Raleigh’s overhaul of historic John Chavis Memorial Park’s community center and playground is complete, and it is a long time coming.
Over the weekend, the city officially opened the spaces, including a sprawling playground with a tree house-like structure with long slides and lots of opportunities for kids to climb and scramble and a large sprayground where dozens of jets shoot water from the ground. And, of course, it continues to be home to a carousel, which has for too long played second fiddle to the one at Pullen Park.
Construction started on the park in 2019, but community leaders have been calling for changes to the space, tucked into southeast Raleigh with a view of downtown, for much longer than that. For many years, it didn’t get the love it deserved. Back in 2010 when I visited it with my young daughters, an empty can of malt liquor rattled over to us as we stepped out of our car and we found overflowing garbage cans and shards of broken beer bottles around the playground.
At the time, Pullen Park was closed for its major overhaul just three miles away, and local leaders told me that they hoped it would mean renewed interest in Chavis Park. After all, Chavis has a carousel too. The park opened in 1937 as a so-called separate but equal space for Raleigh’s African-American community.
That renewed interest would come — eventually. Change can take time at city hall.
In 2014, City Council approved a new master plan for the park. The park was named to the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places in 2016. Design for the updated park was approved in 2017. And now, four years later, it’s open.
The result is, in a word, spectacular. Gone is the old metal playground and swimming pool. In their place are a series of really creative play pieces that allow kids to climb and explore.
There’s that long tree house-like structure that kids can climb into by rope and slide down from. There are two “nature play” areas where kids can hop and balance on tree stumps. There’s a spinner where multiple kids can sit and get dizzy together. There are monkey bars and swings and a place designed just for the youngest kids to play. There’s even some exercise equipment for those age 13 and up. Parents and teens can get a little workout while younger kids play on the playground.
And then right next to the playground and in front of the park’s impressive new community center is that sprayground, which makes for a perfect place to cool off on a hot summer day. I spoke with one family at the park on Thursday who had first visited during the opening on Saturday. The mom shared that her kids declared they’d be spending every day at the park this summer. I don’t blame them.
Within view of it all is the park’s carousel house. The carousel is scheduled to be open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday through June 30, though it was closed on Thursday when we were there for repairs. Tickets for the carousel are $1.50 each, and they are the same tickets that are used at Pullen Park too.
My hope, going forward, is that Chavis Park continues to get the love it deserves — lots of visits from kids and families, big community events and ongoing attention. It’s time.
Chavis Park is located at 505 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in Raleigh. You also can access the park from 720 Chavis Way, which will take you to a parking lot right next to the playground.