Port Jefferson Village officials reopened the space exploration-era Clifton H. Lee Memorial Park, making it officially known by its longtime nickname, Rocketship Park.
The opening caps a $900,000 renovation of the property on Roessner Lane that started last year.
Mayor Margot Garant formally opened the park on Thursday, letting in hundreds of visitors and village residents to enjoy the park’s new facilities for the first time. Garant said that the park will not only serve residents, but also promote tourism to the village.
“It’s an economic engine,” Garant said as she spoke with parkgoers at the opening ceremony. “We hope people come down and support the village of Port Jefferson, and have a good time.”
The 4,000-square-foot playground about 750 feet from Port Jefferson Harbor was originally named after Port Jefferson’s second mayor, who served three terms from 1965 to 1971. The park, which opened in the mid-1970s eventually became known to many village residents as “Rocketship Park” because of its iconic climbing structure.
The new park includes a redesigned rocket jungle gym reflective of the space exploration of the 1970s era when it opened as well as a pirate ship-like climbing structure and other playground equipment. The park also includes handicapped-accessible facilities, and the sand floor has been replaced with a rubberized surface.
“I’m very happy it’s finally open. We have been waiting for almost two years,” Marek Hyrcyz, a Polish immigrant who has been living in Port Jefferson for seven years, said while visiting the park during the opening ceremony.
Many residents said they had memories of visiting the park as far back as the 1970s, and were excited to share those experiences with the next generation of children.
“This is beautiful, I love it. I’m taking pictures to send to my adult children to show them the new Rocketship Park,” said Kathryn Gray, 69, who was a teacher in the Port Jefferson school district for 25 years. “My grandkids are coming in two weeks; they’ll be down here every weekday.”
Village officials made sure the facility would be protected. Security cameras, floodlights and speaker systems have been installed to enforce curfew hours at the park after sunset.
“We have a full-blown Parks Department, they’re going to be in here maintaining this.” Garant said. “This stuff is supposed to last for at least 20 to 25 years.”
Renovations for the park were first planned in 2013, with officials anticipating the total cost would be $580,000.
Garant said the biggest challenge in completing the park’s renovations was securing funding. The village contributed $500,000 to the effort. A $265,000 New York State parks grant for the project was secured last year. Another $120,000 was raised in donations.
“It was never meant to be completed by 2015 because we didn’t secure the money,” Garant said. “We had secured the money last year, 2016, so that’s when we decided to break ground.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story gave an incorrect date for the opening of the park.