Monday, September 8, 2014

Tour of Parks

Hubs had to work this past Saturday, so I was in search for something fun and simple for the minis and I to do, which meant something other than sit at home on this gorgeous weekend (in case you haven't figured it out, we're not the sitting type). I have completely lost interest in taking the kids to our usual parks around town and most of our friends (both moms and kids alike) only frequent the same parks we do, so I decided to try out some new parks. I started by doing some research on which parks we'd like to visit and opened up our park goings to Des Moines and suburbs. I compiled a small list the night before thinking we'd only be able to hit a few, but we wound up going to 12 playgrounds (plus another repeat of their fave) in one weekend!
I made my park choices by which parks had unique and different structures than just your typical "climb and slides." I must say I made some pretty good choices because the kids had a blast! I put a 20 minute time limit on each park (we stayed longer at a couple) because between getting the kids in and out of the van, potty breaks, water breaks, and snack breaks, each park visit totaled around 35 minutes or more. The best bonus of this weekend's Tour of Parks: it was completely free (minus the gas in the van to drive around town.  That was not so free).

North Karen Acres Park (Urbandale, Ia.)

  • Small, hardly used equipment
  • Park is well kept
  • Running space, basketball court, volleyball court, swing, play equipment
  • Only accessible by walking trail
  • No nearby parking (I took a chance and parked a few blocks away in an apartment complex parking lot. Luckily I put time limits on the park visits because I would not have felt comfortable leaving my vehicle for longer than 20 minutes)
  • Small, not a lot to do (but since I put time limits on the parks, this was never an issue for us. However, if you plan on visiting a park for a nice long, wear the kids out visit, this park is not recommended)

The only people at the park! I nearly jumped out of my skin when a runner on the trail offered to take the picture so we could all be in it. 
This was more like a playhouse inside than a climbing structure. The kids loved it!

Walker-Johnson Park (Urbandale, Ia.)
  • TONS to do for all ages
  • Numerous playgrounds, plus the park connects with trails and there's a pond to walk around within the park
  • Plenty of parking around (although on this Saturday it was a bit crowded, due to soccer games, but we easily found a spot in the large lot)
  • Fairly well kept

  • Lack of bathrooms (and with a lot of people this is an issue)
  • The park is so big and there is so much to do that you can't see all of the park (I had to make sure my kids stayed together so one didn't run off to a different play structure)
  • The big slides were shut down!! (read further for more details)

14 slides on this playground! Walker-Johnson is one of our favorite parks so we visit often. There are numerous play structures around (including a couple sets of swings, playhouses, and a wooden climbing area that's tucked into the trees) so this is the only one we played on this day. Typically we spend hours at this park instead of minutes. It's the perfect park to pack up a picnic lunch and spend a day playing and exploring.
The last time we were at the park (which was the beginning of summer) they had yet to put in their giant slides coming out from the sides of the hill. I was super excited because I had seen from several of my Facebook friends that they were open. I was super disappointed that they weren't open and the minis could have cared less since they weren't open the last time we visited. However, there were numerous kids around who were having not so mild meltdowns about the slides not being there anymore. If I were there parents, I would be not so happy with Urbandale Parks and Rec.

Greenbelt Park (Clive, Ia.)
  • Small park
  • Easy to get to (it's right off of 22nd Street in Clive)
  • Shaded
  • Right on Greenbelt trail
  • Perfect for kids younger than 8 years old (but not younger than 3)

  • Small parking lot area (a lot of it was filled up with SUV's hauling bikes)
  • Not a ton to do (didn't bother my kids one bit)
  • Quite muddy (yes, it had rained the day before, but it's still all dirt around the playground)
  • No bathrooms nearby
Greenbelt was the mini's favorite park of every one that we visited. They loved it so much that we came again on Sunday so they could show Daddy. The reason it was their fave was because of this "zip line type thingy" (according to Max) that none of the other parks had.

This park also has a fantastic tire swing that's big enough to easily fit three kids and moves easily. All of the other tire swings we played on were either too tall or hardly moved at all.
Max had them spinning so fast that Elizabeth nearly got sick!

Frisbie Park (Des Moines, Ia.)
  • Small
  • In the middle of the a neighborhood so mainly neighborhood kids that visit
  • A lot of running space/open field

  • Not well kept at all (the grass was super long and the playground super dirty)
  • Just a basic playground, nothing special

We went to this park because my Grandma Betty and Grandpa Brownie lived in the neighborhood and was taken to this park as a little girl. The kids enjoyed themselves despite it being a pretty basic playground. I was not happy to find someone (I suspect un-watched neighborhood kids) had taken large amounts of sand it put it ALL over the play equipment. Notice in one of the pictures Harrison is taking sand off of the slide because the bottom half of it was all sand. Also, the grass in the field is so long and thick that it was laying completely flat. When we walked through it, it came up to Elizabeth's hip area.
Elizabeth was so proud of herself of all of her playground accomplishments. Her favorite one was climbing up on the frog and riding it "all by self!"

