The new inclusive playground at Everett's Forest Park. Credit: Natasha Dillinger
With a clumsy, yet overly confident, toddler as my primary companion these days, I often seek out playgrounds with features geared towards kids of all abilities. With lower slides, ramps and fewer tripping hazards, inclusive play spaces welcome kids with disabilities and their non-disabled friends to play together.
When I showed my 2-year-old pictures of the recently opened playground at Everett's Forest Park, he climbed into his own car seat to head over and play.
Inclusivity at its best
Occasionally, playgrounds touted as “all abilities” include one or two small elements for kids with disabilities. Forest Park, however, could practically serve as a catalog for the options available in inclusive play spaces.
The new playground opened quietly in November 2020. It was installed by PlayCreation, the company that partnered with Landscape Structures to create local gem playgrounds Juanita Beach Park, Yesler Terrace and Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park. The design at Forest Park presented some fantastic, new-to-me features.
This was the first time I’d seen structures such as the We-Go-Round, a merry-go-round that allows wheelchair users to glide in and lock in place before turning. It was my toddler’s favorite structure — he kept returning to it again and again, knowing he could run in and out safely.
A wheelchair-accessible ramp leads to a sway fun glider (similar to a see-saw) and roller slide, perfect for a gradual descent down to a soft turf play surface that cushions any falls. A friend with a disabled child has told me that wheel-friendly surfaces (such as turf or poured rubber) can make or break her son’s playground experience, and I was pleased to see one at this park.
For the swing fans in all of us, two bucket-seat swings (one for the 2–5 age group and a higher one for the 5–12 set) sit alongside the more traditional types. During our long park visit, I saw everyone from babies to grandparents relishing the breeze in their faces on the gently swaying disc-shaped Oodle Swings nearby.
My son loves experimenting with loud sounds, and my ears were happy to let him practice outside for a change. He loved the chimes and drums, but the sensory wall with its strikable key chimes and tunnels to go duck under kept him entertained for a while. Even better — in a time when interactions with other kids have been few and far between, another toddler wandered over to investigate and the two of them played a sweet duet. It took about two minutes before they ran off to explore something else, but I got to chat with another adult during those short sweet moments.
Space for everyone
My kids know the family playground rules — we enjoy community resources responsibly and leave if the space gets too busy or if there are too many unmasked people. With roughly 10 distinct play structures at Forest Park, we could comfortably distance ourselves from the handful of maskless folks on the weekday morning when we visited — not to mention entertain ourselves for hours.
A forest-themed space attaches to the ramp-accessible play structure. Older kids will find lots to occupy them here — there are plenty of climbers and a tall slide that rose 3 feet over my head. It took everything in me not to holler “Be careful!” as my ambitious little one decided on a summit attempt. He made it and gave me a mischievous grin before triumphantly descending the slide.
Past the two-story spinning global motion climber we found a bug-themed play structure best suited to the 2–5 age range. A cozy dome that looks very lady(bug)-like provides a fun hiding spot, as well as a possible shelter for kids on the autism spectrum who need a quiet place to regroup.
Rosie the Elephant, head greeter
I love seeing a bit of local history incorporated into a playground, and Rosie the Elephant provides a perfect focal point for those in the know. Forest Park previously housed bears, elephants and peacocks during its time as a local zoo (1914–1976). While the zoo ultimately closed amid concerns about the animals’ living conditions, this elephantine statue memorializes the park’s previous inhabitants, including her namesake, Rosemary the Elephant. Bigger kids will enjoy the fun challenge of climbing atop her back, while younger kiddos can hop up, with a parent's help, to pose for a cute photo opp.
For now, animal fans will have to head to other farms and petting zoos around the region to get their critter fix — Forest Park’s animal farm is closed for 2021.
Likewise, the indoor swimming pool at Forest Park's swim center remains closed, with no immediate plans for reopening. The City of Everett does plan to open the popular splash park this summer. It’s currently fenced off pending some repair work, but water-loving families can keep an eye on the Parks Department’s Facebook page for updates.
I’ve already planned a return visit with my daughter, since I know she’ll love making her little brother dizzy on the playground’s variety of spinners. Who knows, maybe we'll even have time to take a short hike on one of the park’s trails. There's plenty of fun to be had at Everett's Forest Park.
If you go …
Open hours: Everett parks are open daily, from 6 a.m. until dusk.
Parking: A large lot with free parking extends from the animal farm area down the hill toward a few trailheads, so there’s plenty of space.
Facilities: Multi-stall restrooms were open (and clean!) during our recent visit.
Nearby snacks: A staff person at The Loft Coffee Bar in downtown Everett won our family barista-of-the-year award when she piled whipped cream, sprinkles and a gummy bear onto my son’s hot chocolate. Bonus: We got to watch construction across the street as we enjoyed our drinks outside.
For lunch, pick up pizza slices at Brooklyn Bros. Pizzeria a couple of miles away in downtown Everett.
More North Sound-area play stops: