Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Central Park S'more Inferno

This past weekend, a few of us Urban Park Rangers helped out at a Backpacker magazine campout on Central Park's Great Lawn. The campers, mostly 30-something adults with a few young families, hiked to the 120-foot summit of the Great Hill from various subway-station trailheads in the northern end of the park. Once there, they received freebie sleeping bags and other prizes from the magazine and its sponsors, as well as a catered dinner, before a ranger-led night hike.

As one of the participants put it, "it wouldn't be a camping trip if something didn't go wrong." But the immaculately landscaped setting of Central Park, where every last rock was placed by the well-laid plans of Olmstead and Vaux, and every plant is planted and pruned by an army of gardeners, there seemed to be little room for the unexpected. We (the rangers) would stay up in shifts to guard the campsite against roaming vagrants, bathrooms nearby would be open all night, and the freshly-mown lawn that lay under our tents is a barren wasteland for roaming critters. It was slightly warm for outdoor sleeping, but that can hardly be termed as something going wrong. But if it were, then we discovered a solution at 2 am.

That's when the goddamn lawn sprinklers went off. One of them emerged from the ground beneath my tent, which made for a damp and loud wake-up call. In the next hour, as soon as one sprinkler went dry, another sprung up elsewhere. Eventually, every tent on the hill was either awake, wet, or relocated.

Luckily, most people seemed amused by the ordeal. Or so it seemed to me as I wandered around in early-morning stupor, trying and mostly failing to redirect the jets of water away from the tents. A real camping experience? In Central Park, it was.

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