Olmsted and Vaux created the 20-acre Lake as the heart of Central Park, the culmination of a scenographic sequence that begins at the southern entrances and provides a transition from the more formal character of the Mall to the picturesque landscape of the Ramble. A multi-faceted and intricate landscape, the Lake’s shoreline encompasses a variety of landscape types and includes some of the park’s best-known landmarks and vistas, including the Bethesda Terrace, Bow Bridge and Hernshead. It is the largest of the park’s naturalistic water bodies and was the first part of the park to be open to the public, beginning with ice-skating in the winter of 1859. It is currently a popular destination for boating.
In 2010, the Central Park Conservancy substantially completed a restoration of the Lake and its surrounding landscapes. A significant component of this project was the restoration of the various coves that define the Lake’s undulating shoreline along the Ramble, including Bank Rock Bay, Willow Cove, and the Cave, which had become obscured by accumulated sediment and the overgrowth of invasive plants. The work included the removal of sediment from the shorelines which were then stabilized and planted, while the Lake’s original picturesque character was restored and its overall water quality improved, enhancing and supporting a more abundant wildlife habitat. The Lake along with all of Central Park was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978.