Downtown Cary Park officially opened to the public on Nov. 19, 2023 — and in doing so, fulfilled its century-long destiny.
According to an old map, dated from the late 1800s, the park’s land was once owned by a gentleman named Ben Savage.
“He was a horticulturalist, and he had fruit trees on this property,” said Joy Ennis, the park’s general manager. “There was a map that he drew, and it said ‘park’ on it, so we like to think that this has always wanted to be a park, even 120 years ago. There are a few pecan trees still on the site that I like to think are still some of Mr. Ben’s pecan trees.”
Savage’s dream has certainly come true, and in a big way. After more than 20 years of dreaming and planning, the new urban park spans 7 acres between Academy, Walker, Park, and Walnut Streets in Downtown Cary.
“I love the excitement and wonder that I see on people’s faces when they can actually get into the park and see it in its entirety,” said Ennis. “We want this park to be a place where families can come and make memories, and we are honored to be a part of that.”
The park, Ennis says, has been thoughtfully and intentionally designed to ensure that everyone can enjoy all the amenities and robust programming.
Towne Square, a major entrance point to the park, includes Cary’s iconic fountain and multipurpose lawn for future pop-up markets and fitness classes. The square also houses rotating public art and the permanent Sense of Place art installation — featuring four steel columns and a glass top that map out the entire town of Cary. Locals are encouraged to find the street they live on by exploring all 80 panels!
Visitors who wander over to Academy Pavilion will discover Market 317, a grab-and-go style café that will serve locally sourced, healthy food options such as wraps, sandwiches, and charcuterie boards. A rentable event space, the pavilion is adorned with beautiful western red cedar along the walls and ceiling and curved glass doors that open and spill out onto Academy Plaza.
The Nest Play Area is the perfect spot for children to partake in imaginative play. Inspired by the natural elements of the park, this play area features two iconic 20-foot-tall cardinals. These cardinals are surrounded by a tangle of scrambles and logs for climbing, and visitors can even venture inside to get a bird’s-eye view of the park. The Nest also encompasses a toddler play area nestled amongst towering pine trees, multiple slides, and a splash pad for cooling off on hot days.
At the heart of the park, you’ll find the Great Lawn and Great Lawn Pavilion. The performance pavilion is well equipped to host large-scale events and intimate experiences alike. From the expansive Great Lawn, visitors can enjoy concerts, movies, yoga classes, and much more. Beyond programming and events, it’s the perfect spot to set up a picnic or relax in the sunshine.
The Bark Bar and Barkyard deserves a round of a-paws! The Bark Bar’s 12 taps and selection of wines and refreshing nonalcoholic options make it the perfect 5 o’clock meetup spot after a ruff day. The bar is adjacent to the Barkyard — a dog park divided into two sections for smaller and larger breeds featuring tunnels, logs, and interactive water features. Your four-legged friend can access the dog park by purchasing a pass that grants you access to all Cary dog parks. Existing pass holders are good to go.
Lining Park Street is the park’s active recreation area, which includes table tennis, foosball tables, a putting green, and a turf-clad arena surrounded by breathtaking river birch trees — perfect for volleyball, bocce ball, cornhole, theater-in-the-round, and much more. Grab a quick bite at a local food truck while you’re there!
The Gathering House, boasting 28 french doors that open to create an indoor/outdoor space, sits in a quiet corner of the park. Beyond the doors lies the Gathering Garden, which further extends the house’s event space. The garden incorporates existing trees and many new native and adaptive regional plants.
Ennis’ personal favorite piece of the park is the tiered water feature, featuring a babbling brook, middle pond, and lower pond, all thoughtfully designed to improve water quality and significantly mitigate flooding downstream.
Last but not least is the Skywalk, a 471-foot-long elevated walkway that lifts you 17 feet and into the tree canopy.
“My team and I are so excited to see people make this park their own,” said Ennis. “We are planning a variety of programs that will have something for the little bitties all the way up to adults. We’re going to start slower and build it up, so that by the time spring arrives, there will be a nice, robust calendar.”
Learn more about Downtown Cary Park by signing up for their monthly newsletter at downtowncarypark.com.
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