The new ferry play structure at Bainbridge Island's Battle Point Park. Credit: Natasha Dillinger
“It’s the only ferry that’s never late,” joked Lisa Sheffer, Director of Marketing and Development for the Bainbridge Island Parks Foundation, as we watched kids scale walls and peer through periscopes on a giant stationary ferry.
This 47-foot-tall custom play structure is the M/V KidsUp! and it’s the centerpiece of the newly renovated KidsUp! Playground at Bainbridge’s Battle Point Park. After my kids and I disembarked from a real ferry (only a little late) for a day on Bainbridge Island, we met Sheffer, who gave us some background on the impressive new play area.
More on that in a sec. First, play time!
Custom, accessible ferry boat
In early plans for KidsUp!, standard boat-shaped play structures seemed too run-of-the-mill, so designers came up with the first-ever ferry boat climbing structure that features two ramps for access by kids of all abilities. The result is phenomenal. While there are many other enticing play features, you won’t be surprised to know that we devoted the bulk of our playground stay to the ferry, the playground’s pièce de résistance.
My five-year-old daughter and her friend slithered down a tube slide with windows and climbed every single one of the creative ladders back to the top of the deck. The playground offers pretty good sight lines, but I pretended I couldn’t see them when they played hide-and-seek. My two-year-old son loved that he could zoom down the roller slide into the sandbox, then dash back onto the ferry’s deck. The ramps made it easy for me to accept his invitation to co-captain the boat with him.
More inclusive play elements
My kids are huge swing fans, so it wasn’t long before we headed over to test out the block of swings. In the interest of science, obviously, my son made sure that all eight swings were up to snuff (you’ll find the standard, baby bucket and molded bucket swing varieties here). My daughter loved that there was lots of room surrounding the swing set, giving her space to practice jumping off and landing like a superhero.
The lack of barriers really seemed to facilitate natural movement around the space. After swinging, my daughter made a beeline to the climbable orca sculptures, then hoisted herself up to the ferry deck again before descending to the popular monkey bars. She fell a few times before making it all the way across and I was grateful for the soft rubber that cushioned her fall.
The Park District considered changes to the planned surfacing when rising materials costs sent the project over budget, but the community really prioritized accessibility and came together with additional donations to make sure wheelchair-users can comfortably zip around the poured rubber surface.
The white-sand-filled Rotary Beach features a Lookout Pier and in the design phase, it seemed to need a friendly troll or Pacific Northwest tree octopus to lurk underneath the deck. Doug Slingerland, a Park Services Manager whose own daughter grew up playing at KidsUp!, has an art degree hiding up his sleeve and created a special sculpture for this spot. It’s an octopus devouring a Mercedes that greets kids taking a break under the pier’s shade.
The wheelchair-friendly We-Go-Round structure — sponsored by a family of park donors to honor their late niece and nephew, Jenni and Kyle, who were born with disabilities — also features Mr. Slingerland’s art. In a style that he describes as Van Gogh’s Starry Night mixed with sidewalk chalk, his panels feature scenes from the park, including its astronomical observatory, trademark wooden castle towers and a parade of children of all abilities.
We all belong among the wildflowers
While the playground’s special artistic touches are sure to attract adults’ attention, my kids couldn’t stop looking at the giant wildflower planters as they ran under the wooden walkways. A local gardening expert selected the flowers and community volunteers came together in a pandemic-friendly outdoor event to plant them. The strikingly bright orange, pink and white blossoms helped draw my kids towards the accessible musical chime structures in the Sound Garden that are low enough to the ground for my son to enjoy.
Labor of love
This phenomenal new play space was years in the making. Over 20 years ago, Bainbridge parents gathered their power tools and converged on Battle Point Park to build a wooden playground full of Northwest touches. Our wet weather eventually took its toll. A trio of partner organizations — the Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District, the Bainbridge Island Parks Foundation and a KidsUp! The committee comprised of local parents — rallied the community together to orchestrate a refresh that can best be described as a labor of love.
This kind of community involvement doesn’t happen quickly. Over three years’ time, children voted with pennies on their top play priorities, committee members pored over equipment catalogs to identify just the right sensory panels and the Parks Foundation collaborated on major fundraising efforts to fund the $600,000 renovation. Together they managed to bolster the nostalgic wooden features while adding new favorites that will last another generation.
Spend the day at Battle Point Park
After enjoying a picnic lunch under one of the trees around the playground’s perimeter, my kids and their friends strapped on their helmets to explore the park on two wheels. We started at the dirt pump track before the big kids headed off to scout for ripe blackberries and circle around the various sports fields. Disc golf, softball, soccer, pickle ball and roller hockey are all on the “active” side of the park. The “passive” northern edge of the park features a pond and tranquil walking path, but my busy kids never made it there.
When my two-year-old’s nap time rolled around, we broke out the toddler carrier and headed for the Forest-to-Sky Trail — a roughly two-mile round trip hike between Battle Point Park and Grand Forest West that’s relatively flat and full of trees to climb and sticks to collect. (Sadly, the gnome home we found on a winter visit has disappeared).
After our hike, we relished a short goodbye session on the playground before barely rolling on to a late afternoon ferry towards home (sometimes slight delays work in our favor). My tired and happy daughter described the day out as “the best last day before kindergarten ever.” I’d have to agree.
If you go…
Find it: KidsUp! Playground is located in Battle Point Park at 11299 Arrow Point Drive N.E. on Bainbridge Island. Battle Point Park is about a 15-minute drive from downtown Winslow and the ferry terminal.
Open hours: Bainbridge parks are open daily, dawn to dusk.
Parking: Free parking is available at the park. While the adjacent lot fills up on busy weekends, a nearby lot is available for overflow and cars rotate out regularly as visitors finish rounds at the tennis courts.
Facilities: Multi-stall restrooms are available.
Nearby snacks: We like to stop at ivy-covered Pegasus Coffee House before heading out for Bainbridge adventures. Everyone loves a treat from Blackbird Bakery or Mora Ice Cream, but if something savory is more your speed, try a sandwich from Café Hitchcock or pick up picnic provisions from Town & Country Market.
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