Category Archives: Eastside Parks

McAuliffe Park – Kirkland

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After 30 years on the Eastside, and 6 in Kirkland, I had never been to McAuliffe park. I’d driven by on 116th countless times, but from the road, it didn’t look like much, so I never stopped in. But then on the Kirkland Rocks Facebook page, people would often post that they’d hidden beautiful painted rocks at McAuliffe for kids to find. So, finally we went. And this park is a unique gem!

It’s at 10824 NE 116th Street; halfway between Totem Lake and Juanita Village.

It’s 11.6 acres, with lots and lots of wide open lawn, shady orchard trees to throw out a picnic blanket below, a playground, picnic tables, nature trails, a community pea patch with 35 plots, an antique barn, 2 windmills, and lots of ancient rusted farm equipment and old gas station memorabilia to explore.

The community learning garden features permaculture principles, annual vegetables grown with organic practices, a new rain garden, and water and resource conservation. The Tilth Alliance offer classes at the park.

The property was homesteaded in 1877, and only two families owned it between that time and when the Kirkland Parks department acquired it in a series of purchases from the 1990’s through 2017. Read more (and see more pictures) on Active Rain, and in the Master Plan report. (Note: the master plan from 2005 had grand visions for the site, but it does not appear most of them were implemented.

We visited in the midst of coronavirus season, and there were maybe 30 people we saw there, spread out over 12 acres, so easy to socially distance! The playground was closed when we were there, due to quarantine, but people were hard at work in their plots in the community garden, and a few families were relaxing in the shade. It struck me as a great place to take 3 – 8 year old children where the parent(s) could sit and relax and the kids could run quite a ways, and play while still being safely in the parents’ sight. There’s even some nice low climbing trees.

It’s a park well worth visiting when you’re in the mood for a little wandering around and exploring or a little sitting under a tree reading a good book.

 

 

Low Contact Parks on the Eastside

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Update on 7/30:

Current state guidelines on outdoor activities do allow for outdoor activities such as walking, hiking, running or biking at each phase of re-opening. In phase 1 it’s only with people from your household. Phase 2 allows for outdoor recreation involving five or fewer people outside your household, camping, beaches, some sporting activities.

State recommendations and King County recommendations are

  • people with flu-like symptoms should not participate,
  • know before you go – check to be sure you know the status of the park before going (I’ve tried to include links below for finding the current status)
  • stay close to home – this is not the time to travel long distances (could carry disease with you) and prepare for facilities to be closed (bathrooms may not always be available) – bring your own food, water, and hand sanitizer
  • practice physical distancing – use face masks in any situation where distancing is not possible

And please, Please, PLEASE respect the guidelines!!! If lots of people violate them, the parks get closed down again. 😦

Choosing a Less Traveled Path

When planning an outing, the first parks that come to mind are the most popular ones – Green Lake, Alki Beach, Marymoor, Rattlesnake Ridge. But these can get crowded. But in King County, we are blessed with so many fabulous public spaces outdoors. Here are some less well known gems to consider for your walks during this time. (Some of these are bike-friendly, some are not: check bike maps for bike trails.)

If a park has a playground you would have to pass by to get to the trails, I’ll make a note, because I know it could be super hard for some little ones to see a playground and be told they couldn’t play there. Below, I’ll link to websites for city parks departments. Here’s the current status of King County parks, and Washington state parks.

Bellevue

Bellevue Parks has over 2700 acres of parks and open space and over 90 miles of trails! There’s a map of Bellevue Parks here. Here are the current covid-19 policies for Bellevue parks.  Some options to consider:

Lake to Lake Trail System is ten miles of trails. You could park at many spots along the way and just do a portion of the walk. The Lake Hills Greenbelt is from Phantom Lake to Larsen Lake. Larsen Lake Blueberry Farm has plenty of room for wandering up and down the rows.

Coal Creek Natural Trail is near the Cougar Mountain trails, but has fewer hikers.

Lakemont Park is 16 acres with 3 miles of trails. (The playground is right next to the parking lot, but if you’d rather avoid that part of the park, you could park at the nearby shopping center and there’s a footbridge into the park.)

Lewis Creek has a 2.3 mile walk that takes you through wetlands and meadows. (Playground at one end, but easy to avoid.)

Mercer Slough is 320 acres. It’s got multiple trails to hike to view wetlands and meadow.

There are three parks I know of that you might never know had a mile or more of hiking hidden in them.  Robinswood Park – near Bellevue College. Here’s a trail map, with one of our favorite trails through the woods marked out on it. Ardmore Park – near Microsoft.  Zumdieck is just north of downtown, and has a nice little loop through the woods. These are all great hikes for younger kids – I’ve done them with many three year olds, also good for elders who aren’t looking for an endurance hike. All three have playgrounds.

If you want a more challenging, straight uphill in the woods hike, try the Weowna Park Trail up hill from Lake Sammamish.

If you’re just looking for a place to sit and read or have non-social play, there’s also tons more parks, both big and small. Some have playgrounds, some don’t. There are also lots of “mini-parks” and “corner parks” that aren’t much more than some grass, some trees and a picnic table. (We ate at one of those the other day, but we threw a blanket out on the lawn rather than sitting at the table, where virus concentrations might be higher.) Check on the Bellevue Parks website to learn more. And more Bellevue trails are listed here. Click here for: Bellevue’s covid-19 restrictions.

Crowded Parks – may want to avoid

Avoid Downtown Bellevue Park – it’s often crowded on sunny days – leave this to the folks who live downtown and may not have cars. Same thing for Crossroads Park, which can be crowded and is in another neighborhood where lots of folks don’t have cars to take them to other options. I would leave Bridle Trails for the horse folks to get the outings that they and their animals need. I would avoid the barn area at Kelsey Creek park which may be more crowded, but there is a nice .9 mile walking trail there, which should be fine.

Kirkland

Here’s the Kirkland Parks map. Here are the current covid-19 policies for Kirkland parks. Some parks to try:

McAuliffe Park (between Totem Lake and Juanita Beach) is a big park with wide open grassy fields, shade trees, an ancient barn, vintage farm equipment and wind mills.

OO Denny – north of Juanita, near the Kenmore border. Nice beach area. (There’s a playground there.) What many people don’t notice is that on the other side of the road, up the hill, there’s a few miles of fabulous wooded trails (here’s a trail map with points of interest). It’s a pretty challenging steep climb, but beautiful. When we went on a beautiful day in late April, we hiked two hours, and passed maybe 20 people.

Big Finn Hill is also on the border of Kirkland and Kenmore. It’s got 9.5 miles of trails back behind the playground.

Carillon Woods – near Northwest College. Some trails into the woods, pretty hilly. I wrote a post about it, though it mostly covers the playgrounds, which are closed now.

Edith Moulton – between Totem Lake and Juanita. Here’s the schematic for when it was re-designed, which includes detailed maps. It’s got a nice easy walking loop.

Juanita Bay (around the corner from Juanita Beach) has a nice path to look over the lake. You may see turtles. The boardwalk there has looked a little crowded when we’ve driven by near dinner times.

There’s also some parks I know nothing about, like “Cotton Hill Park – undeveloped.” Looks like it at least has a trail? Juanita Heights, Kingsgate and Norway Hill also have trails.

Places to sit and read/work outside: Everest Park – I like parking at their north parking lot and sitting by the stream. (The playground is out of sight from there.) Peter Kirk in downtown Kirkland, Terrace Park in Houghton – both of those have playgrounds.

Parks to Avoid

Here are some parks I normally love… but they’re basically small parks with big playgrounds, that are closed, so if that would make your small child sad, avoid Tot Lot, Phyllis Needy, Reservoir, Van Aalst. On the other hand, they’re a fine place for older kids or adults to spread out a blanket and read, or play frisbee with household members and so on.

Juanita Beach, Marina Park, and Houghton Beach can get really crowded on sunny days. Whenever we’ve gone to Marina Park on a sunny day this year, it has felt a little crowded for my comfort. I mask when I’m walking through, but take my mask off if we’re sitting at a distance from others.

Kenmore

Here is Kenmore’s Covid-19 info.

Rhododendron Park has a short trail – a nice amble for a young child or an elder.

Wallace Swamp Creek has trails, but I haven’t had the chance to check it out. (Note, this is NOT an off leash dog park, but some people are under the impression it is, so there may be loose dogs there.)

