Jacksonville’s westside is a destination playground desert

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — An Action News Jax investigation found for the last year and a half the westside has been a destination playground desert.


Study after study shows kids who have access to playgrounds develop better social skills, are less likely to be obese and even do better academically. But some children in Jacksonville don’t have an equal opportunity to play. Cay County’s Clarke House Park sports multiple slides, musical instruments, and a multitiered fort.

It’s perfect for fun and make-believe. And draws the crowds to prove it. But on the westside of Jacksonville, you won’t find anything like it, and you haven’t been able to for more than a year.

The closest playground to John Mixon and his son used to be Ringhaver Park. But its massive playground has been locked up for more than a year and half. “That ain’t right. There’s a lot of kids so and they need something to do,” he said.

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The other once-great-westside playground was Tillie Fowler. The city demolished it about the same time leaving only a swing set.

It’s left families like Christian Mejia’s in a tough spot, “We have to travel pretty far to get to a decent playground. And if there’s one closer, be nice for us to just, you know, get there and head back home right after instead of having to drive really far.”

They are not alone. We talked to family after family on the westside who leaves their own neighborhood and drive a half hour to play in a park across town.

There are small neighborhood playgrounds like a simple jungle gym or swing set, but they’re also aging.

Action News Jax pulled the numbers and found of the 37 playgrounds replaced across the city in the last three years, only two of them are on the westside. What is available, isn’t new or particularly impressive said caregiver Mary Miciano, “The kids need more than that; they’re creative.” The City told us there are plans for both Tillie Fowler and Ringhaver renovations but blames extended shipping times and supply chain issues for the delays.

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A few weeks after my initial request to the city, it finally tore down Ringhaver’s old playground to make room for a new one. It was originally supposed to be complete the spring of this year, but the city has now pushed that back to summer. And Tillie Fowler’s new playground is set for the fall.

But heading into the summer break, parents aren’t thrilled with the delays or the drive they’ll have to keep making for several more months. Mejia said the demand for a new playground is very high, “We need one, and we’d like one. And hopefully the city would do their thing and give us the park right here.”

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