On Tuesday August 15th 2000, there was a special edition of Paul Wendell's monthly off-road group run. A larger than average 17 Flyers showed up for this run. We had Paul, our Tuesday night leader, Rose, Ed, Alison, Gabby, Renee, Sean, Arthur, Bill, Dana, Kathy, Andreas our fearless photographer, Steve, Victoria, Gary, Mary and myself.
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 site (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. But we'll stick to our definition.
Unfortunately three of the arches are closed - locked with heavy iron gates. These are Green Gap Arch (behind the Zoo - used for storage), Inscope Arch (near the SE corner of the Park - under repair) and the (West) 90th Street Rustic Stone Bridge (just closed - don't know why). That leaves 23 arches and we were determined, come mud or darkness, to do them all. And we did!
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. We started south from the Engineers' Gate along the bridle path. As we circled 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 simply beautiful structures. My favorite is the Bow Bridge on the Lake, but that was not on our route tonight.
We had started into the southeast quadrant. This is the most heavily populous in people and in arches as well, with a total of 10 arches (plus 2 that are closed). 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 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 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 had to cut through a line of people waiting in line for some event at the Rumsey Playfield before entering Willowdell Arch (#5). On the other side, we were greeted by the sled dog where we turned south and headed for the Zoo. We passed under the East 66th Street Arch (#6), Denesmouth Arch (#7), and the Delacorte Musical Clock (#8) before we reached the Zoo. If you time it just right (on the hour), you can see the .
Here the crowd of tourists were thick at hand. On the West side of the Zoo are two closed arches (Green Gap and Inscope). Anyone with an "in" with the Park's Department might try to get these open to the public. [Note: to our surprise and delight, was reopened 2 years later.]
We crossed over The Pond on the Gapstow Bridge and circled by the Hallet Nature Sanctuary and the Wollman Rink. Here we passed under Driprock Arch (#9), turned right, and passing the Carousel, went under the aptly named Playmates Arch (#10).
A little back tracking brought us over the road and 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 and up to Artisan's Gate at Seventh Avenue. We crossed over to the Merchant's Gate at Columbus Circle and started north. First came Greyshot Arch (#12). This has a facing of lovely marble. When the Central Park Conservatory renovated this structure about 10 years ago, they tried to get marble from the original source when the arch was built in the 1860s. It turns out the quarry in Vermont had been closed for over 100 years. Undaunted, they got permission to open the quarry and take out sufficient marble to renovate the arch. (You thought runners were obsessive-compulsive). We then ran over Pinebank Arch, actually another of the lovely cast iron bridges. 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 (#13) and through West 66th Street Arch (#14) 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 . This is the longest and darkest of the arches. Conversation echoes as you pass through. It goes under West 72nd Street and Strawberry Fields.
Next ahead were the twin West 77th Street Arches (#16). 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 - 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. Passing under Winterdale Arch (#18) 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 North West 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. Darkness was setting in and we had to regroup and slow down. We passed down through Springbanks Arch (#19) 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 (#20) where we ran next to a waterfall where the water of the Pool enters the Loch on it's way to Harlem Meer. There is a little spot where you cross the stream above the waterfall () where you don't want to fall.
Our hill workout followed as we ran up the Great Hill to the small track in the NW corner of the Park where we saw groups of runners doing a speed workout. At this point Paul was getting worried about the encroaching darkness, but undaunted, I led the groups down the hill to the 110th Street Bridge (#21) at the very NW corner of the Park. Luckily 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. Here we stopped and had a short discussion where we agreed that we would officially terminate the run at the next and last arch: the Huddlestone Bridge (#22). 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.
At this point we headed back to the start along the East Drive. This was the NE quadrant of the park and there are NO arches in this quadrant. We finished back at the Engineers' Gate in the darkness, tired but happy from this unique tour of the Park.
By now, perceptive readers will have noticed descriptions of 22 arches, but at the start I said we went through 23. So what happened to the 23rd? Well, let's just call it "The Hidden Arch", or better still "". Somewhere in Central Park, unknown to all but the most adventurous park aficionados (and a few homeless) lies The Secret Arch, protected on one side by a moat, infested with West Nile Virus mosquitoes and on the other side by an all but impenetrable thicket. Several Flyers queried "How did you ever find this". Neither Ed (who has seen almost everything) nor Gabby (who works for the Park and even knew Springbanks and Glen Span by name) had ever seen it. How did I find it? Many years ago I found it while bird watching in the Park. 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 Second Annual Arches Run.
See you then.