Burke-Gilman Trail. This is a 20 mile long trail, but portions of it go through Kenmore. It’s paved, so great for bikes, roller blades, strollers. It is quite busy on sunny weekends, but probably a decent option for a cloudy, gray weekday. We have found the Kenmore stretches to be less busy than the Seattle zones.

St. Edward’s State Park. Lots of great trails. Definitely too busy on a sunny weekend, but would be a good outing on a rainy weekday. Large playground – it’s possible to park a ways away and walk away from it, and they might not notice. It’s a state park, so you need a Discover Pass, or it’s $10 to park there.

Here are more Kenmore parks,

Redmond

There are 59 miles of public trails in the City of Redmond! Current covid-19 info for Redmond parks. The City of Redmond website doesn’t provide a lot of detailed information on the trails; however, you can find more info about them on the All Trails website or app, on the Washington Trails Association website or TrailLink.

Trail names to look up:

Or, there’s the 1.5 mile Viewpoint trail in the Tam O’Shanter neighborhood on the border of Redmond and Bellevue.

Parks to Avoid

I would avoid the dog walk at Marymoor unless you have a dog who absolutely requires that much space for running in, just because there’s probably many humans there. The rest of Marymoor has plenty of open space for walking in or sitting outside in while distancing. (Note: Marymoor is in Redmond, but is a county park.)

Snoqualmie / North Bend

If you don’t live there, don’t go there.

I say that because I have a friend in North Bend who says the locals can’t get out to any nearby parks because they’re all over-flowing with day hikers. If you really can’t resist the area, instead of going to Mount Si, at least check out this article on 7 Trails to Try for Better Social Distancing.

Other Areas

Check out this Parent Map article on State Parks near Seattle. It covers Dash Point in Federal Way, Flaming Geyser in Auburn, Bay View in Mt. Vernon, Camano Island, and Salt Water in Des Moines. And this article on Secret Urban Hikes in Seattle area.

Learn about Nature while you’re out

I’ve written a guide to learning about Northwest Native plants, which includes all the major plants you’ll find on a hike outdoors, and also has a couple of scavenger hunts – one for preschool age kids, one for older kids (or adults), and a dichotomous key. Here’s another great Native Plant Field Guide that was developed by someone as her senior year project.

The City of Bellevue has a scavenger hunt for Lewis Creek that could also be used elsewhere. I found that some of the things on it were harder for kids, so I made my own version of the nature scavenger hunt using theirs as a base.

Walking in Your Neighborhood

Or, if you want to stay super close to home, but need to get outdoors (there are LOTS of physical and mental health benefits of time spent outdoors), you can get outdoors with proper social distancing, in ANY neighborhood. If you’re an adult walking alone, try listening to some great podcasts as you walk, or use this time to call and connect with a friend or family member. If you’re walking with kids, and doing the same path over and over, there are lots of ways to liven it up: one day do a search for all the letters in the alphabet (on license plates, street signs, and so on), another day, do a search for all the numbers, another day, play I spy where you take turns spotting things. Some folks are trying to start some coronavirus-time connections, like placing a teddy bear in their window for kids to spot when they’re out walking – keep an eye out in your neighborhood to see if you can find any signs that this is catching on!

When to Go Out

Obviously, if it’s rainy or cool, there will be fewer people out than if it’s gorgeous weather. So, grab a raincoat or an umbrella and head out in any weather.

You may also choose to access the parks at less crowded times – I would suspect that the most crowded times will be lunchtime, maybe a 4 or 5 pm end of the day time, and weekends, since many people are still working regular hours, whether at home or a work place, or attempting to school their kids during “school hours.”

Before you go out

First, let’s be cautious to take as few germs out into the world with us as possible. Things to consider: If you haven’t changed clothes in a few days (no judgment if that’s the case!), do so before going out. Bring a cloth face cover, in case it’s hard to keep enough distance between you and others. Take your temperature to make sure you don’t have a fever. (This is not a perfect precaution, because you can be contagious before symptoms, but still a good step because if you do have a fever, you should definitely stay home.) Go to the bathroom before you leave the house, so you’re less likely to need to do it when you’re out. (And because many parks facilities and bathrooms may be closed.) And wash your hands before going out!

