A summer spot for free play and exploration
Play:ground, New York City’s newest park attraction, debuted this weekend on Governors Island.
The 172-acre Governors Island—a former Army and Coast Guard base in the middle of New York Harbor—was off-limits for many decades but has been open to the public during the summer since 2003. The island boasts 19th-century forts, historic buildings, and 22 acres of sunny outdoor spaces that are wildly popular with locals, especially during live concerts and annual events such as the Jazz Age Lawn Party. And this year visitors will have access to a whole slew of new recreation areas.
Play:ground is the first of these areas to open. The 15,000-square-foot “adventure” playground is an area where kids are welcome to use scavenged items such as old tires, wood planks, and discarded home goods (including things like a broken-down exercise bicycle) to make as many kinds of structures, toys, and games as they can dream up. As the New York Times reported, the area is a free-play zone ringed by a fence that exists “as much to keep parents out as to keep materials in.”
The brainchild of eight New York City parents, Play:ground consists of two separate play areas—a large area for kids ages 6 to 13 and a smaller section, dubbed “The Mess Kitchen,” for younger kids accompanied by parents. Objects found in both parts of the playground are donated by the community and added by staff, so the materials available to play with will vary throughout the summer.
In the next few weeks, a host of other family-friendly areas will also open on the island, including a treehouse, an artist-designed mini–golf course, and Slide Hill, which will feature four slides—including one that will drop three stories and stretch 57 feet.
Another much-anticipated part of the park: Outlook Hill, a man-made 70-foot rise that will be the highest point on the island and will offer fantastic views of Lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn, and New Jersey. This hill will feature a 40-foot “scramble” composed of granite steps—chunks of rock salvaged from the old Governors Island seawall earlier this decade. (These areas and two other “hills,” including one with an art installation from British artist Rachel Whiteread, are all expected to open July 19.)
Play:Ground is open on weekends. It’s free to use, but parents must sign a waiver before their children can enter. (As a form of crowd control, park workers cap at 20 the number of kids in the play area at any given time.) Ferries to Governors Island are available from Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn; a round-trip ride is $2 for adults and free for kids, and ride time is less than 10 minutes on both routes.
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In more than 18 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Alaska Airlines, and more. He is a senior editor for the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com.