RALEIGH — Pullen Park’s carousel, train and playgrounds have been a huge draw for kids throughout the Triangle for decades, but the park’s popularity has soared even higher following $6.3 million in renovations that wrapped up in 2011.
City parks officials don’t count individual visitors, but they do track the sale of ride tickets. Those have tripled thanks to the upgrades, from about 300,000 individual rides the year before the renovation to 900,000 the year after.
Scott Payne, the assistant director of Raleigh’s parks department, said he expected the new face of Pullen to prove popular, but “we really didn’t know the magnitude.”
The growing visitor numbers have created growing pains, most notably a shortage of parking. The parks department has partnered with Pullen’s neighbors at N.C. State and the Governor Morehead School to add off-site parking on the weekends, within a half-mile walk.
The renovation closed Pullen for two years while the 1911 Gustave A. Dentzel carousel was restored and moved to an air-conditioned building, the train got a fresh look and the playgrounds were replaced with modern equipment. The no-frills snack bar was replaced by Pullen Place Cafe, which emphasizes local ingredients and healthy meal options.
While Pullen has served as the centerpiece of Raleigh’s parks system since it first opened in 1887, today’s park looks far different than it did a century ago. Richard Stanhope Pullen donated the 66-acre property southwest of downtown to the city with a catch – the land must be a park forever or it will be legally returned to Pullen’s heirs.
Back in the park’s early days, the big attractions included a small zoo and two swimming pools made of wood. In 1921, the Gustave Dentzel carousel arrived from a failing electric company-owned park on the opposite side of Raleigh.
In 1950, the park added its first miniature train on a track circling the lake where families cruise around in pedal boats. Today’s train is a scaled-down replica of the famous Pacific Railroad steam locomotive, the C.P. Huntington.
Ride tickets are still just $1 each for the carousel, kiddie boats and train, and families sometimes can’t decide where to start. Parents often wind up chasing their kids from one attraction to the other. On Monday, a mother who suggested her kids start with the boats got quickly shouted down by her toddler. “No! Train!”, the child insisted.
Meanwhile, just a few steps from the bustle of the kids’ attractions, the rolling hills and stately oak trees of Pullen offer a peaceful setting for walks and picnics, with tables and shelters scattered throughout the park.
Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter