Central Park Conservancy Completes Reconstruction of Billy Johnson Playground with One-of-a-Kind Rustic Net Climber

The Central Park Conservancy has introduced a one-of-a-kind rustic net climber to Billy Johnson Playground, the final element of a comprehensive reconstruction that expands upon the playground’s original design by pioneering landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg.

Located near the East 67th Street entrance to Central Park, Billy Johnson Playground is especially popular for its 45-foot granite slide, which is nestled into a rocky hill. Inspired by the landscapes of Central Park, Friedberg’s distinctive design features natural materials like plants, stone, and wood—including the granite slide, an amphitheater, and a miniature stone bridge reminiscent of the iconic Gapstow Bridge at the Pond. Rustic trails meander through raised plantings, bringing the play experience into the landscape and creating a series of outdoor spaces conducive to imaginative play.

Designed in collaboration with Friedberg, the new structure uses climbable cables and nets on sloped embankments, with stairs, platforms, slides, and a rope bridge. The structure is designed for 2- to 5-year-olds, but its variety will likely interest older children as well. Rustic timber posts made from Douglas fir trees—which were also used for the swings area of the playground—are angled at varying positions to give the structure a uniquely rustic look. After finalizing a 3D model with Friedberg, the Conservancy worked with the manufacturer Columbia Cascade to bring it to life.

“The use of rustic timber throughout the playground references the surrounding park landscape and echoes the nearby Dene Summerhouse, a rustic shelter perched on a massive rock outcrop in the backdrop of the playground,” said Christopher J. Nolan, the Conservancy’s Chief Operating Officer and Chief Landscape Architect. In addition to collaborating with Friedberg on the design of the new rustic climber and swings, the Conservancy rebuilt and expanded rustic wood structures and seating in the playground with its in-house crew of skilled craftspersons who do the rustic work in landscapes throughout the Park.

The Conservancy also installed a new rustic sand table and user-activated water feature alongside the climber. The table repurposes a piece of red granite that was part of the playground’s original granite slide.

Both the 1985 and 2018 constructions of Billy Johnson Playground were made possible by the Robert Wood Johnson family. This project was generously supported by private donors as part of Forever Green, the Central Park Conservancy’s $300 million campaign launched in 2016 to restore and preserve the historic vision for Central Park.

This is the 14th playground to be comprehensively rebuilt by the Conservancy. The Conservancy oversees the Park’s 21 playgrounds, which receive more than three million annual visitors. As the organization responsible for managing Central Park, from day-to-day maintenance and operations to continued restoration and rebuilding projects, the Conservancy renovates and reconstructs the Park’s playgrounds one by one, applying the same comprehensive approach that has transformed and sustained Central Park as a whole.

The Conservancy’s playground work is ongoing. The Conservancy recently reconstructed Safari Playground (West 91st Street) and anticipates completing reconstruction of the East 96th Street Playground by the end of this summer. Future playground reconstructions will include Robert Bendheim (East 100th Street), Diana Ross (West 81st Street), and Spector (West 86th Street) Playgrounds.

To learn more about the Conservancy’s reconstruction of Billy Johnson Playground, and see before-and-after photos, visit restoration.centralparknyc.org/projects/billy-johnson-playground.

Photo credit: Central Park Conservancy

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Photo credit: Central Park Conservancy

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Photo credit: Central Park Conservancy

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Contact Information

Mary Caraccioli, Chief Communications Officer, Central Park Conservancy press@centralparknyc.org or 212-310-6650