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Tour de four: Prospect Park launches a new walk for each week

Green guide: Cindy VandenBosch and her team at Turnstile Tours will lead four different tours of Prospect Park, one on each weekend of the month, starting on April 28.
Brooklyn Paper
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These tours make history a walk in the park.

Four new walking tours will reveal Prospect Park’s rich history and uncover its hidden gems. Prospect Park Walking Tours, starting on April 28, will offer a different guided trip through the green space each Sunday, letting audiences focus on the marvels of Brooklyn’s Back Yard they find most interesting.

Each two-hour tour starts at Grand Army Plaza and takes visitors through the park’s 150-year history, from the halcyon days just after landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux opened the green in the 1860s, through the Park’s disrepair in the 1970s, and its rejuvenation in the last two decades, according to one of the guides.

“On all of the tours you learn about the original design and how that transformed through the different movements — like the City Beautiful, the Beaux Arts, the New Deal — and became what it is today, but with different focuses,” said Cindy VandenBosch, the head of Turnstile Tours, which partnered with the Prospect Park Alliance to create the educational outings.

The Hidden Treasures tour, on the first Sunday of each month, focuses on little-trafficked parts of the Park, including the Rose Garden, a quiet oasis that was a prime spot for 19th century Brooklynites to check out exotic flora, before the Botanic Garden opened on the far side of Flatbush Avenue in 1910. It was also the site of the park’s first outdoor wedding, in the 1920s, which caused a media stir because matrimonial services were limited to houses of worship at the time, according to VandenBosch.

“The couple had to ask the Parks Commissioner, who was like ‘No one’s ever asked before,’ and let them get married. But it had to be before 7.45 a.m., before the park would get busy,” she said. “It was quite scandalous and reporters swarmed to the scene, the minister even backed out last minute because of the media attention, so they had to get a new minister.”

On the second Sunday of the month, curious ramblers can take the Water and Wellhouse tour to discover the engineering feat behind Prospect Park’s artificial waterways, which feed city tap water into the lake. It includes an in-depth tour of the historic Wellhouse, a former pump house which the Alliance re-purposed last year into an award-winning comfort station.

The Art and Architecture tour, on every third Sunday, showcases the many different building and landscaping styles that grace the 526 acres of the park, including the LeFrak Center, first built in 1868 to provide a safer spot to ice skate than the nearby lake. The winter sport boomed during the early years of the park, due to its popularity in Olmsted and Vaux’s first joint project, Central Park on the distant isle of Manhattan, according to another guide.

“The rink was opened a year after the original opening of Prospect Park, because skating had become this sensation after it took off in Central Park,” said Andrew Gustafson.

The fourth tour, Brooklyn’s Backyard, kicks off the season on April 28. The kid-friendly tour starts with turtle-spotting at Music Island, continues with a scavenger hunt through the park’s zoo, and explores the historic carousel — including a ride, according to VandenBosch.

“We’ll go to the carousel, learn about its restoration, and then ride it, because you can’t learn all about it and then not ride it,” she said.

Prospect Park Walking Tours start at Grand Army Plaza [Flatbush Avenue at Prospect Park West, (347) 903–8687, www.turnstiletours.com]. April 28–Nov. 24; Sundays at 10:30 a.m. $20 ($30 “Brooklyn’s Backyard” tour, which includes admission to the zoo; kids half-price).

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.
Updated 4:00 pm, April 19, 2019
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