image of central park at night

Yes, Central Park is lovely at night — but don’t stay past curfew, or you could get hauled into court.

As of this month, cars can no longer drive through Central Park. It’s a big change, but of course, the list of things you can’t do in NYC parks goes far beyond driving. Every city park has a sign full of banned acts and objects. But what happens if you ignore the park rules and sneak in a bottle of wine? Will the NYPD fine you for being the park after closing hours? Here’s what to know about the rules governing NYC parks — and what happens if you break them.

The NYC Parks Enforcement Patrol

NYC parks have their own set of rules and regulations, which are enforced by the Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP). While the PEP is not the NYPD, its officers can issue summonses for quality-of-life infractions and arrest violators of city and state laws. As far as the parks go, they’re as good as cops. So yes, if you’re caught violating any posted rules, you may have to pay a fine or appear in court. Remember also that the NYPD does patrol parts of Central Park.

Trespassing in NYC Parks

Most parks officially close at dusk, while others, like Central Park and Prospect Park, close at 1 a.m. But it’s not a big deal to take a run after hours, right? Wrong.

According to Section 1-07 of the NYC Parks Rules and Regulations, you can be fined up to $75 for being in the park after close. That’s not a small chunk of change.

To be technical, trespassing in the parks — or failing to obey any park signs — is a misdemeanor, as one New Yorker, who was caught walking in the park after 1 a.m., found out the hard way. This post, on Next City, details writer Bill Bradley’s experience getting arrested for running after dark in Prospect Park, after the cops ran his name and found an unpaid ticket.

Even if you’re not that unlucky, you might get a summons and see nothing come of it. Daniel Krieger wrote in The New York Times about being caught cycling in Central Park after hours and getting summonsed by the NYPD, though he ultimately wasn’t fined or punished. Same for the first poster on this Reddit thread. Skimming these stories may well convince you that taking the late-night shortcut through the park simply isn’t worth it.

Image of men playing croquet in Prospect Park in the early 1900s

Now, unlike then, if you want to play croquet, you’re going to need a permit.

NYC Parks Rules for Organized Sports

“Organized” games — whatever that means  aren’t allowed at several city open spaces, including Bryant and Prospect parks. In fact, if you want to use the fields at Prospect Park for anything “organized,” you’ll need to get to get a permit and pay a fee.

The same goes for several sports in particular, such as croquet. According to sections 2-02 and 2-03 of the NYC Parks Rules and Regulations, when playing croquet or lawn bowling in a New York City park, each player must have their own permit. The rules also dictate that the city’s lawn sports fields are open daily, weather permitting, and that the order of play is dependent on the order of arrival to the field.

If you’re wondering where these fields are located, the New York Croquet Club and New York Lawn Bowling Club both play in the Mineral Springs Lawn Sports Center in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow from May to October. Both clubs have open clinics on Monday nights, too, if you want a refresher.

Surprisingly enough, you even need a permit to play tennis in a city park — a permit with a lot of specifications, which section 2-01 outlines.

Oh, and if you were hoping to play some cricket in Prospect Park anytime soon, kiss that dream goodbye. According to the park’s Rules and Safety page, cricket is completely banned for “safety reasons.” Just cricket. Just Prospect Park. According to the NYC Parks website, Prospect Park was the place to go for cricket back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when the game was more widely played throughout the boroughs. We’re not sure what happened between then and now, but if you’re interested in cricket, there are 15 other parks in the city with designated fields.

image of picnickers in central park

Central Park is a great place to picnic — but don’t bring any glassware.

Other NYC Parks Rules and Penalties

Here are some other things to avoid in NYC parks if you don’t want to risk getting fined:

Having a glass container. Your picnic might not be complete without cute little mason jars, but apparently, the PEP doesn’t find them so adorable. There’s a $50 fine for possession of glass.

Drinking or smoking. This will be unsurprising if you’ve ever read a park rules sign, but you could get docked $75 or $50, respectively, for imbibing or puffing away in a park. 

Gathering more than 20 people. You might also want to rethink that neighborhood get-together you were planning, because groups of 20 or more in any NYC park need a permit. Failure to obtain one could result in a $75 fine.

Spitting on a park building, monument or structure. There’s actually still a law on the books that bans spitting in public anywhere in NYC. But the Department of Parks and Recreation went the extra mile to make sure that you don’t spit on any of its property. You can be fined up to $75 if you do.

Unauthorized possession of a gardening tool or plant. We’re not sure if this means any garden tool or plant, or plants and tools belonging to the parks department. But either way, you can apparently get fined up to $75 for carrying around a shovel.

Defacement or writing on a tree. Yeah, leaving your initials on park trees is fun when you’re a teenager, but if a PEP in a bad mood catches you, you could get fined up to $200.

Messing with the Automated External Defibrillator. The largest fine one can incur in a New York City park is oddly specific: “Youth baseball league’s failure to return automated external defibrillator to the Department in satisfactory condition,” which will run said team $2,500. Better hold on tight to that defibrillator.  

Do you have any stories about getting in trouble in NYC Parks? Tell us in the comments.

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