The Children’s District, the Pond, and the Zoo

One of the busiest areas of the Park, the south end also encompasses some of the most popular destinations for children and families. It includes the area historically known as the Children’s District, which featured landscapes, amenities, and structures for children including the Dairy, the Ball Ground (also known as the Playground) and the Kinderberg Shelter (once the largest rustic structure in the Park, now the site of the Chess and Checkers House). Over time, attractions geared toward children were added to the area, including the carousel, the Zoo, and Wollman Rink. Heckscher Playground, the first equipment-filled playground constructed in the Park, was added in 1926. At about two acres, it is the Park’s largest and most popular playground, and includes a comfort station with a breezeway that serves as the playground entrance. Adjacent to the playground are the Heckscher Ballfields. Two visitor centers in the area, the Dairy and the Chess and Checkers House, provide information, a gift shop, public programs, and game pieces for visitors using the chess and checker tables.  

These attractions and amenities are set in a landscape defined by undulating ground, large rock outcrops, the Pond, and Hallett Nature Sanctuary. Many visitors enter the Park here and experience this landscape before any others, following its winding paths over rises and falls, across bridges, and along water, lawn, and massive rocks. Umpire Rock, one of the Park’s largest rock outcrops, was named in the nineteenth century for its views of the nearby ballfield. It now overlooks Heckscher Playground, offering a challenging climbing experience rewarded by expansive views of play and landscape that extend well beyond the playground and ballfields. Another massive outcropping rises above the Pond and has stairs carved into it. The reconstruction of the Pond landscape in the early 2000s created access to the water’s edge at various locations along its naturalistic shoreline and a greater visual connection to the Nature Sanctuary that bounds it to the north, supporting a wealth of opportunities for observation and exploration.