Three spaces offer places for families to relax and reflect
BY JANICE LEWINE
Downtown Cary Park
319 S. Academy Street, Cary
Cary’s 1-acre crown jewel, Downtown Cary Park, has undergone a $68 million, 6-acre expansion expected to open by the end of November. New features include an adventure playground for children, interactive water features, a dog play area with a Bark Bar for pet parents, and performance and recreational spaces. Centered between Academy, East Park and Walker streets, Downtown Cary Park will also enable nature-inspired play, live entertainment and robust, year-round programming.
Heart of the Park
The Great Lawn & Pavilion is the park’s heart and soul, where visitors will gather to enjoy outdoor movie showings, festivals, large-scale concerts and four fire pits that can seat up to 12 people each. The lawn is fronted by an impressive entertainment pavilion that will include innovative and technologically advanced use of Western Red Cedar wood for the pavilion’s finishes and structure.
The Park Street Courts, an expansive recreational area near the park’s center, will feature a variety of lawn games, a putting green, table tennis, theatrical performances and a farmers market. Surrounding the park’s iconic fountain off S. Academy Street is Town Square, another recreational space with a multipurpose lawn that will host yoga, high-intensity interval training classes, educational programming like art and photography classes, and activity carts for all ages.
Play Spaces for All
Affectionately known as “The Nest,” Downtown Cary Park’s kids playground encourages imagination and exploration. A pair of 20-foot cardinals—one red and one yellow—will entice children to climb inside for a bird’s-eye view of the park. Four slides are surrounded by plants so kids can play in nature, and towering contrabass chimes facilitate a larger-than-life musical experience with sounds that children can both hear and feel.
Four-legged friends can enjoy their own play space in the Barkyard along Walker Street to roam, join obedience and agility classes, or take part in a pet parade. The adjacent Bark Bar will serve not only dog treats, but drinks and snacks for owners as well, and will also be a lively gathering place for live music and paint-and-sip events. A social district will encompass the entire footprint of the park and allow for purchasing and consuming wine and beer from 11 a.m.–11 p.m.
A dramatic, elevated skywalk will enable visitors to see the 66,000 kinds of plants that will fill the park with lush beauty—from flowering varieties to native tree species.
Downtown Cary Park will offer over 500 annual public programs and events that fill General Manager Joy Ennis and her team with pride as the park nears its opening date. “We’re excited to share our excitement with the rest of the world,” Ennis says. “We want Downtown Cary Park to be a place where you can relax, have joy and make memories. That’s really what we’re hoping for.”
3400 Pleasant Plains Road, Apex
Pleasant Park, a 92-acre complex near the intersection of Interstate 540 and Old U.S. Highway 1 in southwest Apex, will make its long-awaited debut this fall. The amenity boasts six multipurpose athletic fields; 12 athletic courts for tennis, pickleball and basketball; a 5K cross country course; a field house; an “Enchanted Forest” featuring eight inclusive play areas; and “Splashlantis,” a dazzling water play facility.
In addition to hosting a variety of athletic tournaments, Pleasant Park offers plenty of space for large-scale community events, such as outdoor movie nights and food truck rodeos, as well as a variety of camps and classes organized by the Town of Apex.
Enchanting Play Areas
The Enchanted Forest is a 1.5-acre themed playground inspired by fairy tales and fables with specialized equipment from seven manufacturers across the globe. Kids of all ages and abilities can explore the eight alluring play villages, including:
The Reading Nook. This ideal spot for starting an adventure in the Enchanted Forest is a quiet gathering space featuring toadstools that are perfect for storytime activities.
Discovery Dig. Shifting sands, buried treasure and archaeological finds are highlights of this play area that assists in developing gross and fine motor skills. A special sand table accommodates guests with mobility issues alongside other adventurers.
Gnome’s Hollow. Several larger climbing and rope structures provide two levels of play to develop body strength, flexibility and endurance. An accessible merry-go-round, climbing logs, a turf hill, a four-seat teeter-totter, a cozy cocoon and shaded benches highlight this play area, which also features a slide transfer station and adaptive equipment for children with physical and emotional disabilities.
Kingdom in the Clouds. This central village is home to Emerald Tritopia, a 35-foot climbing structure and artistic focal point of play surrounded by colorful and engaging components. Its multiple levels contain physical and sensory play nooks.
Melody Madness. This auditory area promotes music as a universal language that can be created, shared and enjoyed as multigenerational play.
Reverie. Swinging and spinning with incorporated light play in this section of the park promotes the development of gross motor skills.
Sticks & Stones. Constructed from trees, logs, boards and rocks, Sticks & Stones enables guests to climb, balance, stack, hop and build. The area heightens children’s problem-solving, abstract thinking and creativity in a natural space.
Trollway Bridge. This bridge connects the two sides of the Enchanted Forest and features open wire railings for expansive views of the protected wetlands below, which are shaded by the branches of swaying trees above the area.
Make a Splash
Pleasant Park is also home to Splashlantis, the town’s first water park for all ages. Visitors can enjoy splashing activities, water spray features and buckets that dump water on guests standing under them. To add to the fun, visitors can find buried treasure with the help of shipwrecked pirates, or follow the water’s path as it collects from the spray elements into a rill.
Apex Parks Planning Project Manager Angela Reincke says her joy in creating Pleasant Park stems from “the ability to imagine an inclusive play space created from childhood stories and constructed into reality, and then being able to see joy and wonder on children’s faces as they experience those moments. Every piece of equipment was selected to provide a different type of play, and focus on a different physical or mental aspect, so that each visitor can become a part of the story.”
North Carolina Freedom Park
N. Wilmington and E. Lane streets in Raleigh
North Carolina boasts a rich heritage of African American participation in the development of the state’s culture, education and economics. North Carolina Freedom Park in downtown Raleigh honors the African American experience and struggle for equality here. The late internationally renowned architect Phil Freelon’s award-winning design encourages visitors of all ages to reflect upon the importance of full freedom for every citizen, and to learn about the contributions African Americans have made to improve life and society in North Carolina.
Freedom Park, which opened in August, features five diagonal walkways with walls that frame each path. Twenty notable African Americans with ties to North Carolina—including enslaved persons, soldiers and civil rights leaders—“voice” inscriptions on each wall.
These paths also form the edges of the park’s three major components: the existing North Carolina Victims’ Memorial Garden, an area to reflect, and an area to gather. A grassy plateau forms the gathering area, which is ideal for small performances, poetry readings and outdoor film screenings. Located in the center of the park is a 40-foot-tall sculpture known as the Beacon of Freedom that will be illuminated at night and serve to inspire present and future generations.