Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir

Last updated: July 14, 2023

Situated within the bustling metropolis of New York City, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir is an oasis of serenity in the heart of Central Park. Named after the former first lady in 1994, it holds a rich and fascinating history as well as a unique ecological structure. But beyond its picturesque views and recreational opportunities, aspects of the reservoir pique interest - How deep is it? What purpose does its dam serve? What about the enigmatic underwater structure? This article aims to unravel these mysteries and comprehensively understand this significant city landmark.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir

History of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir

Central Park has been an iconic part of New York City since the 19th century, and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir has its unique history within this urban oasis. Understanding the reservoir's past requires a look at its inception, pivotal moments that shaped its current state, and its naming after the iconic first lady.

This historical perspective not only adds depth to the understanding of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir but also sheds light on its significance within the landscape of New York City. Whether for its original utilitarian purpose or current recreational use, the reservoir remains a cherished part of Central Park's heritage.

The Depth of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir

The depth of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir often catches the attention of curious visitors and Central Park enthusiasts. Despite its vast 106-acre surface area, the reservoir isn't as deep as one might initially imagine. The average depth of this man-made water body is approximately 40 feet. However, it does have areas where it plunges a bit deeper, reaching a maximum depth of just over 57 feet.

The depth can fluctuate slightly based on several factors, including rainfall, which can raise the water level, and periods of drought, which can lower it. The depth was deliberately designed this way during the construction of the reservoir in the 1860s to serve its original purpose as a water supply source for New York City. Today, while it no longer serves this function, its depth continues to support the reservoir's ecosystem, making it a vibrant part of Central Park's landscape.

The Dam Around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir

The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir is encircled by a large dam that forms an essential part of its structure. Known as the Reservoir Embankment, this earthen dam is approximately 1,826 feet long and 28 feet high.

Built during the reservoir's creation in the 1860s, the dam holds the water within the reservoir and prevents overflow into the surrounding park areas. In addition to its functional role, the dam also serves as an elevated pathway for pedestrians and joggers. It provides a stunning view of the reservoir and Central Park, making it one of the most beloved spots in the park.

Over time, the dam has undergone several renovations to maintain its structural integrity. The most notable of these renovations occurred in the late 20th century when the Central Park Conservancy reinforced the embankment with new layers of soil and clay. Today, the dam remains a testament to the engineering feats of the past while continuing to serve the park-goers of the present.

The Underwater Structure in the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir

The underwater structure in the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir that often catches people's attention is known as the Reservoir Gatehouse. Located at the center of the reservoir, this gatehouse is a vital component of the reservoir's original water distribution system.

Constructed in the 1860s, the Reservoir Gatehouse is a control center for the reservoir's water flow. It was equipped with valves and gates that could be adjusted to regulate the amount of water entering or exiting the reservoir. The Gatehouse was staffed by workers who manually controlled these mechanisms, ensuring the reservoir's water levels remained stable.

Although it is no longer in use since the reservoir was decommissioned as a source of potable water, the gatehouse remains an intriguing architectural feature of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. Its sturdy, castle-like structure continues to stand tall, adding a touch of historical charm to the scenery of Central Park.

Recreational Activities Around the Reservoir

The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir isn't just a picturesque body of water but a popular spot for various recreational activities in Central Park. It is a favorite destination for New Yorkers and tourists, offering several activities that promote fitness, relaxation, and appreciation of nature.

One of the most popular activities at the reservoir is running or walking along its 1.58-mile track. The cinder path surrounding the reservoir provides an excellent route for joggers, and its slightly soft surface is kinder on the joints than asphalt or concrete. The path is also a perfect place for leisurely walks, where one can enjoy the scenic views of the water and the surrounding park.

Birdwatching is another popular activity at the reservoir. The water attracts various bird species, making it a favorite spot for amateur and experienced birdwatchers.

In addition, the reservoir's calm and serene atmosphere makes it a perfect place for meditation and yoga. When the weather is nice, you'll often see groups practicing yoga or sitting quietly in meditation.

Photography enthusiasts also frequent the reservoir due to its picturesque views. The combination of the reflective waters, the surrounding trees, and the city skyline in the background offers a unique and beautiful photographic opportunity.

Regardless of your interests, there's likely an activity at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir that will appeal to you. Its blend of natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and historical significance make it a must-visit location in Central Park.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the history of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir? The reservoir was constructed between 1858 and 1862 as a temporary water supply for New York City. It was decommissioned in 1959 but remains a significant and beautiful feature of Central Park. In 1994, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was renamed to honor her contributions to the city.

Can you swim in the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir? No, swimming is not allowed in the reservoir. Its primary function today is as a scenic element of Central Park and serves as an emergency water supply for the city.

What kinds of birds can be spotted at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir? The reservoir is a hotspot for birdwatching, attracting various species, including coots, herons, ducks, geese, and occasionally rare birds like the Bald Eagle.

How long is the running track around the reservoir? The track that loops around the reservoir is approximately 1.58 miles long.

What is the function of the dam around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir? The dam around the reservoir contains the water within a specified area, controlling the water level and preventing overflow.

What is the underwater structure in the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir? The underwater structure in the reservoir is the remnants of a dividing wall that initially separated the reservoir into two basins.

Are there any fish in the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir? No, the reservoir is not stocked with fish, and fishing is prohibited. Its primary function is to act as a scenic water body within Central Park and as an emergency water supply for New York City.

What other wildlife can be spotted around the reservoir? Apart from the human joggers and walkers, the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir is home to various wildlife. You can often see multiple species of birds, both migratory and resident, around the reservoir. These include great blue herons, double-crested cormorants, and a variety of ducks. It's common to spot squirrels and an occasional raccoon in the surrounding trees.


The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir is much more than a striking water feature in the heart of Central Park. Its depth, dam, and underwater structure contribute to its unique character and function. With its diverse wildlife and recreational activities, it offers both a serene retreat and a bustling hub for nature lovers and fitness enthusiasts alike. Whether you're a local seeking a tranquil lunch spot, a bird-watching enthusiast, or a tourist exploring the park's myriad attractions, the reservoir's intriguing elements, and surrounding beauty make it a must-visit destination in the heart of New York City.

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