central Park, unknown to all but the most adventurous park aficionados (and a few homeless), lies The Secret Arch, protected by a moat, and this year it was protected by a new fence as well.
What's a litte fence, anyway?
Undaunted, and knowing how important it was to pass under this hidden beauty, we hopped over the fence and into the moat (thankfully the alligators were taking a day off). A few bystanders, probably out-of-towners, had to wonder about New Yorkers! Where is it, how do you find it? Ah - that's our secret. If we tell you we'll have to kill you. To find out wait till next year for the next Annual Arches Run.
See you then
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