Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Perfect Park

For years it has eluded me. The perfect park. To be honest, we do live in an area with an abundance of parks -- we even have one at the swim/tennis center in our neighborhood, plus two that I know of within a few minutes drive. There's a park with lots of activity centers and mazes of slides and climbing structures, all relatively new. One park has a nature-ish area near a river with a small creek, though it has been under construction since last year's floods. Another park within driving distance is right beside an airport runway. Still, I never found one that I wanted to visit every day. Until now.

A nearby city publishes a weekly paper which keeps me up on happenings in the community. This week there was an article on how some of the former county parks have recently been bought by the city. And they listed a small park that is less than 2 miles away from us that I had never heard about, though I've driven by the street a million times. So, Jacob and Ethan and I went on an adventure on Wednesday and when we discovered it, we had so much fun that we came back today and brought Gaines with us.

Top Ten Reasons I Love The Perfect Park

1. It's within a reasonable driving distance. Fairly short, actually. It's even closer to us than our former first choice for a park.
2. It is SHADY. There are trees all around the playground area, a nice shaded pavilion, and very quick access to a wooded area with some walking trails. Even in the middle of a 90-degree day we never felt like we were in the blazing sun. One metal slide got hot, but the rest were plastic.
3. Nature abounds. It feels very wooded and there is no artificial ground cover. For me, that used to be a drawback, but now that my two are walking around, I love that they can get dirty and have fun. Plus, we love walking on a well-worn path through residential woods. It's not a strenuous hike, but I feel like we get some exercise and enjoy being outdoors without getting too much sun.
4. It is in a neighborhood. Even when it was just me, the boys, and a lone tennis player in the middle of the day I didn't feel like I was secluded. There are houses directly across the street and you can see them through the woods. It fits my comfort level, since I can let the boys play without hovering.
5. It's just the right size, slightly enclosed, but with an open feel. There are only two "stations" and they are close together. Ethan can climb and slide ALL BY HIMSELF on one set and I can see Jacob sliding on the big slide nearby. One of our regular parks is just too spread out -- if one kid wanders off in a different direction I feel like I might lose the other one, especially on crowded park days.
6. The park is not crowded. The days I've been there this week, we've seen maybe one or two families (some from the neighborhood--who walked there!) but not an entire horde of summer children. The park isn't flashy or well-known enough for that. It's our hidden gem!
7. One of my favorite things -- it has a zipline! (Ok, well, sort of. It has one of those metal bars that slides across while you hang from it.) Jacob loves it. And so do I! Maybe if I come enough I can get work on my arm muscles. I'm such a weakling I can't even cross the monkey bars anymore.
8. Stroller access is excellent, but not intrusive. You can bring your stroller close to the action while staying on the sideway and it doesn't get lost admid too many play areas. This is a well-designed small park.
9. The equipment is decidedly old-school. I love it! The monkey bars are high and there are wooden platforms. It's "dangerous" enough so kids can explore and climb and yet I feel like Jacob is safer there than on some of the newer configurations. Some helicopter mom might deem it unsafe, but it's just the way I like it.
10. Family friendly. Today, since Gaines had the day off from both work and school, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch near a guy who was working "from home" with a laptop. A dad from the neighborhood walked his two kids to the park while we were there. And when we took our short hike on the nature trail, we left our cooler on the picnic table bench. It was still there when we returned, of course.

There might be one drawback -- no facilities. The first day we were there we met a mom and her young son leaving for that very reason. (That's not a problem for Jacob, though, apparently, since there are an abundance of trees not far off the wooded path(!), but I can see how if you don't plan well it could be an issue for little girls or pregnant women. Or me, if I drink too much water.)

One thing I didn't understand, though. Why did the house directly across the street have this giant new modern jungle gym in their backyard that was VISIBLE from the park?! I mean, seriously, is the public park not good enough for your little darlings? They can't cross the street to play? They might get too dirty? Now, I would love to have something like that in my own backyard, of course, but if I lived directly across the street from a place like this? I just don't know. I understand the desire to have a place to play that you can see from the kitchen window and that is completely enclosed and private. Still, I defend "my newly discovered park" as the perfect public play area. And if I lived in that house across the street, (once my kids were old enough) I'd send them across the street to play, invite some neighborhood kids, and watch from my front window. Pretty soon you'll be calling me a "free range parent". Perhaps I'm just an old-fashioned park lover.


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