CENTRAL PARK — A new exhibit in Central Park dives into the organisms, infrastructure and history that make up its 150 acres of water.
"Ponds, Pipes, and People" is a free exhibit opening Saturday at the Dana Center at 110th Street and Central Park North, overlooking the Harlem Meer.
It's the perfect spot for talking about water, said Andrea Buteau, director of the Central Park Conservancy's Center for Urban Park Discovery.
The Conservancy is hosting the exhibit, which will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week for the next 18 months.
"A lot of people don't realize all of the water in the park is manmade," said Buteau, who explained that the exhibit explores the initial creation of the waterways, as well as their present day ecology.
What was once swampy, rocky "undesirable" land was transformed into a respite for cityfolk by park creators Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in 1858 — a metamorphosis that required billions of gallons of water be pumped into manmade reservoirs, ponds and lakes, she said.
The exhibit traces the history of the park's water with photos and information about the landscape across the decades.
A piece of a real metal pipe used to draw water into the park from sources in the Catskills pokes out of a wall. Old clay pipes from previous decades sit in a display case, nods to the drainage work that happens year-round.
There's even a 19th century ladle on display that was used by New Yorkers to help themselves to the Reservoir's reserves, some of the first fresh drinking water they tasted.
"Drinking water was this huge sensation," in the park's early days, Buteau said.
Prohibition history buffs will recognize photos of the Mineral Springs Pavilion, a hopping bar in the 1860s for bottled mineral water that stood where the Le Pain Quotidien cafe lives now.
Young kids may be drawn to a wall of fake mounted catfish, carp and bass that dwell in the park's waterways, or to the microscope illuminating squirming amoeba in a drop of water from the Meer projected on a flatscreen TV.
There's also a display describing what's happening right outside the center around the Meer that changes with each season. Right now, turtles are finding their way out of hibernation, baby ducks are on the verge of being born and irises will soon dot the muddy shoreline, the exhibit explains.
Binoculars are also available for any visitor who wants to spy on the birds or wildlife out the window.
"This is the greatest piece of the exhibit — looking out," said Buteau.
If nothing else, Buteau said, visitors should leave with "an understanding that we, in partnership with them, can be stewards" of the park's waterways.