Durham Central Park already packs in the crowds with its regular farmers' markets and popular food truck rodeos, which pull in thousands.
Now there's even more to do on this five acre patch of green space in the midst of downtown Durham. As I wrote last year, the nonprofit that manages the park and the activities there opened Mount Merrill, a play mound that features slides and boulders for kids to scramble around and play. A few weeks ago on a very cold day, I checked in with the park's Tess Mangum Ocana for a quick tour.
Mount Merrill was built thanks to support from across the community. Donations came in - from simple $1 donations to $25,000 checks. An online fundraising campaign helped raise $25,000 toward the $200,000 goal. Park leaders celebrated its grand opening in December.
The play space is named after Merrill Davis, whose family owns the neighborhood nursery and garden store, Stone Brothers & Byrd. Davis, who was one of the park's biggest supporters, died in a car accident in 2012. His 2009 wedding was one of the first in the park's pavilion.
The play mound isn't a traditional playground, really. It's a mound with a path leading up to the top of the slides. Park goers can take the path or they can climb over boulders to get to the slides. There are two slides - a taller one and a shorter one. The wide path allows for wheelchairs to approach the top of either slide. The nonprofit is working to add tarps to shade the play mound and its metal slides from the sun. There's also a climbing net for kids to try out.
The mound sits next to The Leaf, a structure that serves as a meeting space, performance space or resting spot at the park ... or a spot for kids to play a little hide and seek or tag. And the large cardinal and turtle, popular for climbing on, are just a few steps away.
The mound is a great addition to a destination that already draws so many people. After shopping at the market or picking out your lunch or dinner at the food truck rodeo, families can stay a little bit longer while the kids climb and slide.
Ocana envisions kids transitioning from playing on the cardinal and turtle to Mount Merrill to the park's skate park, which sits right up the hill, as they grow. Ocana said there are long-term plans to make upgrades to the skate park, including building another set of bathrooms there. Bathrooms, which are open during park events, already exist at the park pavilion.
"This adds more for kids to do," Ocana said. "It makes Durham Central Park a destination."
If you go, you'll find street parking along Foster, Hunt, Rigsbee, Roney and Corporation streets. Visitors also can park at the Durham Centre Deck at 300 Morgan St., which is two blocks away.
The Durham Farmers' Market takes place from 8 a.m. to noon, Saturdays, from April to November, and 10 a.m. to noon, Saturdays, from December to March. It's also open on Wednesdays from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. from May to September.
Food truck rodeos are held five times a year. The next one is noon to 4 p.m., Sunday, March 8.
Find Durham Central Park at 501 Foster St., downtown Durham.