Safari Playground Reconstruction

Our reconstruction of Safari Playground maintained its beloved theme while introducing new and enhanced play features and improving accessibility.

Safari Playground, between Central Park West and the West Drive at 91st Street, features sweeping views of the Reservoir. The original playground in this location was built in 1936, and was one of many playgrounds constructed inside the Park’s perimeter under the direction of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses. It initially featured swings, slides, sand tables, and a water spray feature.

Rebuilt in 1997 as Safari Playground, it was the only Park playground that did not contain any traditional play equipment such as swings, slides, and sandboxes. Instead, the playground featured two treehouse structures and hippopotamus sculptures set within a “river” of safety surfacing in a pattern evocative of flowing water. A spray feature located in the south end of the playground provided opportunity for water play during warm months.

Children playing on the boat and hippo equipment

Playground before reconstruction

While Safari Playground is geared toward children ages 2 to 5, children of all ages enjoy its openness and the opportunity it provides for unstructured play. The sculptures encourage exploration, climbing, and imaginative play. Our most recent reconstruction updated and enhanced the existing play experience, created a wheelchair-accessible route to the playground from the Park perimeter, and better integrated the playground with the Park. Our work included:

  • Enhancing the existing Safari theme by constructing a series of play mounds around the central play space
  • Incorporating wood climbing elements, platforms, and slides in the largest play mound at the northern end of the playground
  • Introducing new play canoes, and replicating the existing hippo sculptures, and reinstalling them on safety surfacing that transitions from blue tones representing the river to brow representing dry ground
  • Constructing a user-activated water spray feature in the river-themed area at the southern end of the playground.
  • Creating a wider border between the playground and path, which will enhance the connection between the playground and the Park landscape
  • Replacing the seven-foot steel picket fence, which was installed in the early 1940s, with a four-foot fence
  • Regrading the entrance path from West 90th Street and building a wheelchair-accessible ramp set into the restored landscape.

Three of the hippo statues in the playground

Hippo sculptures after reconstruction

This project is part of the Conservancy’s effort to guide the continued stewardship of Central Park’s 21 playgrounds, as outlined in Plan for Play: A Framework for Rebuilding and Managing Central Park’s Playgrounds.

A wide view of the reconstructed Safari Playground

Playground after reconstruction

Also in the area