NEW YORK—You could spend your day running through aisles, squeezing into packed elevators, or waiting in line for an indefinite amount of time on Black Friday. But New York City Urban Park Rangers have other plans—and everyone is invited.
Spending money is good for the economy, so there’s no issue with Black Friday, said Urban Park Ranger Supervisor Rob Mastrianni, who has been a ranger for 12 years. However, these rangers prefer to not follow the herd. For the past five years they’ve held free Black Friday hikes with the mission of connecting people to nature.
The hike has become a success and it makes Mastrianni happy to see people join a three-hour guided tour at one of six sites in the city.
Urban Park Ranger Jonathan Kovacs led the Central Park hike this year. Kovacs started as a seasonal ranger in 2012 and became full-time in 2016. Thus journey through the 156-year-old park began.
It was around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, but listening to Kolvacs talk about the park’s historic details—such as the former land of Seneca Village, home of the largest free African-American community in the 1800s—was an effective distraction from the chilly temperature. The 16 hikers were clearly interested too, asking questions, laughing, and gasping at all the right moments.
Walking around The Pond—one of the park’s seven natural water bodies—some ducks swam in the group’s direction, and others minded their own business. One splashed on cue and won everyone’s attention.
In October, a unique arrival was seen in the park: a Mandarin duck joined the flock. Shortly after Kovacs explained that the duck first appeared on his birthday—swearing that he had nothing to do with it—the mandarin duck came out of hiding for all to see.
Gapstow and Hallett
The hikers made it to a smooth, grey stone bridge. The iconic Gapstow bridge looks like it belonged in a fairy tale, even as the leaves around it are wilting and losing their color.
The group crossed the bridge, over the ice-patched pond, and followed the ranger to the wide-open wooden gates of the Hallett Nature Sanctuary. What use to be a closed-off bird sanctuary and untouched until 2001—originally called The Promontory, meaning peninsula, for its surrounding water—is now open to the public. As Kovacs shared the sanctuary’s history, a red tail hawk flew by and nested on a tall tree nearby.
Winding paths led to the tip of the sanctuary, where people hoped to see the hawk. After failing to find the hawk’s nest between the many naked branches, they took a path that led to a dried waterfall—dry yet picturesque.
The hike attracts people looking to get away from the holiday savings buzz. “I think it’s a great way to spend your day. … There’s just so much you can learn in the park,” said Mastrianni. It’s also a good way to work out after a Thanksgiving feast, he added.