Riverside Park's Famed 'Elephant Playground' Shines after $900K Renovation

By Emily Frost on August 23, 2012 6:00pm 

Kids enjoy the new Neufeld Playground, complete with plenty of climbing spaces.
Kids enjoy the new Neufeld Playground, complete with plenty of climbing spaces.
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DNAinfo/ Emily Frost

RIVERSIDE PARK — The elephants are ready for a ride.

Riverside Park's Neufeld Playground, more commonly known as "Elephant Playground," at 76th Street and Riverside Drive, held its official ribbon-cutting Thursday after $900,000 in renovations, including a more challenging area for older kids and a special playspace for younger toddlers.

"I feel like I'm exercising when I'm playing," Jacob Steinberg, 8, who lives on Riverside Drive, said with a smile. He added that he loves the "older kids area," which features a rock climbing wall, slides, and numerous walls for climbing and opportunities for swinging to and fro.

There is also a toddler area, with a sandbox and sprinklers.

Margaret Bracken, the assistant landscape architect for Riverside Park who headed the renovation, said Bracken said she wanted to give big kids a more challenging place to play.

"Parents said the old model was not challenging enough," Bracken said.

Benches line the sides of the playground and serve as a differentiation between the sandbox and the sprinklers, which can get rowdy, said Bracken. 

There's now a swing accessible to children with disabilities as well as an accessible sand table. New safety flooring and a metal playhouse add to the playground's appeal, said New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, who cut the ribbon Thursday.

Benepe has announced his resignation and plans to move to the San Francisco-based national non-profit Trust for Public Land next July.

Hamilton Plaza, at the 76th Street entrance to the park, and the steps leading to Neufeld Playground were also part of the renovation; the entire project was funded with a $500,000 grant from Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and $400,000 from City Councilwoman Gale Brewer. 

Stringer said the park rehabilitations Benepe has led mean even more to him now as a new father. 

"I will be here this weekend," said Stringer, who described his joy when his baby son Max went on his first swing ride this past weekend. 

Elephant Playground dates back to the 1940s, according to the Parks Department, with its last renovation in 1992, when Holocaust survivor and local philanthropist Henry Neufeld funded the reconstruction. 

For years, West Side parents have sought an update, beginning a fundraising campaign in 2007 that ultimately raised $40,000 over several years, according to local parent Scot Steinberg. But the project only got off the ground last year when Stringer and Brewer contributed capital funds. Construction lasted seven months, reopening in mid-July. 

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