Playgrounds: Try a Few of Our Favorite Picks
There’s nothing like the neighborhood playground. You’re bound to find at least a couple of familiar faces, and your kids know exactly where to head for climbing, swinging, and sliding. But once in a while, a change of scenery is good. And a trip to a different park can add a bit of the exotic to an afternoon of playground fun. Take a picnic lunch along, and you’ve got a full-fledged outing—for free!
Central Baltimore County
Oregon Ridge Park—Another Name for Kid Magnet
For a dozen years, this was the ritual: After spending any time at all at the old playground at Oregon Ridge Park, you had to take a good 10 minutes to shake the sand out of your kids’ shoes, clothes, and hair.
Well now, the old sand-surface playground has been replaced with a bright new structure that, on sunny days, draws dozens and dozens of visitors from miles around.
Oregon Ridge Park is on Beaver Dam Road in Cockeysville. It’s the site of everything from summer concerts to the 4th of July fireworks. Many visitors, however, come just for the playground whether or not something else is going on at Oregon Ridge.
The most striking thing about the new playground is the unique, springy surface underfoot. It’s a material called Pour-In-Place Rubber. According to David Goodwin, the Capital Projects Coordinator of the Baltimore County Department of Recreation and Parks, Pour-In-Place provides wheelchair users a more stable surface than wood chips. (Although both meet current Americans with Disabilities standards.)
There’s enough room for dozens of kids at once to scramble through the purple, green, and blue play structure without crashing into each other. There are no fewer than 11 slides, from gentle inclines for beginners to a giant downhill run that older kids find irresistible.
There’s a huge parking lot, plus picnic tables and benches. There’s not much shade, however, and the playground can get very hot in the sun.
For those of you who miss the swings at the old playground, take heart. In time, new swings plus additional toddler-friendly equipment will be added to the mix. By Amy Landsman.
Head for the Hills—Riderwood Hills Park
Baltimore County has been on a virtual playground-building binge in recent years. Since 1996, the County has upgraded 130 of its 160 community playgrounds. The final 30 are scheduled for completion this fall.
Riderwood Hills Park in Towson is a good example of the work that’s been done. Tucked away in a little tree-filled hollow on Kenilworth Drive, there’s a good chance you’ve driven right past it on your way to the Shops at Kenilworth next door and never even noticed.
Well, now it’s time for a second look, because the worn-out 25-year-old playground has just been completely renovated. A new play structure and swings are in place, and the County still plans to upgrade the walkway. The green, red, and tan structure boasts a zip line, suspension bridge, three slides, and swings. It has a clever pretend “rock wall” that even my 4-year-old can climb with just a gentle push on his behind.
Riderwood Hills also features basketball courts and a baseball field, picnic tables and benches, and the park is pleasantly shady in the summer.
Riderwood Hills is walking distance for residents of the surrounding homes and apartments. There’s street parking on Kenilworth Drive, or you can park at the Shops at Kenilworth and conveniently swing into the mall for lunch and ice cream after playtime is done. By Amy Landsman.
Cedar Lane Park Swings
The playground at Cedar Lane Park is enormous, with several separate structures. Kids who want to slide can choose from spiral slides, tube slides, straight slides, and side-by-side slides. Swingers have their choice of bucket or strap seats.
There’s also a track ride that kids can swing across, steering wheel panels, bouncy bridges, and plenty of places to climb.
The sprawling playground, which is made of wood, was built in 1994, says Raul Delerme, park planner for Howard County. Under foot are wood chips that are wheelchair accessible. And one of the climbing structures is also specially made with wheelchairs in mind, adds Delerme.
One disadvantage of the playground is that it doesn’t have a lot of shade. On the plus side, however, there are water fountains and rest rooms in close proximity.
The sprawling playground is part of a 100-acre park that features basketball courts, horseshoe pits, tennis courts, and volleyball courts. Cedar Lane Park is recognized as one of the finest sports complexes in the state. It can be reached from either Route 108 or Cedar Lane. The park is open daily from dawn until dusk. By Karen Nitkin.
Slide By Centennial Park
On any halfway decent day, the playground at Centennial Park is packed. Kids are everywhere, sliding on slides, steering the steering wheels, and swinging from the monkey bars on the metal and plastic playground set.
The playground has lots of climbing structures and several kinds of slides, including a tunnel slide, a side-by-side slide, and a corkscrew slide. There’s a fun-house mirror, a bouncy bridge, and overhead climbers, among other apparatus.
Above the din of happy children, the thwack of tennis balls echo from the nearby courts, while shouts and groans rise from the basketball court, which is down a small hill.
Mothers perch on the wooden curb, or help their children navigate the equipment. Wood chips cover the ground, creating a safe place for children to fall. The chips are also an accessible surface that can be navigated from a wheelchair. And, just like Cedar Lane Park, one of the major playing structures also has a ramp that makes it accessible.
The playground, built in 1996, is part of a 325-acre park at the corner of Route 108 and Centennial Lane. The park has several entrances, but the playground is best accessed from the West Area entrance off Centennial Lane.
The park also features a lake and a walking path, which is about two-and-a-half miles long. In the summer, paddleboats can be rented for use on the lake and a concession stand in the pavilion sells hot dogs, ice cream, and other treats.
