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New Yorkers Mark Central Park’s 150th

July 20, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) _ Dogs paraded, visitors picnicked and renowned tenors serenaded on Saturday as New Yorkers celebrated the 150th birthday of Central Park, their oasis of trees, hills and ponds surrounded by pavement and skyscrapers.

The party drew people from all corners _ lovers who once snuggled on carriage rides, runners who crossed the marathon finish line, families who sprawl on picnic blankets each summer, children who beg parents for a ride on the carousel.

``It’s sort of our own backyard,″ said Donald King, walking hand-in-hand with his 5-year-old daughter, Cameron. ``We find it amazing that this remarkable stretch of ground has been maintained to be a playground and haven for New Yorkers for so many years.″

Gathered at Bethesda Fountain, around a cake in the shape of the famous waterwork, hundreds of park enthusiasts belted out ``Happy birthday Central Pa-ark,″ led by tenors Marcelo Alvarez and Salvatore Licitra.

The nation’s first major public park was born in 1853 when the Legislature set aside 843 acres, with Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux chosen to design the vast landscaping.

Portions of the park’s southern and northern ends opened to the public in 1861. The rest of the park’s hills, paths and ponds were under construction for 16 years.

Ten million cartloads of soil transformed the area of swamps and bedrock. An underground drainage system was installed to create ponds and lakes.

Today, Central Park draws 25 million visitors annually to its 58 miles of pedestrian paths _ it also has a bridle trail _ and 150 acres of water.

The park’s canine visitors, from dachshunds to Great Danes, were included in the festivities. Hundreds trotted along with their owners in a dog parade, led by a woman holding a giant balloon bouquet and sign that read ``150 years of dogs.″

Jim and Lori Giglio watched the procession from atop a grassy knoll, lunching on French bread and brie. The Giglios come to Manhattan from their home in Albany, N.Y., about twice a year and never miss a visit to the park.

``There’s always something going on,″ said Lori Giglio.

The park’s actual birthday is Monday, but organizers thought more people would enjoy a weekend party of live music, games of croquet, softball, skating and basking in sun and shade.

``It’s an escape from a small Manhattan apartment,″ said Larry Wasserman, who used to take his girlfriend, Erica, on dates to summer concerts in the park. They married, and now their 2-year-old daughter Jolie is a regular at the park’s zoo and playgrounds.

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On the Net:

Central Park Conservancy: http://www.centralparknyc.org/

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