Get Acquainted With New Hanover County’s Parks

In March, I wrote an Insight column for The Greater Wilmington Business Journal reminding our community about our great county parks and the upcoming improvements being made. They are your parks and I hope you will get acquainted with all they have to offer by reading my column below:

Parks that offer both active recreation and passive enjoyment of nature and open space are a major contributor to New Hanover County’s quality of life. Our entire community should be proud of our parks, and I hope many readers will be inspired to visit soon, particularly as the warmer weather arrives.

Our park system had its origins a century ago, when New Hanover County was largely rural. But even then it was recognized that setting aside open space for public use was valuable for a healthy, growing community. At around the same time that Hugh MacRae Park was established, Airlie Gardens was being developed as a private playground. But Airlie also has been open to visitors for many years. It is now a public asset, owned and operated by the county, and one of our community’s crown jewels.

I mention Hugh MacRae Park in part to highlight some major improvements that are under way there. For anyone who isn’t familiar with it, this pine-shaded expanse is almost exactly in our county’s geographical center, near the intersection of South College Road and Oleander Drive. The park has entrances on both College Road and Pine Grove Drive, right off Oleander. These are some highlights of the work going on there:

  • We’re building a new basketball court near the baseball field, making sure that none of the park’s signature long leaf pine trees are disturbed. The court will feature an adjustable goal, allowing children of all ages to play.
  • To provide inclusive play opportunities for people with all abilities and of all ages, we are building a new playground. This is thanks to a $750,000 grant from Trillium Health Resources, the agency that provides services to people with disabilities throughout southeastern North Carolina.

This inclusive playground will be built in place of the current playground, which will be recycled and its newer parts reused to enhance the playground at Northern Regional Park. This park, at 4700 Old Avenue, primarily serves the Castle Hayne and Wrightsboro communities.

The new Hugh MacRae playground will include elements for smaller children, ages 2 to 5, and a separate area for those 5 to 12 years old. Nearby will be fitness stations for adult exercise. In recognition of some challenges for outdoor recreation during the hottest summer months, we are installing a splash pad for water play on the site of the existing toddler playground. This will use a recirculating water filtration system to ensure safety, eliminate waste and minimize operating costs.

Visitors to the park should notice construction starting in April and finishing in June.

Speaking of azaleas: Both Hugh MacRae Park and Airlie Gardens are showcases for spectacular floral displays every spring, and attract large crowds of local visitors and tourists. Both are featured in Azalea Festival events. Airlie in particular offers natural beauty all year, with plantings designed to produce attractive blossoms and foliage. The gardens’ plantings and pathways provide a multitude of lovely views, including beautiful water features.

Airlie Gardens, which lies between Airlie Road and Bradley Creek, has been widely recognized as a prime spot for both individual visitors and group events. The online travel site TripAdvisor has given the gardens its Certificate of Excellence Award, and readers of Encore Magazine designated it as the community’s best wedding venue for 2016. To help meet the strong demand for outdoor weddings along the North Carolina coast, the county also offers the scenic pond area at Hugh MacRae Park for ceremonies.

Group events can be accommodated in a number of our parks, such as under the picnic shelters at Hugh MacRae Park or in the community building in Riverside Park at Castle Hayne.

The sites I’ve mentioned are among the 25 parks and athletic facilities that New Hanover County Parks and Gardens maintains. These include more than 2,900 acres of green space, sporting areas, boat ramps, fishing areas, public event space and walking trails. We also oversee all the landscaping for the New Hanover County Schools. The department also manages the Executive Development Center, a space for conferences and training courses that is housed in the Northeast Regional Library building on Military Cutoff Road.

Our hard-working Parks and Gardens staff is guided by the motto “Connecting People to Parks.” The wide range of opportunities our parks and recreation facilities offer are a testament to that goal.

Other park improvements coming soon will be the Skate Park at Ogden Park, already a major center for youth recreation, and further development of the Northern Regional Park.

We have more information about Hugh MacRae Park improvements online at parks.nhcgov.com. Also on this website, you can learn more about all the county parks, request reservations for facilities and get involved as a volunteer.

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