The new play area at Loyal Heights Playfield in Ballard. Credit: Natasha Dillinger
While my kids are willing to endure a long car ride if we have a new playground destination, I appreciate a more local renovation from the deepest depths of my mom-shuttle heart. After eagerly watching the Seattle Parkways blog for months, I was ecstatic, as were my kids, when the new Loyal Heights Playfield play area finally opened earlier this month.
With excellent bakery options near this central Ballard play spot, we headed out to burn some energy before indulging.
Most of the time, our early-bird strategy means we have a playground to ourselves for at least an hour. Not so with this spot. With a low density of walkable play spaces in the area, it was obvious all the neighborhood families were as excited as we were to check out the new space. That said, mask usage was impeccable, and it made me smile to see small park meet-ups starting to resume.
In fact, the park’s layout seems designed to foster these kinds of mini gatherings — three picnic tables with four benches each facilitated multiple families snacking at a distance, while a handful of benches spread along the perimeter gave grandparents a place to relax.
Engaging play structures encourage skill building
My active 2-year-old frequently gets bored with structures designed for his age group, but the tot structure at Loyal Heights (similar to the one at Washington Park Playfield) features ladders that held his interest for quite a while. The structure also sits atop a patch of artificial turf, which seemed easier to navigate for the crawlers and waddlers visiting the park — and kept wood chips out of their mouths.
Soon, however, both of my kids were off to climb the tallest tower on the larger structure, designed for ages 5–12. With closely spaced rungs and the reassurance of a parallel ladder behind him, my youngest clambered to the top after his 5-year-old sister. Proudly announcing his accomplishment to the entire playground, he zipped down the curvy slide before running back to do it again.
Both of my kids stayed busy enough with the multi-level structure that I was able to chat with another parent of kids of similar age to mine — that earns a seal of playground approval from the whole family!
Blessed with upper body strength I lack, my daughter has been practicing her monkey bar skills at every opportunity. The ones on offer here are challenging — kids have to navigate a rope climber and daringly swing out to the offset bars. It took a few tries, and some frustrated tears, but she worked up to getting halfway across after an older kid showed her some tricks. Rather than feel discouraged that she couldn’t complete the challenge, she asked when we can come back to practice again.
Enhanced ADA accessibility was a main focus in this play area’s renovation plans, especially since the playground hadn’t been updated since 1996. Providing safe and smooth pathways and wheelchair-accessible tables certainly improved access through the park, but I wondered about the play surfaces themselves.
The park’s project coordinator helped highlight some of the less obvious features for me — while poured rubber and turf are considered more wheelchair-accessible, these surfaces also cost five times as much to install as wood chips, which is a major line item in a $600,000 budget. The park does use special Fibar-engineered wood, which features tightly knit fibers that are purported to be firm enough for wheelchairs to traverse and soft enough to cushion falls.
With assistance, kids with disabilities can use the merry-go-round and friendship swing. A turf area and low play features, such as drums, near the tot structure also provide some wheelchair-accessible space. In my observation, however, I didn’t find this space is as accessible as some other all-abilities playgrounds around the region, including the brand-new playground at Forest Park in Everett and other inclusive playgrounds.
Adjacent Loyal Heights Community Center typically offers a huge array of community programs, including youth and adult sports, a preschool, fitness classes and a weight room, among others. Unfortunately, the center — and its interior restrooms — remain closed. Stay tuned for reopening updates.
A grassy meadow between the play area and the community center serves as a picnic or relaxation spot. A paved path encircles the meadow and play area and it’s the perfect length for tots riding balance bikes or practicing scooter skills. A basketball hoop entertains older kids.
Take the stairs by the play area or the sloped path on the south side of the building to reach the large playfield and restrooms that are accessible from the outside.
The playfield has brand-new turf, and you’ll see local families there practicing soccer skills, playing Frisbee or just running around. Note that organized team practices, camps and games take place here, and these take precedence over public use. Also remember that dogs are not allowed on city athletic fields or at play areas.
Benefits of playgrounds
As we headed out to find our pastries, I was reminded again why I love playgrounds so much — they’re an easy family outing where kids have the chance to take risks, try again after failure and make new friends.
If you go …
Open hours: Seattle parks are open daily, 4 a.m.–11:30 p.m.
Snack time: And now the promised bakeries! Just a six-minute walk away, find legendary Larsen’s Danish Bakery. Try a slice of Kringle! Kitty-corner from Larsen’s, Saleh’s has ice cream treats, cold drinks and a regular schedule of food trucks that roll up out front.
A few minutes’ drive south on 24th Avenue Northwest delivers you to swoon-worthy Cafe Besalu. Tiny Rosselini’s, east of 15th Avenue Northwest, serves up many varieties of croissants, plus savory lunch items. On Market Street, grab a doughnut from Mighty-O) and enjoy it while sitting in the rowboat parklet (the what?!). A little south of Market, find more doughnuts at Top Pot, conveniently located next to the Ballard Trader Joe’s location.
More new playgrounds around Seattle and the Eastside: