It's not every day that we get to see the opening of a major new park around here. But Thursday, Sept. 19, when Knightdale officially opens its new Knightdale Station Park, the region will see the first phase of a 76-acre park that likely will become a focal point for play in eastern Wake County.
While some towns and cities spend decades planning a park, this one is just a couple of years in the making, Tina Cheek, the town's parks and recreation director tells me. The land, a former nursery owned by a one-time Knightdale mayor, sits in downtown Knightdale. And when it went on the market two years ago, the town was in a position to buy it.
Then, officials hunkered down to come up with a plan for the property. The result: Two miles of paved trail, the town's first dog park, picnic shelters, athletic fields, bathrooms and a large playground. And that's just the first phase. Future plans, to be complete in the next year or so, include a spot for the town's farmers' market, an arboretum, amphitheater, tennis courts and more.
"We want it to be a big gathering place," Cheek tells me.
Right now, for families, the playground likely is the focus. The town's only other playground, other than those found in neighborhoods, is at the shady, but small Harper Park.
At Knightdale Station, the farm and train-themed play area is a reminder of Knightdale's railroad and agricultural past. A pretend silo, standing at least two stories tall, features a tall tube slide. There are multiple slides, a giant tractor tire in the sand area, a concrete cow that kids can climb on and more.
For preschoolers, there's a train with a tunnel and slides, along with a working railroad crossing with lights and bells. For even younger kids, you'll find a small play chicken coop where wiffle ball "eggs" roll into buckets. Right next to it is a "corral" of bouncy horses and other play pieces that spin kids around.
And there are swings - bucket, belt and a giant disk swing that can fit three to four kids at the same time. There also will be a swing designed for children with disabilities, a first for the town.
While there are lots of places to play here, the play area is compact. Cheek said designers wanted to make sure that families with kids of all ages can play together and within sight of each other. There's even a short walking path right around the playground so moms can walk a fussy baby to sleep, for instance (there also are lots of benches ).
"We really wanted every age group to be able to play," Cheek said. "We wanted everything together so that families could have a good time."
The playground, designed by Asheville Playgrounds, run by a husband-and-wife team, is unique to Knightdale. Officials and designers were thoughtful as they planned for the park. While some old barns had to be torn down to make way for the new construction, the roof pitch in those old buildings was mimicked in the pitch of the new roof of the picnic shelter, for instance. The small, narrow windows in some of the new buildings aim to resemble the strips of light that poked through holes in the old buildings.
"We tried to get a lot of the feel back," Cheek said.
As far as the essentials: There are bathrooms right next to the playground, along with a large picnic shelter on the other side (perfect for birthday parties). A vine trellis right next to the playground is designed for stroller parking. And there's plenty of parking for cars too. The two miles of trails go through groves of trees and along a boardwalk on a pond. Both Knightdale High School and East Wake Academy plan to use the park for cross country runs.
Town officials say the park will become home base for many of its regular events, including movie nights and town celebrations. But they also hope it will bring more people from across the region out to Knightdale. And that should happen. Already they're getting calls from 5K organizers.
This park is definitely worth a drive if you're coming from another part of the Triangle. The large playground and trails are perfect for a weekend picnic and afternoon. From my home base near downtown Raleigh, it's just a 20 minute drive ... not far at all for an afternoon of outdoor fun.
For a closer look, watch my video interview with Cheek and check out the image gallery. Find Knightdale Station Park near the intersection of Sixth Street and North First Street in downtown Knightdale.
The grand opening celebration is 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Sept. 19. The event will include farmers' market vendors, food trucks and local artists. The ribbon cutting for the playground and dog park will be at 6:30 p.m.