Cantigny Park opening new 'Red Oaks' playground Memorial Day weekend

Cantigny Park will unveil a new playground for Memorial Day weekend, and it doesn't take a kid's imagination to see why the opening is a big deal for the Wheaton campus.

Park leaders have treated the playground as its own attraction within the 500-acre retreat that's starting to shed some of the construction fencing tied to "Project New Leaf," an ongoing $25 million redesign that won't be finished until the end of 2021.

It has swing sets and slides, but nothing else about Cantigny's elaborate playground fits the mold. To build it, Cantigny hired Daniels Wood Land, a California-based company that created the playground at Blackberry Farm in Aurora and sets for Disney, Universal Pictures and other movie studios.

In a nod to Cantigny's history as a working farm, the dominating elements are made to look like a grain silo, storage barn and water tower. Wooden structures are furnished from California redwood and even old wine barrels.

"We wanted to find something that was unique to the area and will attract visitors and again recall the history of Cantigny, and I think we've done that. I think kids are really going to enjoy it," Cantigny Executive Director Matt LaFond said.

The park will introduce Red Oaks Farm playground - christened after the estate's name from 1896 until 1919 - to students from a West Chicago school before its public opening near a new picnic pavilion the afternoon of May 25.

This Mother's Day weekend, visitors to the park also will notice some major changes in Cantigny's gardens as the first phase of Project New Leaf construction - running through the fall - enters the homestretch. Ropes and stakes have replaced heavy-duty fencing to lift the curtain on display gardens that will soon be planted with new annuals and perennials.

"Now it's just much easier for our visitors to navigate around the gardens and have much more access now that we're starting to open up completed elements of phase one," LaFond said.

The second phase of Project New Leaf - currently being designed - will focus on the south lawn of the McCormick mansion and areas east of the Visitors Center, including the fountain, rock and rose gardens. Sasaki Associates, a firm based in Boston and Shanghai, is leading the design on the project privately funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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  The new playground structures are accessible to strollers and wheelchairs. Bev Horne/
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