There are also baseball and softball fields, a volleyball court, and picnic areas with cooking grills.
The park is open dawn to dusk from April to November, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the winter months. By Karen Nitkin.
Western Baltimore County
Gay Oaks Park—Preschool Paradise
Baltimore County hit the target right on the mark when it constructed this Little Tikes playground in Arbutus. Located off Sulphur Spring Road, across the street from Arbutus Middle School, this playground is geared toward kids ages 2 and older.
Big green plastic dinosaurs, baby swings, picnic tables, room to play ball, a fenced in tennis court, and two play structures are quickly making this brand new park a favorite among parents and their preschoolers.
One of the gym complexes stands no more than three feet off the ground and offers bumpy slides, double slides, turning blocks, mini-ladders, a bouncy bridge, and the minimum amount of platforms off which your little someone can fall.
The companion play structure is taller, but offers rails on either side so that if little ones decide to follow their older sibling, they can climb safely to the long double slide.
The park is located on a piece of land nestled between two residential areas. There are benches and picnic tables that make it easy to pack a lunch. Parents can park in the Arbutus Middle School parking lot and brave crossing the street. Or, it may be easier to park in the alley located behind a row of townhouses adjacent to the playground. By Jacqueline V. Scott.
The Christian Temple—Perfect for Playgroups
This playground is conveniently located within walking distance from several Catonsville neighborhoods, which has made this spot a local favorite meeting place for moms, dads, and kids.
Though the proximity to Edmondson Avenue to the south and a sloping hill to the north can keep some moms of runaway toddlers on their toes, there is plenty at this playground—not the least of which is other kids—to keep little ones interested.
One such attraction is the Everest of slides: a gigantic spiral slide that can sufficiently wear out a preschooler after only a couple of climbs.
Located on the grounds of the Christian Temple, this playground also offers a variety of swings, including four regular, four baby, and one for children with special needs.
The main play station features a mini and regular slide along with ladders and monkey bars. Toddlers love to stand at the wheel of the “ambulance” before they take a ride down the mini-slide.
There are several picnic tables at this site, which makes it easy for playgroups to meet here at lunchtime. Parking is easy—just leave your car in the Christian Temple parking lot. By Jacqueline V. Scott.
Harford County and Northern Baltimore County
The Lyn Stacie Getz Creative Playground—Fenced In For Fun
”If you build it, they will come” could be the motto for this playground, which literally rose from the dirt at the intersection of Route 24 and East Ring Factory Road in Emmorton, just south of Bel Air in Harford County.
The 14,000 square-foot playground was raised in five days last spring with the dedication and determination of hundreds of community volunteers and soldiers from the 16th and 143rd Ordnance Battalions. Similar in appearance to the established playground at Rockfield Park next to John Carroll High School, the Lyn Stacie Getz Creative Playground was named in memory of Bel Air residents Alan and Carol Getz’s daughter, who was killed in an apartment fire in New York City several years ago.
The park’s design, with its steeple-roofed, wooden cubicles and staircases, was influenced by the suggestions of four local elementary schools. Kids must know what they want, because this place—despite any weather—is always hopping, from sunrise to sunset.
An adult waist-high wooden fence with only one entrance/exit surrounds the playground, which allows parents to sit in the shade or on a sunny picnic bench and know their child is in there somewhere, even if they momentarily lose sight of their youngster. With dozens of activities, from a simple sandbox to tire swings—including swings designed for physically challenged children—to plastic, tubular slides, there’s something fun for all age groups, even energetic grown-ups. The hardest thing to do there is getting your kids to leave. By S.C. Torrington.
Scrap Tire Playground—Recycled Fun
Ever wonder what becomes of all those old tires taken to recycling centers? Some have found second lives as part of the Maryland Department of the Environment’s Scrap Tire Playground Project. The MDE, in conjunction with the Maryland Environmental Service, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and community volunteers have erected almost a dozen scrap tire playgrounds throughout the state.
Northern Baltimore County’s tire playground is located in the Gunpowder Falls State Park (Hammerman Area) in White Marsh.
Built in 1997 with the help of the Governor’s Summer Youth Employment Project, the playground uses whole truck tires as most of the playground equipment, including swings, obstacle courses, and climbing gyms. A kid-sized toy boat and dragster are a combination of wood and tires. Even the benches are bordered with whole tires, partially embedded into the ground. The center of the play area is a large wooden house with stairs, a rope climbing incline wall, and a double-wide sliding board.
Utilizing tires as much as possible, the groundcover consists of scrap tire chips. Nearby, there’s a cement surface with several picnic tables and barbeque grills, a large restroom, and drink vending machines.
The Hammerman Area offers several types of playgrounds, foods concessions, covered pavilions, and hiking and biking trails. On the banks of the Gunpowder River, 1500 feet of beach and swimming area (supervised by lifeguards from Memorial to Labor Day) with a windsurfing beach and independent watercraft rental make for a fun-filled day at the park. By S.C. Torrington. BC
For more information on the
scrap tire playgrounds throughout the state, call 410-631-3315 or 800-633-6101,
ext. 3315, or visit the website