Max's goal was to master the monkey bars this weekend. For obvious reasons (see further pictures) he did not meet that goal.....he has trouble when he gets to the "okay, now move one hand in front of the other" and lets go.

After playing at Frisbie Park, I took the minis on a "Tonka tour" and showed them my grandparent's old house and the neighborhood. It was quite the trip down memory lane for me and made me smile as I told them stories from my childhood.
I had planned this to be our last adventure of the morning, but the minis cried for "one more park! Please! We'll be soooo good!" So I obliged.

Greenwood Elementary School Playground (Des Moines, Ia.)
  • LOTS to do-there are actually two huge playgrounds, but we only played on one (the other one was a bit taller and made for older kids)
  • Play equipment for kids 4 and up (although 2 year old Elizabeth managed just fine)
  • 2 playgrounds plus running space, paved area, and a small garden nearby
  • No bathrooms (it's a school)
  • Not great for younger kids (unless your kid likes to climb and isn't scared of heights)
  • Very little parking (only a few spaces out in front of the school, but only one was taken up so it wasn't as issue. I'd hate to see what before and after school drop off/pick up look like on school days)

I had initially taken this park off of our list because it's no longer the large wooden playground I remember playing on as a child, but when the minis begged for one more park, this was the closest one. It may not be the amazing wooden playground I remember, but this new and improved playground is pretty darn cool and has lots of cool features.
The only park we visited that had a playhouse (Walker-Johnson has a few, we just didn't play in them on this day).

Elizabeth was the master of climbing equipment after our weekend at parks.

Columbus Park (Des Moines, Ia.)
  • Has some awesome equipment (and a splash area too)
  • Running space
  • Designed for kids of all ages
  • Park was well kept and updated
  • Playground is small, but has a lot to do
  • Parking lot
  • No bathrooms
  • Playground is small, so it got crowded (but since it has a lot to do, that helped a lot)
  • Parking lot is small, so if it's a busy day I suspect it could get crowded easily
So we were actually on our way to Ewing Park on Des Moines' south side, when I spotted this one as we drove by. I insisted hubs turn the minivan around so we could explore this park (it's right across from St. Anthony's school). This is one unique Des Moines park! A little on the small side (but still with a lot to do), I'm super bummed I didn't discover this park for this summer because it has a way cool splash pad (boat themed, just like the playground equipment). This park is already on next summer's To Do List.

Harrison started a trend: When it was time to leave a park, I would tell my kids to try one more thing and then come to me. H tried out going down the big slide head first....and soon every kid on the playground was doing it too.

Ewing Park (Des Moines, Ia.)
  • Huge park, beautiful for walking through too
  • 2 playgrounds (both big enough to accommodate a lot of people)
  • The best park bathrooms I've ever used (seriously, automatic flushers for the toilets, mirrors in the bathrooms, numerous stalls all stocked with toilet paper and clean, plenty of soap in the dispenser, hand towels for drying hands, and the best for anyone with a baby: a changing station)
  • Tons to do
  • Plenty of parking
  • Very well kept and updated
  • The bathrooms are a good distance away from part of the park, so you may find yourself sprinting to the bathrooms with your potty trainer (as I did)

There are two playgrounds in Ewing Park: one on one side of McKinley Ave. and the another on the other side of McKinley. Luckily, there wasn't traffic which made crossing the road easy, although I wouldn't let my kids freely run between parks (no matter what their ages).
Elizabeth has developed a love for playgrounds with tubes to crawl through, sit in, and hide in.
The coolest park I've even been too. I loved that the entire playground was on one large mat that was nice and soft. This playground was pretty crowded, but it didn't feel like it at all because there was so much to do (and all of the kids there were great about taking turns with things).
My boys were in heaven with so much to climb on!
This park had everything, including a set of outdoor musical instruments that I wish we had the space (and money) to put in our backyard for the kids. I noticed these were hardly played with, but I thought it was one of the coolest and most unique features of the park.
Max finally made it all the way to the top of one of these! He's been trying all summer.

Elizabeth wanted to "drive Daddy bye bye."
There weren't a lot of swings, but all of the kids were good about taking turns.

Kind of like a tire swing, but a disk that swings. The boys loved this!

Sargent Park (Des Moines, Ia.)
  • Des Moines' only natural playscape park
  • Well kept
  • Had a water fountain (would be fun to play in on a hot day)
  • Had a parking lot only a few feet from the park
  • Not a lot to do (but the slide and climbing the hill back to the slide kept the minis more than busy)
  • Parking lot wasn't big so I imagine it can get crowded

This park was really cool and will definitely be re-visited next summer so the kids can play in the fountain. I liked this playscape better than Jester Park's (still not a fan of Jester's sharp, slippery rocks around the wading pool area) but it had a lot less to do. It would be fun to walk along the trail that runs right next to the park and along the creek.

