My ideal summer park includes a thrill-worthy playground feature, swings for DIY air conditioning and some shade for those blinding sunny days we sometimes see in the forecast. As we learned on a recent visit, the freshly unveiled playground at Kent’s Salt Air Vista Park checks all of those boxes — and read on for a bonus warm-weather feature nearby!
A neighborhood park with pizzazz
Hidden in a residential neighborhood just a few blocks from busy Pacific Highway South, you’d never know this petite park existed if you weren’t looking for it. Perhaps that’s why we had the playground to ourselves on a sunny weekday and were able to snag one of the limited street parking spots.
The gleaming giant slide caught my 4-year-old’s attention right away. Standing at nearly 20 feet tall, it reminded me of the death-defying structure at Seattle Center’s Artists at Play playground.
After a few exciting runs of his own, my son begged me to take a turn on the slide. Spoiler alert: It’s best used by kids — I tried to rack up cool-mom points, but I gave myself a friction burn on the tunnel portion of the metal slide.
Safely relegated to “Mom, watch this” duty while nursing my battle wound, I got a running narration of the climber’s cool features from my son. Kompan’s Ocean Giants structure includes access points for all ages — a stairway for smaller children, a semicircular rope climber for more experienced playground-goers and parallel bars for the most coordinated (a group that does not include me).
Once climbers reach the middle level, they can check out the action on the ground through clear-paneled “rooms” decorated with colorful decals of aquatic-themed visuals, such as an octopus and submarine. Peekaboo just got a lot more fun!
The one drawback of this setup? It gets hot. Between the metal slide and the clear panels’ greenhouse effect, the sun really heats up the climber. As much as it (literally) pains me to say this — parents, you may want to test out the structure’s temperature before sending kids up to play on a hot day.
Keep on the (shady) side
After a quick stop at the sensory panels near the park’s entrance, my son made a beeline for the swing set on the shady side of the park. Residents emphatically requested this popular playground feature in a 2020 city survey that solicited community input about the park’s renovation.
A bank of three swings — two belt swings and a toddler swing — sits in the shade of a large conifer tree, making it a perfect place to cool off after a slide marathon.
A picnic-ready grassy lawn spreads out right behind the swings, while a concrete path leads to a small forested nature play area at the southern edge of the clearing.
We didn’t test out the trails on our visit, but a few paths meander through the park towards its south-edge boundary at South 248th Street.
One of the challenges in renovating the park was improving storm drainage. The city installed a swale — a lengthy rock-lined channel — to convey water down a concrete ramp towards the woods for better absorption. Listen, I know this thing has a practical purpose, but my son will tell you that it’s obviously meant for rolling rocks down the hill to test gravity. STEM learning in process!
So, what’s the catch?
Perfection is hard to attain in a playground, even one with this many fun features. We were disheartened to find a significant amount of litter throughout the mulch under the play structure. Definitely do not let babies eat this stuff. And it wasn’t just run-of-the-mill snack wrappers; it was the type and quantity of trash that meant I had to ask my preschooler to sit at the edge of the playground while I spent the first bit of our visit filling a plastic bag from the back of the car.
After hearing similar reports from other park-goers, I contacted the city and they’re looking into it. Trash and feeling unsafe in the park also came up on the 2020 community survey, so resolving issues on a tight park budget may turn into a long-term project. In the meantime, I’d recommend parents and caregivers take a quick tour before setting kids loose on the playground.
The other limiting factor? A lack of restrooms. You’ll find a water station at the park entrance, but nowhere but the woods to go after your kid chugs a bottleful of water on a hot day.
Here’s where the proximity to Pacific Highway South actually comes in handy — and takes the surprise delicious turn I promised! A quarter-mile down the road, you’ll find a popsicle paradise at La Michoacana - Tu Favorita. Offering a dizzying array of Mexican paletas, ice cream novelties, aguas frescas and antojitos (snacks), it was so hard to resist ordering one of everything! This spot also has a restroom for customers, so you have an extra excuse to visit.
What’s better than a sunny playground outing to a fun new spot? Up-leveling it with popsicles, of course! Salt Air Vista Park has the potential to welcome lots of neighbors and occasional visitors to play, especially if the city and community can keep it clean.
If you go …
Open Hours: Kent parks are open daily, dawn to dusk.
Parking: Free street parking is available.
Facilities: A water-bottle-filling station is available, but there are no restrooms.
More playground fun: String together multiple Kent parks for a full day of action!