“Dolphin Park,” a True Partnership Between the Port Authority and Community Volunteers

By Neal Buccino, Sr. Public Information Officer

Dolphin Park, a “hidden gem” of a playground and sprinkler park for preschoolers and their parents in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood, is finishing its first summer after having been thoroughly redesigned and made safer, more accessible, and more fun than ever, thanks to a partnership between the Port Authority and the 181st Street Beautification Project.

When the tiny park at 180th Street and Cabrini Boulevard reopened this past July, it earned glowing reviews from its preschool-age visitors, their parents and the community volunteers who manage its day-to-day operations.

A colorful slide and plastic bongos.  A frame for puppet shows.  A planting area with flowerpots.  A table for board games.  A sandbox and stepping stones.  A new ramp with access for handicapped children.  A parking area for strollers.   An improved irrigation and sprinkler system.   An elephant statue and its neighbor, a dolphin that shoots water to the delight of hot kids on humid summer days.

The dolphin gives the park its nickname.  The official name, George Washington Bridge Park, speaks to its location on Port Authority-owned land, acquired during the 1960s for entrance ramps to the bridge.  In a true partnership between the agency and community, the Port Authority built the park approximately two decades ago, provides basic maintenance and performed this year’s renovation.  The 181st Street Beautification Project opens and closes the locked gate, keeps the park litter-free, provides flowers and plants and sponsors special events.

Some of the organization’s youngest volunteers remember playing in Dolphin Park when they were little.  Here are some reactions to its new features:

“It’s awesome! Kids can learn from the new things that are in the playground, such as climbing up the stairs and how to move a steering wheel,” 12-year-old Meagan Espaillat wrote for the park’s “Youth News/Noticias” newsletter. “My favorite part is the table because of the board games.  I can play and meet new people.  I also like the sandbox because it makes me feel like I’m at the beach, and it makes me feel like I’m a kid again.”

“It’s a better environment now:  It’s safer.  It will prevent injuries because of the plastic play equipment,” 14-year-old OlgaStacy Ramirez wrote.  “It’s a major new attraction, more of a kid environment. … The puppet theater frame gives kids a chance to express themselves.”

The initial design for the park, and the new design for the renovation, were led by Ilonka Angalet, Princial Landscape Architect within the Port Authority’s Engineering Department, Architectural Unit, in collaboration with MLKW Landscape Architects.

Volunteer Jeanlee Poggi said the park is open during limited hours – 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. each afternoon in August, and in September only on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during those hours, weather permitting.   On some busy afternoons, total attendance exceeds 100 kids and adults.

“We always have a part-time staff person and youth volunteers on duty, and when attendance is over 100, our park staff has their hands full!” Ms. Poggi said.

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