After closing in mid-March due to the pandemic, the High Line has announced plans to reopen on July 16th—with social distancing and an emphasis on free timed-entry reservations.
"From the beginning, we were talking to the Parks Department about how to do this safely," Robert Hammond, co-founder and executive director of the High Line, said of the reopening. "We knew we'd have to do things differently, we knew we'd have to reduce the number of people."
The park, built on old elevated freight train tracks, will only be open between Gansevoort and 23rd Streets, because, Hammond explained, "those are the widest sections of the High Line." The foot traffic will run in only one direction from one entrance—north, from Gansevoort Street, with exits at 14th, 16th, 20th, and 23rd Streets. (Elevators at 14th Street and 23rd Streets are open as an entrance for those with accessibility needs.)
Visitors will be "strong encouraged to wear masks," Hammond confirmed, adding that they'll be offering masks and the Parks Department is also providing social distance ambassadors.
On a typical beautiful weekend day, the High Line could see 40,000 visitors a day (peaking at 60,000 on some days), Hammond said, but there will only be a few thousand allowed when it reopens.
The High Line's reopening, with more staff at entrances and exits, also means it will be more expensive to operate at a time when they are facing the same grim financial outlooks as other institutions. "All non-profits are projecting large deficits, our philanthropic [income] is going down, our earned income is zero... but we need to open it, we view it as part of New York," Hammond said. "We think we can make it really safe."
He wasn't able to visit the High Line until mid-April. "A month... That's the longest I've never been on the High Line," he said. The plants, thanks to a cool, wet spring, had flourished and became lush and overgrown without upkeep. Hammond pointed out that landscape designer Piet Oudolf had shaped the High Line as "idealized nature," but it really takes "an incredible amount of maintenance."
Gardeners have kept some of the plants, trees, and grasses uncut, so visitors can see the growth.
While the park was closed, Hammond admitted it was "bittersweet being up there by myself," because the High Line "is meant to have people on it." So he is especially excited that the High Line can be shared with people.
"It's going to be special. For myself, after being inside for so long and being out here in nature... it's beautiful."
Hammond also pointed out that since the city won't have as many tourists, the High Line will be filled with "almost all New Yorkers coming."
"It feels like going back to our roots. A project built for and by New Yorkers," he said.