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Central Park: For the Locals or the Tourists?

By Amy Zimmer | April 28, 2011 3:41pm

By Amy Zimmer

DNAinfo News Editor

UPPER EAST SIDE — Who uses Central Park more often: tourists or New York residents?

Obviously, the 843-acre jewel of green in the heart of Manhattan is in every tour guide and tops the itineraries of most visitors. But according to a new report released by the Central Park Conservancy, nearly 70 percent of park users are locals.

Of the park's nearly 38 million yearly visitors, international tourists make up the next biggest chunk at 16 percent, followed by 12 percent U.S. tourists and 3 percent from the greater New York area.

The data surprised many New Yorkers, including Robert Booth, a Queens resident and retired Transit Authority worker who bikes to the park three times a week.

From his spot taking a water break near the toy sailboats, he estimated that "during nice weather" 90 percent of park-goers were tourists.

"Being a New Yorker, I can pick out the mannerisms and dispositions of a tourist," said Booth, 60.

When told of the conservancy's data, he responded, "I'm a little puzzled by that. You're going to tell me at Strawberry Fields it's the same?" He thought about it some more: "I haven't taken into account the children at the playground and their nannies."

Ronni Arnold, sitting with her 4-month-old daughter, guessed that New Yorkers only composed 40 percent of the users, but was happy to hear that New Yorkers used it more.

"I feel like sometimes being from New York, you don't take advantage of what it has to offer, like the Empire State Building or Statue of Liberty," said Arnold, 30, who lives on the Upper East Side.

She was an avid park user when training for a half-marathon and expects to come often with her daughter and set up a picnic blanket.

"The reservoir is my favorite place in the whole city," she added.

Ewa Lotkowska, 53, assumed it was an even split but she herself comes to the park twice a day in all weather — once walking a dog for work, once by herself to enjoy the green. "I tried to imagine New York without this park," she said. "I think that it would be a terrible place."

On average, 65 percent of Central Park's users are regular visitors who come once a week or more and 14 percent are first-timers, the data showed. The average duration of a park visit is an hour and a half and three times as many visitors enter from the park's southern end, the report said.

The No. 1 park activity is passive recreation, with 85 percent of users enjoying the park in a low-key manner — walking and sightseeing, for instance — rather than the 15 percent who do physical activity.

Nearly two-thirds of the visitors come solo, and there has been a significant increase of the last several decades in the park's share of older users, the report said. Those aged 50 and above comprised 40 percent of the visits, up from an estimated 12 percent in the 1970s through early 1980s.

The conservancy undertook the massive count — the first of its kind since 1873 — conducted by more than 275 volunteers alongside 75 staffers collecting data over 2,800 hours during 2008 and 2009 because "with restricted budgets and increased operating costs, managers of parks, museums, and all major urban institutions need to know as much as possible about their constituencies," the report said.

The data might also help other Central Park users, like a jazz trio that set up on Wednesday near the mall known as the Literary Walk, and had a big debate about whether tourists or locals dominated the park. (They were split.)

"Tourist season has its start in late Spring," said musician Ian Duerr, 29. "Right before that you make more money. It's all the locals and then they get tired of the park and go to the Hamptons. When it's high tourist season, we don't make money."