A visit to Seattle's new Lakeridge Playground on a snowy day. Credit: Natasha Dillinger
Some kids might call this time of year “winter,” but mine know it as “empty playground season.” We took advantage of a recent rain break to visit Rainier Beach’s newly opened Lakeridge Playground. With the recent snow and ice just starting to melt, we had the place to ourselves all morning!
The just-right play structures
Fairy tale fans: Do you remember how Goldilocks tries large, medium and small chairs before finding the perfect fit? That’s how my kids reacted to the new play space.
The tallest structure features a net climber with rings, a net arch and a big slide, but was too hard for my two-year-old and a bit slippery for my five-year-old on a rainy day.
The smallest structure, geared towards the 2–5-year-old age group, has a climbing wall and drums that entertained them for a little while, but overall was too easy.
The middle structure? It was just right for us! The kids completed circuit after circuit of bounding across the jungle gym and then giving the rainbow sensory panel a spin before scaling the tower to wave at me from the top. We found the metal ladder rungs to be slick in wet weather, so the double ladder set-up helps to offer little climbers some extra reassurance and support. My nerves also appreciated this.
During the playground’s planning phase, nearly 80 percent of community members who responded to a survey said they’d enjoy slides the most out of all available play elements. It’s clear they were heard loud and clear. There are double slides for downhill races, short slides for little legs and a roller slide that makes your voice warble on the way down.
My kids’ hands-down favorite among Lakeridge’s seven slides was the twister. Sporting slick rain pants, my kids sped down it like luge competitors at the Winter Olympics. When I protested the high speeds, they argued that with the slide’s low exit point and lingering snow providing a little cushion, it was no different than sledding down our street over the holiday break. Point taken.
After muttering a reminder to myself that risky play is good for them, their shrieks of delight almost made me wish I’d brought my own rain pants.
As with any project, there was some give and take in matching community requests with the available budget. The impressive slides and more accessible turf (which is nearly five times more expensive than the usual wood chip surfacing) surely added up in cost. These items seem to have diverted funds away from another popular feature: the swings. There are just four — one accessible swing, two bucket swings and one standard belt version. Needless to say, my kids ignored that section of the playground completely in favor of the more exciting bounty of slides.
I joke with friends that newer Seattle playgrounds seem to have a uniform of sorts (see Wallingford Playfield, Discovery Park, E.C. Hughes, Loyal Heights and more). Community members vote for a “nature-inspired” theme that ends up with muted brown and green equipment and maybe a faux-wood finish here and there.
While the equipment design might evoke nature, we didn’t find much actual nature — in the form of shrubs or tree cover — in Lakeridge’s new design. Kids can take cover under tiered play structures, but without a picnic shelter or covered seating, caregivers will want to pack an umbrella on rainy days and layer up the sunscreen in the summer.
A more accessible comfort station is under construction and expected to open this summer, but until then there are no restrooms at the park. The closest alternative is probably Be’er Sheva Park, a mile and a half away, but potty-training families should time visits carefully to avoid accidents.
Sports of all sorts
While the City of Seattle funded the bulk of the $1.9 million renovations, this park is shaping up to be a neighborhood sports destination with help from local organizations. The RAVE Foundation, the charitable arm of the Seattle Sounders, chipped in funding for a dual-purpose futsal (soccer-type sport played on a smaller hard court) and a basketball court and plans to host free youth programming this summer.
Tennis courts have transformed into pickleball courts thanks to funding from the Seattle Metro Pickleball Association.
Young athletes can access the hard courts now, but baseball or Frisbee players will have to postpone practice until this summer when improvements to the grass-covered playfields are complete.
An hour of near-constant joyful careening down wet slides eventually forced rain into my kids’ boots. But it took some convincing to get them back to the car for dry socks and snacks.
This new neighborhood play area is a great destination in any weather. Just remind me how much we love “empty playground season” the next time I complain about gray wintry skies.
If you go…
Open hours: Seattle parks are open daily, 4 a.m.–11:30 p.m.
Parking and facilities: A small gravel parking lot is located on Cornell Avenue South. Keep in mind that the new restroom building will be under construction until summer 2022.
Nearby: Grab an afternoon slice of pizza at Pizzeria Pulcinella or head up the road to Stonehouse Cafe, located in a former gas station. They were closed for maintenance when we stopped by, but they offer breakfast and lunch with a welcoming covered patio (and they have drive-in movies in the summer).
More great playgrounds to visit: