"This is sort of a moment to soar in spirit and joy," said Sita Culman of Baltimore. "It's here and then it's gone tomorrow. Enjoy the moment."
Teams hired by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude were set to take down the 7,503 gates beginning Monday morning. The thousands of tons of steel, orange plastic and saffron-colored nylon fabric are to be recycled as everything from paint rollers and steel reinforcing bar to PVC pipe.
The artists financed the project with sales of their drawings and other works.
The park's 23 miles of footpaths, lined with gates like columns of standing dominoes, were jammed Sunday as tourists and New Yorkers took in the show.
"It's one of those things - you've either been there and seen it or you haven't," said Guy Teschmacher, an architect from Vermont touring the park with his daughter. "We knew it was do or die this weekend so we had to do it."
The sky was crystal clear as a chilly breeze made the nylon curtains billow in the sun as they did on Feb. 12, the first day of the 16-day exhibition.
"It's kind of sad," said Claire Whitehead, a 23-year-old nursing student. "It was nice seeing people out here with their kids and their dogs."
Less wistful was her friend Kelly Guillory, 26.
"It'll be nice that it won't be so busy," she said as they picked their way through a cluster of tourists.
Emily Tracey, a 22-year-old art history graduate, was among the scores of workers paid to patrol the project, armed with telescoping metal poles to unfurl any nylon fabric that was blown around its frame.
She said she will miss "The Gates," but she still looked forward to Monday.
"I think the void of the project once it's taken down could be more prominent than its actual presence," Tracey said.
Among the saddest to see "The Gates" depart was Rajan Sen, who opened his family's hot dog stand at the edge of the Central Park Great Lawn a month early to accommodate the crowds.
"We sold so many hot dogs and also the pretzels," Sen said. "It is a beautiful project, and it's good for business."
By Michael Weissenstein