First Federated Church Playground
  • Hardly used playground equipment
  • Plenty to do for all ages
  • Not crowded
  • So, ummm....this is actually private property but the gates to the playground were wide open so we stopped to play for 10 minutes (I was totally going to the play the "oh I didn't know that" card if security came around)
  • No bathrooms
We drive by this playground all of the time and it's never in use (this is no longer Des Moines Christian School, only First Federated Church). The school moved to Urbandale just a year after they installed the new equipment (not the small wooden structure in the back) so this equipment is in really good shape. Not the most unique park but it was good for a quick evening play.

The minis had such a blast on Saturday, that Sunday we involved Dad and went to a few new parks with him too. We got some fuel at Perkins (where Hubs kept the minis with his antics) and off we went to Johnston and Ankeny.
My biggest issue with the parks in the suburbs is that they're nothing too special. Sure they're nice and new, but there's nothing spectacular or unique about them. I did manage to chose a few that fit my criteria.

Lew Clarkson Park (Johnston, Ia.)

  • Secluded park in the middle of baseball fields (my guess is the park is hopping during Little League games, but we were the only ones at the fields on this particular Sunday)
  • Clean and well kept
  • Good for younger kids (not older than 7 or 8)


  • Secluded (I felt like we were about to be kidnapped when I jogger came by and gave us a friendly "hello." I nearly jumped out of my skin)
  • Only 2 swings (on busy Little League weekends, I'd guess these are usually taken) and they're only baby swings
  • Not big and not a lot to do (but again, since I timed our visits, this wasn't an issue)

The ride on dinosaur was their favorite part of the park.
Not a big climbing wall at all, but our 2 year old enjoyed it.
We weren't quite sure if this was a slide or something to climb on, so we made Harrison try it out both ways. It was easier for him to climb so we deemed it a "climber."

Hawkeye Park (Ankeny, Ia.)

  • Best for climbers-they could play for hours
  • Clean and well kept
  • Nice rubber mats around the entire park (much easier on falls, which would be important with this type of park)
  • Small, but tons to do


  • Could get complicated if  there were a lot of kids around
  • No bathrooms in sight
  • Good amount of parking, but still quite a walk to/from park

We made our way to Ankeny, with only one place in mind to check out (the Kiwanis baseball park which wasn't open yet but looks way cool) when we stumbled upon this park. One thing I noticed about Ankeny parks: unless it's a school playground, they're all pretty tiny and plain play equipment. That's why when I spotted this, I wanted to see what it was. This is definitely a park for older kids and kids who like to climb. Elizabeth had difficulty keeping up with her brothers at this park (and that doesn't happen too often!). Luckily, just on the other side of a few trees there was a smaller, older play structure that had a slide.

This had the coolest climbing equipment I've ever seen!

Terrace Elementary/Kiwanis Baseball Park

  • Lots of parking (it is a suburban elementary school after all)
  • Big with lots of room to run around
  • Lots to do for ages 2 and up


  • The Kiwanis playground wasn't open yet (although that was much more of a disappointment than a con)
  • I can see this area getting crazy when the baseball playground opens (the school and baseball playground are within feet from each other--the below picture was taken while I stood at the school playground)

We already have plans to visit this baseball park next summer! There was a group of us standing at the construction fence in awe of it and talking about it's structure. There seems to be a lot to do there too.
The Terrace Elementary playground had lots to do too. The kids enjoyed finding everywhere we've been the past few months on the giant map.
This may have been Elizabeth's favorite tube of all of the playgrounds. It was kind of a slide (for her at least) or could be easily climbed up. This alone kept her busy for the entire 25 minutes we were there.

The boys mastered fireman poles during our Tour of Parks.

Sunday evening after dinner, the minis took Daddy to their favorite park of the weekend: Greenbelt Park in Clive (thankfully it's only 10 minutes or less from our house) to show off their "playground moves." We did 12 new parks, plus a re-visit of the mini's favorite in one weekend! Not only did this get us up and out of the house, moving, and spending no money (minus gas and breakfast at Perkins), but I was surprised to see the skills my minis acquired and mastered at the parks. Elizabeth perfected climbing up anything and everything and went down the tallest and fastest of slides all by herself. The boys mastered fireman poles (usually they've fallen on their asses unless they've had some help), tried new equipment and got creative with familiar equipment, and tested their physical abilities. It may sound silly, but I'm rather shocked at the skills my minis picked up during our weekend playing. We've already got a list of places we must re-visit next summer (all of those with a water feature to play in or run through) and a new agenda for our Summer To Do List: visit as many parks as we can!