After months locked up, Wave Hill, NYBG reopen

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New York City has finally caught up with the rest of the state when it comes to its economic reopening in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. And because the city is now in Phase IV, some outdoor attractions — like Wave Hill and the New York Botanical Garden — are ready to reopen.

The botanical garden has been preparing for its July 28 reopening since closing down back in March. The plans come with a special “thank you” to Bronx health care workers, as the Southern Boulevard refuge has spent this past week only to them as well as garden members and Bronx residents.

The early opening has been dubbed “Appreciation Week” and aims to acknowledge and thank frontline workers for their resilience during the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic. The Bronx in particular was severely impacted by the pandemic.

Even when the gardens open to the general public on Monday, health care workers will still have a chance to visit for free through Sept. 13.

The botanical garden has developed new safety protocols with the help of statewide guidelines for businesses and cultural institutions, according to a release. As the reopening date looms closer, the garden hopes to offer an experience to patrons that will take some getting used, but will ultimately be for their safety.

That means face masks for anyone older than 2, spokesman Nick Leshi said.

“We’ll also have daily health screenings for on-site staff,” he added, “and will require tickets purchased in advance.”

That will allow the garden to enforce proper social distancing practices and operate at a reduced capacity.

Signs and pavement markings educating patrons on social distancing will be posted at admission points and spots where any lines are necessary. Other visitor amenities like cafes and picnic pavilions will have a limited menu and only offer seating outdoors, while  gift shops and self-guided tours will continue with proper distancing.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcement last week of a Phase IV reopening is what Martha Gellens has been waiting months for. The estate at 4900 Independence Ave., is set to reopen July 30, but like the botanical garden, it won’t come without restrictions.

“The Wave Hill House, conservatory and gallery won’t be open for visitors,” said Gellens, the attraction’s marketing and communications associate director. The bathrooms in the gallery and visitor center will be open, however. Outdoor food, except for water, won’t be allowed. Instead of its normal operating days of Tuesday through Sunday, Wave Hill will now be open Thursday through Sunday from noon to 5:30 p.m.

Because the estate is running at limited capacity, each week, visitors will have to register for tickets, while Wave Hill members will have the chance to register early, Gellens said. Registration gives the park a chance to plan how many people to expect on any given day.

Visitors also are asked to bring digital versions of their tickets on their smartphones to prevent any unnecessary physical contact.

“A lot of things will feel familiar, but a lot will feel strange too,” Gellens said. “It’s a big adjustment for all of us.”

Despite the constraints — which includes plexiglass-like partitions to keep patrons at least six feet apart — Gellens hopes the estate will feel like a safe haven. At 28 acres, Wave Hill is a tenth of the size of New York Botanical Garden. Because of this, Gellen says the experience is much more intimate. It’s a valuable green space for the community, which made its temporary closing a bitter blow.

“This is a serene, healing place,” Gellens said. “Coming here feels like you’re walking in your own garden.”

Thankfully, the closures didn’t have a dramatic effect on Wave Hill’s programming. During the early days of the pandemic, Wave Hill went virtual for its guided walks, exhibits and workshops. With the grounds reopening, there are plans to eventually reintroduce in-person programs again.

“We’re slowly phasing things back in,” said Jennifer McGregor, Wave Hill’s arts, education and programs senior director. “On-site programming will reopen once indoor exhibitions are given the OK.”

Currently, there is no concrete date set for when in-person programs will begin.

The transition has been a tough but welcomed one. The virtual experience has helped workers at Wave Hill see the positive in their situation, McGregor said. But it’s the accessibility that is giving insight for the estate’s future.

“Our true focus is giving people the experience of being at Wave Hill,” McGregor said. “But we want to try a virtual component where it makes sense in some of our programs.”

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