The saga included a fire at the playground equipment manufacturer’s facility, a concrete workers’ strike and record-breaking rainy weather. All caused snafus and delays. Originally scheduled for completion last fall, the unique new playground, known as Train Park, finally opened late last month.
My son and I eagerly toured the new space just after its completion. Spoiler alert: With lots of never-before-seen play elements to explore, it was well worth the wait!
The little engine that could
The undeniable centerpiece of the playground is the Mercer Island Express train climber, complete with tracks painted along the cushy rubber surfacing. Wheelchair users can even slip into the engineer’s seat and join friends for a pretend ride.
Kids seemed to naturally gravitate towards the structure, climbing the imitation rock hill at the rear or scaling the ladder on the side. While older children will enjoy risk-taking play, I worried a bit about my three-year-old at the top since there are minimal guard rails. Parents, stay close if you’re not ready for your kids to take up train hopping just yet.
Maximizing space and connection
You won’t find a dedicated toddler structure at this playground, but honestly? I didn’t miss it. Features that make this an inclusive space for kids of all abilities also invite younger kids to play comfortably alongside their older siblings.
Zig-zagging ramps make excellent use of a smaller footprint and lead to multiple unique sensory panels. My preschooler joined new friends searching for shapes inside the Treasure Tumble panel, and later he raced primary-colored cars across the Spin Racer.
Kids with autism or anyone needing a sensory break can head to the cozy spaces underneath the playground equipment. I even saw a few parents enjoying a chat under the multi-leveled ramps while their kids ran overhead. While not completely fenced, families with escape artists will appreciate hedges creating natural barriers and a section of metal fencing preventing most access to the street.
Kids playing together
Our visit coincided with a busy afternoon, so my son bopped between the swing bank and the spinners as equipment opened up. There are two individual spinners and a tall cone spinner that never seemed to stop as kids worked together to keep it twirling.
When he finally got dizzy, a Balance Track made for another welcome addition. Rather than a narrow balance beam suitable only for the gymnasts among us, these panels are a bit wider and feature hand rails that make them perfect for younger kids or anyone who needs a hand. I loved watching a game of “the turf is lava” develop naturally as kids jumped between the track’s panels.
A whole ground-level section of the play area is devoted to musical elements including chimes and drums. My son waited impatiently for a turn spinning the cabasas — these stand-alone elements resemble Latin percussion instruments and were fun for everyone from tiny tots to grandparents demonstrating how to use them.
Plan ahead for breaks
Restrooms are available, but they’re clear across the park and I’m not sure potty-training toddlers could make it in an emergency.
I was grateful that we happened to have my son’s bike in the car. He happily rode it to tour the picnic area (also far from the playground) and ogle the skate park on our way to use the facilities. For parents of multiple kids, it’s worth noting that standing near the water fountain will get you fairly clear sight lines of both the skate area and the playground in case your crew wants to split up.
Benches haven’t been installed yet, so caregivers had to stand or make themselves comfortable sitting on the playground surfacing (I’m just glad it’s not wood chips!).
Whether you’re a local shopping at the Sunday farmers market or a parent looking for a convenient playdate meet-up between Seattle and the Eastside, the unique train climber and cool play elements make this long-awaited new playground well worth a visit.
If you go…
Open hours: Mercer Island parks are open daily from 6 a.m.-10 p.m.
Parking and facilities: Free parking is available in a lot off of Southeast 34th Street. Find the drinking fountain near the entrance to the playground. Cross the lawn diagonally from the playground for a restroom building hidden among the trees.
Pack: We recommend bringing along a blanket or chair for caregiver seating until benches are installed. Bring bikes for pedaling along the paved path or exploring the skate park.
Nearby snacks: My son fell asleep in the car on the drive over, so while he finished his nap, I treated myself to coffee and a pastry from La Fête Patisserie. Pagliacci Pizza is right across the street and the Mercer Island Farmers Market takes place on the north side of the park on Sundays from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
More train-themed fun: Check out the new playground in Lacey’s Depot District, ride the rails on these 10 railroad adventures, stop for a train play break on a walk at Marymoor Park or head to the classic Depot Park in Issaquah.