ITHACA, N.Y. — The Stewart Park Playground is heading into its next phase, the one that will bring it closer to reaching its goal of being accessible for everyone.

At a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday celebrating the start of construction for Phase II, Friends of Stewart Park Executive Director Rick Manning, said the Racker Center’s vision of a “world where all people know they belong” has been an inspiration for the project.

“That’s what we’re doing here is we’re creating a playground where all kids know they belong,” Manning said.

Traditionally, playgrounds have not been built with children who have disabilities or mobility impairments in mind. However, Friends of Stewart Park, a nonprofit organization with a mission to revitalize Stewart Park, has been working toward creating a playground without barriers for any children or their caregivers.

Behind the groundbreaking ceremony Thursday, there were several children enjoying the results of the first phase of the project, which was a community effort. Last year, more than 900 people over a six-day period had a hand in completing the initial phase alongside Play by Design.

The second phase will include accessible play features with rubber safety surfacing, a curved and gently sloped berm connecting to the play structure at different elevations that leads to an overlook of the park and Cayuga Lake, a protective cover to help preserve the iconic carousel, and parking and pathway improvements to enhance access to the playground.

• Related: New inclusive playground in works for Stewart Park; volunteers sought

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, who helped secure a $1 million grant from the state for the project, said, “Thanks to everyone in the community that’s been putting their elbow grease and their dollars into this. I think it’s going to be something that we’re all extremely proud of. We’re all going to come down here and enjoy it.”

Groundbreaking for Phase II of the Stewart Park Playground. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick said the city has seen a number of improvements on the waterfront in the past few years. He highlighted a number of positive updates at Stewart Park, including the Wharton Studio Museum, bathroom and pavilion improvements, and even the fact that dogs are now allowed at Stewart Park. He said the waterfront and Stewart Park will continue to improve because of all of the people working behind the scenes to make projects like the Stewart Park Playground possible.

“I have the utmost confidence that eight years from now, we will be not just the best city in the country, but the best lake city in the country as well,” Myrick said.

The final phase, which Friends of Stewart Park are fundraising for now, will include a new accessible splash pad and a year-round restroom. They are aiming to reach a goal of $500,000 for the third phase over the next year.

“We think our kids deserve a place that is more fun, more accessible, (and) something that’s more interactive,” Manning said. “We’re working to bring that to fruition.”

To follow updates and see plans for the playground, visit friendsofstewartpark.org/playground.

Featured image: Stewart Park Playground after Phase I. (Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.