By Kathleen F. Miller
On a recent beautiful summer day, I went looking for a place to rock my ten-year-old son’s play date. I wanted somewhere he could be outdoors with a friend, engaging in imagination-based play. I found the perfect place – Adventure Playground, a unique Mercer Island Parks and Recreation program that offers kids the opportunity to build forts, zip lines, tree houses and other play structures using real materials and tools.
Upon arrival my son and his friend were delighted when they were issued their very own toolboxes to borrow. They rushed into Adventure Playground’s wooded forest building area, eager to start using the wood and other building materials available to them. As they built their structure, nearby I watched with amusement as a little boy wrestled a hammer away from his grandfather, saying “Let me do it!”
My son and his friend's two-hour play date flew by and on the way home I was delighted to hear them plotting what they wanted to build on their next visit.
Adventure Playground takes place in the woods of Deane’s Children’s Park, also known as the Dragon Park, located at 5500 Island Crest Way adjacent to Island Crest Park. The program is available in the summer on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday afternoons (more detail below).
After signing in at the program, children receive a toolbox to borrow with real tools including a hammer, mini saw, nails, googles and gloves. Park staff are on hand to sign kids in and out and help them use the tools and materials. Staff member Allie Lafountain says she is often amazed by the ingenuity of the kid builders. “Who knew they could figure out how to make a working zip line out of rope and a piece of PVC pipe?”
An adult must accompany children age four to six. Older kids, age seven to thirteen, “may attend without adult supervision,” says Mercer Island’s Parks and Recreation Department’s Recreation Superintendent Diane Mortenson, “but parents are welcome to stay if they like. We encourage all parents to let the children use their imagination and work as independently as they can.”
The program is free and open to kids ages four to thirteen. Your child does not have to be a resident of Mercer Island to participate and it is a “drop-in” program with no pre-registration required. Every child, though, must have a waiver signed by a parent on file.
Mortenson says groups are also offered access to the program and the cost for a two-hour birthday party is $50, and off-island day camps groups are $2 per child.
There is a clean restroom nearby, several adjacent play structures and a large covered picnic area. Occasionally Adventure Playground closes and parents can confirm the program is on for the day by calling 206 275-7609, ext. 0. Also, leave your dog at home as Mortenson cautions, “dogs are not allowed on Mercer Island playgrounds.”
You could have a great day of family fun on the island by packing a picnic and visiting the swimming beach at Luther Burbank park and then heading to Adventure Playground in the afternoon.
Mortenson says parents can help ensure the program continues next summer “By contributing money and building materials through a donation. This program may be cut again in 2013/2014 unless we raise funding for it. People can donate through PayPal on our website.”
If you go
Where: Deane's Children Park, Mercer Island
When: Every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday from 1-4 p.m., through August 30. In September on Sundays, from 1-4 p.m.
Ages: 4-13; parents need to accompany kids up to age 6
How to participate: It's a drop-in program, but parents need to fill out and sign a waiver via the park’s website.
More info: Call 206 275-7609, ext. 0. or the Adventure Playground web page.
Writer and mother Kathleen F. Miller remembers her enchanted 1970s Northwest childhood camping, hiking and fishing on the Olympic Peninsula, and spending hours in her Bainbridge Island tree house.
Photos courtesy of Mercer Island Parks & Recreation