A Grand Vision at the New Downtown Cary Park

The highly anticipated mixed-use public space was decades in the making — and it’s perfect for today for folks all around the Triangle.
by Ayn-Monique Klahre |  photography by Joshua Steadman

The Downtown Cary Park opened to much excitement in mid-November, a 7-acre plot packed with all the amenities you could want: walking paths, play spaces, an amphitheater, dog park, concessions and more. Just 20 minutes from downtown Raleigh, it’s nestled between Academy and Walker Streets, close to popular restaurants and the performing arts center, and will be a new anchor for Cary.

Over the decades, the property had been developed around the edges, but not in the interior. But in 2001, the Cary Town Council approved a plan to create a park as a focal point for downtown. “For a town of our size — especially back then — it was impressive for the leadership to have that kind of foresight,” says Joy Ennis, the park’s general manager.

Five years ago, the town selected OJB, a national landscape and urban planning firm, to design the park with input from the community.

Today, the park offers several unique amenities. There’s an inventive play area featuring a pair of play structures that look like cardinals. A large stormwater pond acts as an attractive water feature, with stones at the perimeter that entice kids to play. A skywalk rises into the tree canopy to offer a different perspective. And dog owners love the Bark Bar, where they can enjoy a beverage as the pups cavort (divided into areas for the “Biggies” and the “Smalls”).

Ennis says she might be most excited about the botanic gardens, though: “We planted 66,000 plants, and once they’re established, they will create these amazing, quiet spaces for people to enjoy.”

Though the park is just a couple months old, “it has been completely adopted by everybody,” says Ennis. “People are using it just how we hoped they would.” From an economic standpoint, Cary is already seeing the benefit as the park draws residents and visitors to the area, and Ennis believes that it will serve as a destination in Cary in the decades to come. “The design and bones of it are so strong, it has real staying power,” she says. “And it’ll evolve as we create more programming and events.”

“It’s a world-class park that you’d expect to see in a bigger city,” says Raleigh resident Ryan Johnston, who recently visited with her family. “It’s forward-thinking in its design and practical about how the community will use the space. We’ll keep making the trip to use the park!”

This article originally appeared in the February 2024 issue of WALTER magazine