New Central Park Map Identifies, Plots 19,600 Trees

Working with Edward S. Barnard, author of New York City Trees, Ken Chaya, a graphic designer and artist, has spent more than two years creating Central Park Entire, an illustrated, comprehensive tree and trail map of Central Park available either as a poster or fold-out walking map. This guide to the natural history of the one of the world’s greatest parks, which covers 85 percent of the vegetation in the 843-acre park, painstakingly plots more than 19,600 trees, using a set of icons to indicate the 170 different tree species. In addition, the map explores the visionary landscape architecture created by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, including major park design elements such as lawns, lakes, ponds, waterways, rocks, trails, and footpaths. The architecture within the park, including buildings, bridges, archways, monuments and statues are also detailed, along with the park’s recreational areas.

In 2008, Barnard asked Chaya to design a map he was working on with Neil Calvanese, VP of Operations at the Central Park Conservancy. The end product: “the most detailed map of any urban park in the world.” Chaya adds that the map was designed to further illuminate “the masterful design of Central Park’s creators, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux,” which is now “more evident today than it was in the 1870s when the Park was just completed.” In fact, the map is meant to celebrate the enduring vision of the park’s designers. 

The actual map is incredibly rich in detail, and any lover of Central Park could spend many hours with this. However, even for the more casual visitor to Central Park (and there are more than 37 million each year), the map’s tree icons can be used at any point in the park to identify the species of any tree. The only challenge: while many species have easily recognizable icons, some are somewhat similar, making identification more difficult. For example, the icons for the different cedars (northern white and eastern red) are nearly identical at tiny map scale. Still, this map enables some potentially fun activities and could help kick-start a walking arboreal bioblitz: Try to identify and count as many trees as possible while walking, or try to find the sole peach tree, or the six instances of persimmon, or one of our favorites, the Chinese scholartree.

The New York Times says even with the map, it’s still easy to get overwhelmed by all the rich flora in some of the denser areas: “Just inside the Inventors’ Gate at 72nd Street and Fifth Avenue, Mr. Barnard pointed to a diverse group of about 20 species, including the magnolia, the hornbeam with a sinewy bark, the stately American elm, the omnipresent black cherry (there are 3,839 of those on the map), the buckeye, and the invasive Norway maple, which Mr. Chaya jokingly called Eurotrash because it aggressively took resources from other species.”

Interestingly, only about 150 trees are left from the era of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. One from around 1862, the black Tupelo, sits in its own meadown in the Ramble, near the West 70s. Barnard told The New York Times: “Old trees have a sacred element for me. They created us. We’re all mammals that spent our time in the canopy.”

The duo spent more than $40,000 of their own money to design and publish the maps. Neither the city nor the conservancy provided any money, but some proceeds from the maps go back to the conservancy. They just hope to break even on the project.

Let’s hope their efforts prove to be just the first in a slew of projects by dedicated naturalists around the world aimed at unveiling the rich biodiversity found within urban parks.

Learn more about this amazing project, see a slideshow of Chaya and Barnard in Central Park, and purchase the poster ($35) or fold-out walking map ($12.95).

Image credit: Central Park Nature

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