2 new, huge cardinal sculptures in Downtown Cary Park are ruffling some feathers

Scott Sharpe/ssharpe@newsobserver.com

Two new additions to Downtown Cary Park have been catching people’s attention — and ruffling some feathers — as construction on the 7-acre venue continues.

The huge wooden sculptures of cardinals — one red, one red and yellow — sit perched next to a large bridge overlooking the area.

They’re in a section of the park called “The Nest,” and park visitors eventually will be able to look out of them with a “bird’s eye view,” according to EarthScape. The Canadian design-build company in collaboration with OJB Landscape Architecture and the Town of Cary is responsible for the birds.

After they arrived on five trucks from Toronto, Canada, Dennis Midkiff, moderator of the Downtown Cary Facebook group, posted photos of them with the caption: “Ladies and gentlemen ... I present Cardi A and Cardi B,” the latter being a nod to the famed rapper.

Following that introduction, a few social media commenters said they were ready for the birds to take flight before the park is even finished.

One person said the cardinals looked like “they are crudely made from Popsicle sticks” and deemed them “disappointing.”

But after a few more jokes about “Angry Birds,” the majority, however, seem to embrace the town’s new feathered friends and say they can’t wait for kids to play on them when the park opens later this summer.

How did the cardinals end up in Cary? In an interview with The News & Observer, two directors for the Downtown Cary Park provided details.

‘Bring back the red bird’

Doug McRainey, director of the town’s community projects, said the Cary Town Council made the ultimate call to include the birds in the park because, “they loved them.”

In 2018 when the master plan for the park was approved, a graphic of a red bird was included in the preliminary sketch, McRainey said.

“It was something put in just to show a large play feature and to excite the public — and it did,” he said. “In fact, Council liked it. When we went into design and we were trying to finalize things, we tried to present to Council other suggestions.”

Some of those included tree forts and a large pine cone. However, McRainey was told to “bring back the red bird.”

“So the consultants complied, and since Council was so adamant to see one bird, they brought back two birds and they were cardinals,” he said.

The red cardinal is the official state bird for North Carolina.

“Council was very, very excited. So was our staff, and we think when the park opens, people are going to love it,” McRainey said.

In the park, the red cardinal is male and the yellowish one is female, according to Joy Ennis, the general manager of Downtown Cary Park.

Ennis is at the park almost every day while construction is ongoing.

The Nest, where the Cardinals are located, was designed so children can use their imaginations and come up with games to play together, Ennis said.

Visitors will be able to climb into the birds to look out their eyes. There are platforms inside to sit on, and they have interior lighting when it gets dark.

“(The Cardinals) are very striking,” Ennis said. “I like to call it, they’re for children and for those who are young at heart. I’m definitely going up in the birds.”

Mixed reactions

The park, bordered by South Academy, East Park, Walnut and Walker streets, is a key part of Downtown Cary’s revitalization with leaders previously calling it the “crown jewel” of downtown. Construction on 1 acre of the park finished in March 2017 and includes a large fountain on South Academy Street and Town Square.

It’s expected to cost close to $69 million, The N&O previously reported. When finished, the expanded park will have an elevated Sky Walk, a splashpad, dog park, market and performance pavilion. There will be art exhibits, classes, fitness group gatherings and movies.

McRainey and Ennis said they expected to hear different opinions and criticisms about the park. That’s typical for such a project.

“They’re always mixed reactions,” Ennis said. “We feel that, especially with this project. ... We really tried to listen to the public and what they want incorporated. We know that it’s not always going to be 100% positive or 100% negative. That’s just, you know, daily life.”

That’s evident online where a few vocal social media users think the birds might want to find a different nest to take up residence. One user said Cary was moving to become the “next Asheville the way things are happening. So terribly sad.”

Midkiff, who lives with his family about a mile from the park, said people who have strong opinions about Cary transforming should recognize that the changes mean there will be more to do in town. He said he is looking forward to taking his dogs to the dog park in Downtown Cary Park, and enjoying a drink for himself at the bar.

“Once, there was nothing to do. You’d have to go to Raleigh for everything,” Midkiff said in an interview. “Now, there’s choices for restaurants and drinks.”

In an email to The N&O, Lawrence Cotton said he thought the cardinals were “fine for now” but added he doesn’t think they’ll weather well, “so they’ll be replaced in a few years. Kids should love them.”

For every comment like that were several like this from Gina Grayer, who said she loved them and “really can’t wait for the park to open. Downtown Cary is awesome. I love the growth and the development.”

Viranya Filipiak added she “kinda liked them” and thought they looked sassy.

In addition to the cardinals for Downtown Cary Park, EarthScape is also responsible for creating the playground at E. Carroll Joyner Park in Wake Forest. The group has worked to bring play areas to life throughout Canada and the United States, including Texas, Colorado, Michigan, California and Florida.

When Cary’s park opens, a project that has been years in the making, it should “knock the socks off whoever visits the park.”

“What’s exciting for us is that we’re standing there with the renderings (of the park) and it’s all coming to life,” Ennis said. “That’s been very exciting to us to look at and see it then in 3D.”