"I think I had blinders on," Shannon Randall said, describing her experiences in Central Park before becoming a Conservancy volunteer three years ago. "You think you know something fairly well… I had been in Central Park maybe 2000 or 3000 times." Yet Shannon found that volunteering gave her a deeper understanding of the Park. For example, she only recently discovered one of the Park's best-known statues, Balto, the famed Alaskan sled dog. "There's always something to learn."
As a resident of New York since 1977, Central Park has been Shannon's backyard for 35 years. In the late 1970s, Shannon recalls that the Park "was like a dustbowl. A lot of graffiti… the benches were dirty and broken. The ground wasn't looked after. It just seemed sort of derelict." Shannon would occasionally ride her bike through the Park, "but very quickly." Since the Conservancy began restoring the Park in 1980, Shannon’s visits haven't been so rushed. "I come here with my chair now and a lunch and a book. Park myself and have a wonderful afternoon." Shannon said she would never have done this before the Park was restored, but now "I'm here more often than not."
The Park has changed, and so has Shannon. "Maybe now that I'm retired," Shannon said, "I have more time to smell the roses, so to speak, but I notice… how beautiful [the Park] is, how well maintained, how alive and active it is." Shannon’s awareness of the Park has been expanded by learning from other volunteers and Conservancy staff, and attending lectures and tours offered by the Conservancy.
Much of her new awareness comes from volunteering itself. Maintaining the Park "takes a lot of work," Shannon said, "and I certainly never appreciated it before I started doing some of the work myself." True to her roots in finance, Shannon understands the value of volunteers and the time they spend investing in the Park. She works on the Wednesday Green Team, a group of 25 gardening volunteers who work three-hour shifts once a week. "That's 75 hours in one stint," Shannon said proudly, "a week and a half worth of work." Best of all, Shannon said, "at the end of a session you can see that you've made some difference; regardless if you're raking or mulching or weeding. Whatever you're doing, you have an immediate sense that you've done something useful."
Sitting on a bench in the Arthur Ross Pinetum, Shannon pointed out the "tremendous wealth" of people and Park features that could be seen just from that spot: parents and nannies playing with toddlers, ballplayers on the Great Lawn, and people walking their dogs. "And everything around us is growing," Shannon said, "I'm sure there are things growing here that we don't even know about. The trees, the flowers, the shrubs, the ground cover." Even her relationship with the seasons has changed. Shannon said she used to hate the winter, but now regards it as an opportunity to look at "the architecture of the trees when they don't have leaves on them."
One of Shannon's favorite new activities in the Park is giving tours to friends and family who visit from out of town. She shares what she's learned, and points out areas that she's worked on. She is no longer just a visitor, but a contributor. "I get a tremendous sense of satisfaction being part of the Central Park community."
Interested in donating your time as a Central Park Conservancy volunteer? Find out more here. If you don’t have much time to give, we hope you’ll consider becoming a member or making a donation today.
The Charles A. Dana Discovery Center opened to the public in 1993 and offers a wide variety of the Conservancy's free education and community programs, seasonal exhibits and holiday celebrations.