A new playground is always welcome news, even in the depths of winter, and Seattle's Ballard neighborhood was lucky enough to get a pair of upgraded play areas over the holidays.
The last of a list of park upgrades that Seattle Parks completed this year, Gilman Playground and Webster Park unveiled their new structures in December. Each has accessible and adventurous features that invite kids to climb, spin, slide, drum and play.
Gilman: Swing, climb and play
First up is Gilman Playground (923 N.W. 54th St., Seattle). Located about 10 blocks east of downtown Ballard, Gilman has soccer fields and basketball courts that are well known to sporty North Seattle families. Its new play structure is well-designed, with a 16-foot climbing tower, two new slides, including a fast-moving one from the new structure, and inclusive play features (such as drums) that are designed for kids of all abilities.
When my 7-year-old son test-drove Gilman playground on a recent crisp, sunny afternoon, he immediately beelined for the climbing structure, which seemed just adventurous enough for him, with ropes to climb on, around and up. As he climbed, the playground filled up with kids eager to try out the new features.
Seattle Parks and Recreation's Katie Bang says that one draw of the playground that might not be immediately evident is taller swings, which local residents specifically asked for during the public involvement process. "[Tall swings] have kind of disappeared from Seattle parks," she says. Two of Gilman's swings (including an accessible chair swing) are 9.6 feet tall, compared to the typical 8 feet height of park swings.
The climbing structure was also on the wish list. "They liked the idea of having that be a sculptural element of the park and also for play."
There is a smaller structure for 2–5 year olds, a concrete seating plaza and an accessible ramp into the play area.
Nearby fun: Also look for basketball courts next to the playground, soccer fields and tennis courts. (Note: There is a wading pool but it has not been open in recent summers.)
Webster: Rainbow slide, rocks and Nordic history
Located about 10 blocks north of downtown Ballard, Webster Park (3025 N.W. 68th St., Seattle) is a small-scale park adjacent to the Nordic Heritage Museum, which is housed in the former Webster Elementary School. The park has long been popular with neighborhood families for its climbing structure, wide-open blacktop area — great for scooting or learning to ride a bike — and its tall, rainbow-colored tube slide.
A brand-new play structure, complete with new, two-pronged rainbow slide, opened recently. The new Webster play area was also designed with some adventurous elements, according to Bang, but overall is aimed at a younger age group than Gilman. "This worked well because we had limited space as to what we could do," she says.
Toddlers and preschoolers will love the climbing structure wtih stairs, walkways, a tunnel and slides. There are also three baby swings, four regular swings and one accessible swing. A sand box area has begun to collect trucks and toys available for all.
Adventurous kids will be drawn to the climbing rocks and rope web connecting them. The blacktop area remains and is an ideal spot for youngsters learning to travel on wheels, or those needing practice on a smooth surface and away from the dangers of traffic. The blacktop area also features refurbished basketball hoops. A small grassy area can accommodate kicking the ball around or a game of tag. Two small wooded areas make good hiding spots for a game of hide and seek.
Webster Park is sometimes referred to as the Nordic Heritage Museum Park or the Rainbow Slide Park and Seattle Parks decided to keep the rainbow theme after local residents made it clear they wanted it. The new rainbow-colored slides are more tame than their predecessor, but keep the informal name going and will entertain a new set of tots.
Nearby fun: The Nordic Heritage Museum offers all kinds of kid fun, from its immersive Dream of America exhibit to special events (Pippi Longstocking breakfast, anyone?), Nordic story time, workshops and more. It's free on first Thursdays. The Scoop at Walter's, a neighborhood ice cream stop, which also has beer, coffee and a cozy outdoor patio, is close by.
More new playgrounds to check out
Here's a short list of other area playgrounds that were updated or opened in 2016.
Lincoln Park Play Area: After playing at the newly revamped playground — with new treehouse-style climbing equipment, slides and bridges, new swings and a zip line — wander the trails through the woods to the beach. 8011 Fauntleroy Way S.W., Seattle
Mount Baker Play Area: This wonderful park, which stretches to Lake Washington, boasts a new tree house-style playground with bridges, slides and ladders. Follow with a spin on the bike paths to the beach. 2521 Lake Park Dr. S., Seattle
Sam Smith Play Area: This best-kept-secret playground on the I-90 lid includes a renovated play area, adult exercise equipment and tennis courts, an off-leash area, and a sculpture by Seattle sculptor Gerard Tsutakawa.1400 Martin Luther King Jr Way S., Seattle
Big Rock Park: This natural playspace, the first of its kind on the Eastside, includes whimsical features and opportunities to create. 21805 S.E. 8th St., Sammamish
Lake Sammamish State Park playground: This new destination playground features a challenge course, zip line, climbing dome and accessible play equipment. 2000 N.W. Sammamish Road, Sammamish