The new lunar rover replica at Kherson Park. Credit: Natasha Dillinger
Don your space suit and pack up the freeze-dried ice cream because we’re headed to the moon! The modern Space Race only requires a quick drive over to the newly renovated lunar-themed playground at Kent’s Kherson Park.
Based on our recent visit, you’re going to want to dock your lunar lander (er, car) here all summer. It’s amazing!
Explore the moon on a life-size rover replica
The new playground pays tribute to the Kent-based Boeing engineers who designed and built the Lunar Roving Vehicles in the late 1960s, paving the way for astronauts to subsequently complete more efficient moon missions.
I doubt that even in the engineers’ wildest dreams they imagined their great-grandchildren exploring an incredible life-size replica of a lunar rover. This playground rover was built by Cre8Play, the company responsible for the equipment at farm-themed Edgewood Community Park and Spokane’s Ice Age Floods playground.
My 4-year-old practically blasted off to get to the rover replica. He took control of the mission right away (not surprising at all) and directed me to buckle up and push buttons on the steering column — on his command.
The switches on this moon buggy actually work, illuminating different colored lights and producing realistic-sounding beeps and boops. Talk about a preschooler paradise!
Mission control station
We stuck with the lunar rover for a shocking-for-a-preschool-attention-span amount of time, but eventually migrated to the mission control console. This accessible play element features a low height for smaller children and is large enough to accommodate multiple kids playing at once.
While my son fiddled with knobs, I tested out a version of Simon, a memory game where a player pushes buttons following a computer-generated sequence of sounds and lights. I lost after seven turns, but I swear it’s because my son “helped.”
After a quick stop to peer through the helmet of a life-size astronaut suit for a photo op, we moon-walked over to the lunar lander to check it out. You won’t find a typical staircase to enter this custom structure.
Built at half the scale of the real deal, multiple access points to the lander replica include a springy egress platform, ladder-like landing legs and a tunnel from the ground.
After testing them all out, my son declared bouncing on the platform as the winning entrance (it’s also the easiest to access for parents who want to peek inside). Don’t worry, the springy rubber playground surface below, meant to resemble the moon’s surface, will cushion any falls.
After scaling a climbing net to the lander’s roof to scout the lunar surface, my son discovered his favorite playground feature: the intercom. While I took my position at ground control, he shouted cheesy jokes through this fun two-way communication feature. Parents, prepare for a lot of loud potty humor and hysterical giggling.
Encourage interest in local history and STEM
Developing future scientists and engineers has turned into a multibillion dollar industry, if my inbox full of expensive STEM-focused toys and classes is any indication. In constructing realistic replicas rather than designing oversimplified structures with a measly handful of buttons, playground designers here are encouraging kids’ inherent curiosity.
On top of that, Kherson Park’s play elements will appeal to a wider age range than most typical playground equipment.
During our visit, the button-packed control center inspired joy in a barely walking toddler, as well as in an older man — perhaps a retired Boeing engineer? — who passed through the park on his morning walk.
Observing cause and effect with buttons and asking questions about space technology at a free playground seems to me like an ideal and accessible way to encourage STEM learning.
I loved the park designers’ attention to detail, too. They digitally removed the real-life Lunar Rover from a vintage NASA photo and used what remained for the 40-foot-wide backdrop for the park’s duplicate version.
A short description on the lower right side of the photo informs visitors that three of the rovers designed in Kent remain on the moon and have earned a spot on the list of Washington state historic landmarks. Even the park furniture has a space theme — four sleek Orbit picnic tables provide seating for caregivers and for snack time.
While Kherson Park doesn’t have a huge footprint, its three interactive structures provided well over an hour of entertainment for my preschooler. We might have stayed longer, but our stay was limited primarily by the lack of bathroom access.
If you’re looking for an extra festive visit, mark your calendar for the park’s official grand opening on Saturday, May 20, and the free Summer Blastoff event on Friday, June 2. Word on the street is that the Blastoff event will include a screening of the appropriately space-themed movie “WALL-E.”
As if we needed another excuse to return!
If you go …
Open hours: Kent parks are open daily, dawn to dusk.
Special events: The park’s grand opening will be celebrated on Saturday, May 20, and the summer movie will show Friday, June 2. Save the dates!
Parking: Free street parking is available.
Facilities: There are no restrooms or water-bottle-filling stations available. Pack the toddler potty in your car or purchase a snack from a local business and ask to use the restroom there.
More playground fun: Colorful West Fenwick Park is a short 10-minute drive away, and Chestnut Ridge Park, also in Kent, features a large picnic shelter for a group gathering. For another space-themed park, venture to the out-of-this-world playground at the North Kirkland Community Center.