ITHACA, N.Y. — The Friends of Stewart Park (FSP) would like to make Stewart Park a friendlier place for children. The new inclusive playground they want to build may help.

The non-profit advocacy group dedicated to the maintenance and rehabilitation of the nearly century-old park is seeking city approval for the inclusive playground they would like to build in Stewart Park. The project is the first major project to be pursued by the organization, having completed several smaller projects in previous years.

“The new playground is designed to be an accessible and inclusive playground for children of all ages and abilities,” said Executive Director Rick Manning in the application. “This is a unique project in a very special place, and I look forward to engaging the City and the public in the review process.”

steart park playground

The plans call for a pair of larger play structures, one for pre-schoolers and one for school-aged children, am interactive spray pad, sand and music play gardens, paths, picnic shelters, a restored carousel and an accessible berm (a landscaped hillock with a 5-foot tall overlook). Complementary additions will include a parking lot addition, benches, and bathrooms. The cost of the new and improved facilities is $1.68 million, plus a $50,000 annual maintenance fund. The project will take about nine months to construct, and be built through a combination of traditional paid construction crews, and volunteer community builds.

The location of the new structures would be between the existing splash pad on the west end of the park and the carousel to the east, south of the transmission lines, about 1.65 acres. The area north of the power lines is envisioned as an open play and picnicking area. With the exception of the large swings, the existing equipment will eventually be removed to near the DPW maintenance building and the ‘Whirly Bug’. The older play structure near the carousel would be moved, to another park if possible.

When FSP refers to an inclusive playground, it means that it offers something for kids of all abilities – it offers a full sensory experience with lots to touch, to see and to hear. Disabled children will be able to access and enjoy much of the equipment, as well as the gardens and play areas.

Three playground design and landscaping firms are involved with FSP’s plans – Parkitects, Play by Design and EarthPlay are coordinated designs and features to maximize the play value and amenities, while giving a nod to local features like rock formations and the steamboats that used to come down the lake. T.G. Miller is handling the more technical details like grading and stormwater management.

“The new Stewart Park inclusive playground will be like no other in the region,” said Manning. “FSP believes the playground will invigorate the park and be a catalyst for further park revitalization efforts being planned for the 2021 centennial celebration of Stewart Park’s opening as city-owned park on Cayuga Lake.”

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at