Ballinger Park’s new Hazel Miller accessible playground. Credit: Natasha Dillinger
We love checking out accessible playgrounds, so for months we took after-school road trips and made unnecessary Costco runs — just to check on the construction progress of the alluring play structures. When I saw that the playground had finally opened, we seized on a sunny afternoon, grabbed the grandparents and rushed over to check it out.
A theme for everyone
Do your kids love trains? Insects? Water? Climbing? They’ll find something to love here.
Scale the ramps to get to the train-themed climber — pick up pretend tickets from the booth and don’t forget to toot the horn! During our visit, kids seemed to congregate inside the engine compartment in a very cute clubhouse style.
After kids finish their railroad “journey” aboard the play train, they can slip down the cowcatcher and make their way to a pond-themed area. This play scene features a cattail spinner and self-propelled merry-go-round. Another aquatic-themed space hosts a swing bank with two belt seats and a friendship swing.
Next, kids can hop across balance steps in the shape of flowers and a bee, then hide away in one of the honeycomb structure’s hexagonal cells.
My 4-year-old loved peeking out at older kids buzzing around the top of the honeycomb. Informative signs placed around the perimeter share more information about the critters and habitats that inspired many of the structures.
Closer to the playground entrance, find a rope climber that provides a challenge in the form of undulating hills and valleys. Fortunately, this structure rests fairly close to the ground which minimizes the impact of falls. My 7-year-old spent most of her time testing her balance here, with breaks to zip down the tall metal slide nearby.
Surfacing that was worth the wait
The installation of all those fun play elements and climbers finished up last fall, so what left us chomping at the bit so long for this playground’s much anticipated opening day? Poured rubber surfacing.
The crème-de-la-crème of playground surfacing choices allows mobility devices to cross it with ease. (Bonus: Babies don’t find it as tasty as wood chips.) However, this finicky material requires dry days — along with temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit — for proper installation. Weather-based delays around the country kept us waiting for the play area’s final unveiling last month.
The new surfacing does double duty: In addition to its accessibility for mobility devices, unique color designs serve to tie together the distinct playground zones. Follow a blue stream under the play structure to emerald green lily pads, or imagine the train chugging along the rubber tracks. Watch out on sunny days, though — the darker colors get toasty hot!
Subtle yet intentional accessibility
You can’t miss some of the inclusive features of this park — the smooth surfacing, ramp access to play structures and bucket-shaped friendship swing. These elements have become de rigueur at accessible playgrounds.
For families with disabilities or sensory processing issues, it’s the subtle layout choices that will make the playground a “must-visit.” Several barrier layers help minimize the risk of elopement for kids who struggle with impulse control. A wire fence encircles almost the entire playground, and the fence is supplemented by a graduated retaining wall. Another fence separates the park from the street.
Caregiver seating rests right by the one opening in the fence — all the better to spot any would-be escapees (and blessedly in the afternoon shade). You’ll find the usual park benches, but my parents enjoyed the gentle sway of a wide porch swing when they took a break from watching the grandkids play.
I appreciated the spacing of sensory components. Kids can play the musical chimes in one corner of the playground or retreat to the cozy quiet of the honeycomb climber in the other corner if the sounds become more jarring than soothing (um, is there space in there for me?).
Kids will also find plenty of room under the train structure if they need a darker or quieter corner for a break. Don’t miss running your fingers over a Braille sensory panel near a ship-themed seating structure.
Who was Hazel Miller?
Hazel Miller, an Edmonds community member after whom the park is named, ran the Seattle Quilt Manufacturing Company for many years, alongside her husband. Her eponymous foundation provides grants to Snohomish County organizations that focus on youth, diversity and community-building, among other causes. A contribution from the Hazel Miller Foundation, matched by one from the Land Water Conservation Fund, provided the bulk of the new playground’s $600,000 budget, and allowed architects to devote more funding to accessibility.
The playground in Ballinger Park is a National Demonstration Site, a fancy designation meaning you can scan a QR code and provide feedback on your experience. Community input can help inform the design of future inclusive play spaces.
Play for the day
Parking at this popular community park fills quickly. Don’t fret if you don’t snag a spot at the boat launch area that’s closest to the playground. Head around the corner to the community center and scoot, bike or jog along the paved pathway to the playground entrance.
After visiting on a hot day and spending an hour testing out the play area’s fabulous features, we are ready to schedule a return visit with a paddle board or floaty to cool off by the lake. The playground may have taken its sweet time to open, but I’d say a summer day spent playing and splashing proves that good things are worth waiting for.
If you go…
Find it: Ballinger Park is located at 23000 Lakeview Drive in Mountlake Terrace, on the shore of Lake Ballinger. Find the new Hazel Miller Universally Accessible Playground near the boat ramp, but you can also access the play area from the northern end of the park.
Parking: Free parking is available at the boat ramp lot. It’s a short walk on a paved trail to the playground. Otherwise, park in the community center lot and take a lengthier stroll.
Facilities: Single-occupancy toilets are available at the boat ramp.
Snack time: The Edmonds location of 85°C Bakery is just a few minutes down the road. Nearby Hemlock State Brewing Co. welcomes all ages for an afternoon rest stop. Adjacent to the nearby Costco (post-errand playdate, anyone?), you’ll find a selection of fast-casual food options.
More new playgrounds for summertime play: