Wheaton Regional Park

Wheaton Regional Park is a large playground centrally located on the northern side of Silver Spring.  It was a well-loved playground for many years and has recently reopened with a complete redesign and brand new equipment.

Features:

  • climbing features
  • climbing walls
  • swings
  • bucket swings
  • sand pit
  • slides
  • merry-go-round substitutes
  • a very large climbing mound
  • climbable animal sculptures

Amenities:

  • water fountains
  • restrooms
  • picnic tables and shelters

Nearby:

  • miniature train
  • carousel
  • Brookside Gardens
  • numerous hiking trails

Pros:

  • Equipment geared toward older kids
  • Some exciting climbing features, including an interesting wall and a rope “spider”
  • A large space with two tiers
  • Close to other exciting things like the train and carousel

Cons:

  • A lack of shade in most of the park and no prospects for trees to grow in
  • Flimsy equipment that is already broken after just a couple months of use
  • Space that is difficult for younger children to navigate and possibly even dangerous (there are a couple of 6 foot drops) if they’re not watched closely

Farrar’s Review:

It’s hard not to begin by comparing this new playground to its former self.  The old playground was a bit larger, with mostly wooden equipment that was more accessible to a wider range of kids.  There were more features to list which have now disappeared, including tire swings and towers.  There was also more shade available and a much more organic feel to the space.

Some of the new equipment is exciting.  I’m a fan of the rope “spiders” that you see more often in Europe.  This one isn’t huge, but it’s nice to see a reasonably sized one around here.  The mound is an excellent feature.  Kids climb to the top for secret conferences and roll down the sides with abandon.  The cement climbing features that take kids up to the higher tier are also neat and give kids the sense of special entryways.

However, those climbing walls are also a problem for younger kids.  The drop off is pretty big and there’s not much warning.  The fencing along the side looks nice, but then there’s also unattractive chain link fencing on the extremely long (many, many yards!) handicapped accessible ramp that runs from the path.  The two tiers also means that parents who don’t feel like climbing have a bit of a hike to get around.  All that is small though when you consider that the slides have already broken with a scant month of use.  They just look flimsy and there’s little chance they’ll ever be consistently in working order.  Plus, I’m simply not a fan of a lot of the commercial equipment they installed here.  Some of it is fine, but the piece called a “mushroom” by my kids is especially annoying to me.  It’s a merry-go-round replacement, but because it’s installed so high, even my 7 year-olds need help to use it properly.  I’m against any equipment that requires parental help for school-aged children.

Overall, it’s a fun playground with some good points, but I can’t help miss the old one and the kids felt much the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ellsworth Park

This small park in Silver Spring just off Colesville Road is within walking distance of all the downtown attractions.

Features:

  • climbing features
  • swings
  • bucket swings
  • tire swing
  • slides

Amenities:

  • water fountains
  • game tables

Nearby:

  • Silver Spring Library (where bathrooms can also be found)
  • tennis courts
  • walking distance to downtown Silver Spring and all the businesses there

Pros:

  • lots of shade
  • lovely old wooden equipment
  • a great use of a relatively small space
  • convenient as a stopover playground for a variety of errands

Cons:

  • small space
  • nothing especially spectacular as it’s just a neighborhood park

Farrar’s Review

I admit it.  I have a bias toward the old wooden playgrounds, but just look at this place!  It’s not more than a small, shady neighborhood space, but just look at those crazy configurations of wooden posts.  They rise out of the ground into little cubic mounds like an old video game and thick planks criss-cross the landscape making it perfect for an old fashioned game of dirt, but low rise enough for intrepid preschoolers to enjoy.  The layout of the space is in an L-shape.  In the middle, the wooden theme is continued with little rings around a small garden space and a plaza of game tables and some benches.  The other arm of the L is more traditional, but older metal and plastic commercial equipment with some standard tunnels and slides. A tiny grove of trees on the far end makes for a nice spot of secret spaces.  Both my kids love this place and it’s easy for me to see why.

Cabin John Regional Park

Cabin John Regional Park in Rockville, Maryland is one of the larger playgrounds in Montgomery County, with a sprawling play area and a variety of equipment.

Features:

  • swings
  • bucket swings
  • slides
  • climbing structures
  • toddler play areas
  • musical play equipment

Amenities:

  • bathrooms
  • sheltered picnic areas

Nearby:

Pros:

  • The shade and tree filled landscape make this playground inviting.
  • The size of the play area is very large.
  • The good location not far from the intersection of I-495 and I-270, plus all the nearby fun things, like the miniature train, make this a well used park.
  • Plenty of good picnic spots are available.

Cons:

  • Watch out for your toddlers as there’s no boundaries to the large play area.  It’s easy to lose a small child here.
  • Thanks to all the snacking, the central picnic area is often full of yellowjackets.
  • There’s no central design to the playground.
  • Despite the scale of a playground for older children, most of the equipment is intended for younger children.

Mushroom’s Review

I wish it was like the pictures I saw on the computer. I think, it was a lot better back then.  Apparently they shut it all down.  This park is for little kids.  There is a big slide that was okay.

BalletBoy’s Review

I liked the park.  It wasn’t as good as I expected though.  I thought it would be wooden.  I liked the slides there.  I only did them one time though.

Farrar’s Review

We had not visited this playground in years, so we took a trip up to reevaluate it.  After all, I hear constantly from parents that this is a great playground.  It has even won polls in local magazines.  Unfortunately, we all found it really disappointing.  The landscape of the playground is excellent.  The trees, the hilly atmosphere and the size of the area make you initially excited.  However, the equipment is just so dull overall, that there’s not really a reason to make this a destination play spot.  If you live nearby, then I’m sure it’s a fine place to play, but for a space with so much potential, it’s almost painful to see how they’ve wasted it.  From a design point of view, there’s absolutely no unifying feature.  Equipment from multiple corporations, bought and installed at various times is scattered around with no real sense of flow.  Mushroom and BalletBoy wandered from one piece to the next, but they never got inspired by the space, which is unusual for them.  From the images, you can probably get the sense that these pieces of equipment are relatively widely spaced, which might have worked, but didn’t seem to do much for my kids.

To make matters worse (and explain Mushroom and BalletBoy’s reviews!), if you click on the website for the playground you’ll find three small images at the top of the page.  The first one shows toddler equipment that’s still at the playground.  The second two show the old Cabin John playground, a large wooden structure that made use of the hilly landscape to give the slides some extra height and seemed to have tire features and long passages from one part of the playground to the next.  That’s all gone.  Only a small wooden gazebo-like space is left of the old playground.  Having seen those pictures as I grabbed directions before we left, the kids spent most of their time sulking that the playground was such a letdown.  Where were the old wooden parts, they wanted to know.  Me too, kids.

Worst of all, this makes me depressed about the outlook for the Wheaton Regional redesign, slated to open next month (if it’s still on time).  Clearly Montgomery County can show at least some creative thinking with a playground like South Germantown Regional Park’s, but will the Wheaton redesign be decent like that or as half-baked as Cabin John?  It looks like there will be some excellent big slides, but will there be anything else?

South Germantown Adventure Playground

South Germantown Recreational Park is one of Montgomery County’s larger park facilities, located just off I-270.  There are a couple of small satellite playgrounds there, and a large “Adventure Playground.”  First up, if you’re familiar with the term “Adventure Playground” then I have to point out that it’s a misnomer in this case.  As disappointing as that is if you were hoping to find a little leftover bit of the 70’s in Germantown (when put that way, it does seem rather unlikely, doesn’t it?), it’s a large playground that’s worth the trip if you’re in the area.

Features:

  • swings
  • bucket swings
  • handicapped swing
  • slides
  • climbing features
  • musical play equipment
  • large climbing wall
  • climbing statues
  • spring seesaws
  • concrete and hard surface play spaces
Amenities:
  • bathrooms
  • sheltered picnic areas
Nearby:
  • splash park
  • mini-golf
  • driving range
  • indoor swim center
  • nearly every kind of sports field and court you can imagine
  • archery range
  • a small dairy museum
  • walking trails
Pros:
  • The scale of the playground is very large.  Not only is it a large space, but they used it to install large imaginative structures, in particular a tall castle with multiple slides and rope bridges and a sprawling ship.
  • Plenty of adult seating well-placed to take advantage of the shade.
  • One interesting feature I haven’t seen elsewhere, which is the giant disk swings.
  • A ton of room for kids on wheels, both around the playground’s blue “moat” path and on the concrete spots around.
  • Plenty of mowed green space all around, including a shady area for old-fashioned picnic blankets.
  • For the size of the playground, it’s practically empty sometimes.  Weekend or weekday, it’s always in use, but I’ve never seen it really crowded.
Cons:
  • The landscaping is still growing in, so the structures themselves don’t get much shade.  They’re mostly wooden, so they can handle it better, but in summer, be sure the kids have sunscreen.
  • A relatively minor quibble to most, but the design has some random elements (a tiny bulldozer?  an elephant?) that doesn’t fit in with the rest and seems wasted in this space.
BalletBoy’s Review:
I like this playground because you have a lot of adventures here.  There’s a whole big map that’s just a big space for showing where you traveled.  And it’s good because it’s mostly an imagination park.  You can pretend you’re in a castle and having an adventure or you could have an adventure in the Amazon and you can find that on the map that’s on the ground.  I also like pretending I’m in a labyrinth on the bricks and I’m trying to escape from the castle.

Mushroom’s Review:

Farrar’s Review:
There’s much to recommend this park, and not just its proximity to the popular splash park or your local soccer game.  First and foremost, the scale of the castle and the ship are of the sort you don’t see at most playgrounds.  There’s some great attention to detail, such as the chess style benches in front of the castle, and the giant throne style ones in back, not to mention the blue “moat” that goes around it.  More play structures should have rope bridges and both tall and secret underneath spaces like the castle here does.  I also really like the concrete animal sculptures and the old molded concrete benches which are most likely salvaged from an older playground.  They’re super comfortable.  My biggest quibble is that they didn’t take some of it far enough.  Why have a separate climbing wall?  Why not extend the castle and let kids climb the side (maybe with long Rapunzel braids painted on)?  Why not turn the bricked area behind the castle into a sort of castle courtyard with an enclosed feel?  While I appreciate that most of the features are cooperative play features (no single little bouncy, turny things for individual kids to wait in line to use) and the use of wooden structures, there’s still a lot of pre-fab play items, which isn’t my personal taste.  Still, if you’re going to have a traditional playground with conventional equipment, this is the way to do it, with scale and a little imagination.  This playground is a pretty long haul for us, but we make it up there a couple times a year at least because it’s worth the trip.