The Central Park Conservancy was founded in 1980 by a group of dedicated civic and philanthropic leaders. They were determined to end Central Park's dramatic decline in the 1970s and restore it to its former splendor as America's first and foremost major urban public space, as envisioned by its 19th-century designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Today, the Conservancy's mission is to restore, manage and enhance Central Park, in partnership with the public, for the enjoyment of present and future generations.
In 1998, the Conservancy and the City of New York signed a management agreement formalizing their then 18-year public-private partnership. The relationship was reaffirmed in 2006 when the agreement was renewed for an additional eight years. As the official manager of Central Park, the Conservancy is responsible for the day-to-day maintenance and operation of the Park. Presently, 90 percent of the Park's maintenance operations staff is employed by the Conservancy, which provides the majority of Central Park's $58.3 million annual Parkwide expense budget through its fundraising and investment revenue. The City, in addition to the annual fee to the Conservancy for the services it provides, funds lighting, maintenance of the Park drives and enforcement. The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation retains policy control, has discretion over all user permits and events in the Park, and provides 10 percent of the field staff.
Since its founding, the Conservancy has overseen the investment of $690 million into Central Park, of which $536 million was raised from private sources — individuals, corporations and foundations — and more than $110 million was contributed by the City. The Conservancy has also prescribed and carried out a restoration management plan for the Park; managed the capital restoration of much of the Park's landscapes and facilities; created programs for volunteers and visitors; and set new standards of excellence in Park care. It has transformed Central Park into a model for urban parks worldwide. Helping other parks is a natural extension of the Conservancy's core mission. As such, it provides technical, management and fundraising advice to park systems around the country and world.
In 1986, the Conservancy launched its first fundraising campaign, Campaign for the Central Park Conservancy, which resulted in the restoration of Bethesda Terrace, Grand Army Plaza, Shakespeare Garden, Cedar Hill, and the southern part of the Park. In the early 1990s, capital projects focused on the northern end of the Park, culminating in the restoration of the Harlem Meer. Through the Wonder of New York Campaign in the mid-1990s, the Conservancy restored the west side landscapes, the Great Lawn and the North Meadow. In 2005, the Conservancy launched its third campaign, Campaign for Central Park, which is funding the restoration of landscapes from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Harlem Meer around the 22-acre Lake. This campaign also provides long-term operating support.
Conservancy crews care for 250 acres of lawns, 24,000 trees, 150 acres of lakes and streams and 80 acres of woodlands; install hundreds of thousands of plantings annually, including bulbs, shrubs, flowers and trees; maintain 9,000 benches, 26 ballfields and 21 playgrounds; preserve 55 sculptures and monuments, as well as 36 bridges; remove graffiti within 24 hours; collect over 5 million pounds of trash a year; and provide horticultural support to City parks.
Conservancy public programs take advantage of the invaluable resources in Central Park, each year providing education, recreation and volunteer programs that serve children, teenagers, adults, families, community organizations and schools. In addition, the Conservancy provides visitor services at the six centers in the Park: Charles A. Dana Discovery Center, Belvedere Castle, Dairy Visitor Center & Gift Shop, Chess & Checkers House and Tavern on the Green Visitor Center & Gift Shop, as well as at the North Meadow Recreation Center.