New parks transform urban space into oases

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Two of the newest parks in New Hanover County aren’t expansive green spaces, but small urban plots attached to the Cape Fear Museum and the main public library downtown. Both are being developed with money from the county’s share of the $35.5 million green space bond voters approved in 2006.

The idea behind the small parks is to enhance and expand the mission of the institutions they complement.

The park at the Cape Fear Museum is set to open late next month. It will serve as a free outdoor, interactive exhibit space as well as a public park.

“The programs in the park will always be free,” museum director Sheryl Mays said. “One thing we won’t have out there is a fence.”

The bond issue provided $500,000 for the project, and the Cape Fear Museum Associates raised another $73,000 in private and grant funding, exhibits manager Adrienne Garwood said.

The exhibits and trees are not in yet — the exhibits will come the week of Sept. 9, and trees familiar to the region will be planted when the weather cools — but the park is nearing completion. A centerpiece is a modern sculpture, whose green and blue appendages hint at the museum’s mission of melding the region’s history with how its people have interacted with the land.

Several different gardens will highlight native plants, as well as those that have adapted well to the Cape Fear region.

The shelter and its maritime-oriented exhibits will still be a focal point of the museum’s outdoor space, and a few interactive exhibits will allow visitors a hands-on experience.

It’s all tied together by curved walkways featuring a red-brown concrete ribbon mimicking a meandering river. The idea was to bring to mind the tannin-stained waters of the Cape Fear River, Garwood said.

Supplied illustration courtesy of the New Hanover County Public Library. Plans for a new park at the downtown Wilmington library include a small amphitheater and several gardens.

Supplied illustration courtesy of the New Hanover County Public Library. Plans for a new park at the downtown Wilmington library include a small amphitheater and several gardens.

Like the museum, the public library at Third and Chestnut streets has chosen a theme of locally familiar plantings and an educational focus for its park.

The site is a small courtyard that is nearly hidden from the street by a short brick wall and the adjacent parking deck, and often is used as a hangout or sleeping quarters for homeless people. By 2016, library director Harry Tuchmayer hopes the space will be buzzing with activity as an interactive educational space.

The goal was to design a park that fits in an urban space. A compact amphitheater will provide a story-time spot for children and  setting for other outdoor readings, while several tiny gardens are designed to offer shade, green space and inspiration for urban residents with small lots.

A few café tables will add to the alfresco atmosphere. Tuchmayer said he hopes downtown workers will find it an inviting spot to have lunch or take a short break.

“It’s nice to have sort of an oasis in a downtown environment,” he said.

The changes also may enhance safety, he said. Once the brick wall is removed and the courtyard brought down to street level, patrons of Thalian Hall will have a clear view of the parking deck through the new park. Many people are concerned about the impeded view when they use the deck at night, Tuchmayer said.

Construction on the library park will begin early in 2016, and it should be ready in time for the summer reading and story programs, he said. The project will use $150,000 from the parks bond, and the Friends of the New Hanover County Public Library will donate money from its book sale to a second phase.

Meanwhile, the Cape Fear Museum staff is preparing for the grand opening of the park at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 25. Mays said she hopes the new park will draw more people into the museum itself by giving them just a taste of the exhibits within. The Saturday after the opening, the park will feature a family-oriented program, and admission to the museum will be free.

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