If you have children, explain to them before you leave that this is a “no touch” outing. (Toddlers may not be capable of resisting all the time, but we can do our best.) I would not bring snacks along if I had a little one, since their hands would be in and out of their mouths over and over, maybe transporting germs in and out.

Note: Rails to Trails also offers a helpful article on the latest expert guidance on outdoor activity and covid-19.

When You Get Home

Leave your outdoor things (coats, shoes, purse) by the door. Don’t carry them through the house. Wash your hands! If you were using your phone, you could clean that too.

More Ideas?

If you have more ideas or any feedback, please add it in the comments!

Elsewhere on this blog, I have tips on

Plus the blog is just generally full of tips about parenting kids from birth to age 9.

 

Adventure Playground on Mercer Island

[This is a post from 2017. Note for 2019 – the adventure playground will not be open this year, but they are offering an Adventure Playground Summer Camp!]

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At Deane Children’s Park on Mercer Island (part of Island Crest Park – 5801 Island Crest Way) there’s an Adventure playground, where children are given hammers and nails, and encouraged to go build, play, explore, and discover. Here’s how Red Tricycle describes it:

an ever-changing carpentry wonderland that’s completely kid-built, poised to capture the imagination… What’s been created so far will surely inspire your lil’ builder to add her own touches or modify a current design. In fact, the organic, continually-evolving nature of this park is part of its cool-appeal. Each day the park is open, new structures pop up simply by adding, removing or connecting to the existing forts, bridges, ladders, ramps and swings.

This is a land where children build their own playground! They build tree forts, add makeshift slides and swings, and add in fun imaginative details like mailboxes and chairs. When they tire of building, they explore other structures, climbing up high on rickety bridges, ducking low into hideouts, and clambering across the hillside. It’s very fun!!!

There are lots of things I LOVE about the Adventure Playground, which I’ll share below. But, there are some definite safety risks there, and it’s not for a parent who is faint of heart. And it’s NOT appropriate for kids under 4. Be sure to read the cautions below.

When to Go

This Tuesday and Wednesday (Aug 30 & 31), they’re open 1 – 4 pm. Then they’re open on Sundays 9/11, 9/18, and 9/25 from 1 – 4 pm. Admission is free, but please donate! (JayMarc Homes is sponsoring the playground this year, but support from participants is important to showing Mercer Island parks that we appreciate this opportunity!) It can be closed for inclement weather.

What to Expect

It’s ESSENTIAL to wear good, solid, closed toe shoes with sturdy soles!! There are nails and other hazards everywhere you step. It would be best to wear long pants, probably – we were there on a high 80’s day but it’s very wooded, so it doesn’t get very hot. Bringing a water bottle would also be a good idea and many parents bring snacks.

When you arrive, the parent must sign a waiver. You’re given a copy of the rules: basically keep track of your tools, respect others, do not take down existing structures, be safe, and report injuries or emergencies. Kids 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult.

Then they check out a toolbox to your child. It contains items like a kid size hammer, a screwdriver, a level, safety glasses, nails, screws, a big pencil. and a measuring tape. Some might have a saw. You can also pick up a construction helmet. Wood scraps are scattered everywhere on the ground – you scavenge around for what you need. Occasionally there are specialty items: deck railings, bed frames, playground slides. When I went in 2015, I wished there were rope, because it really increases the building possibilities.  In 2016, we found some ropes we were able to use to make a swing.

In the future, I plan to bring an adult size hammer – sometimes we needed more leverage to pound or pull a nail than you can get with a kid size hammer. We could have also used a pocket knife to cut a rope with.

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What you’ll Find

The playground opened July 5th, so at this point in the season, you’ll find lots of established structures that have been built by the kids who came before you. The photos below are from 2015 and 2016. Click on any photo for a larger view.

Some of the existing structures are quite impressive: solid, stable, serious pieces of construction:

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Some are a little more rickety and haphazard.

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Some kids have added warning signs, some label their creations, and some create whimsical details:

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My son loves running around and exploring what’s there – just like any playground he goes to, the first things he wants to do are: climb ladders, run up ramps, slide down slides, get as high up as he can, and swing on the swing. He was having a fabulous time just playing and exploring till we got to the swing… The existing swing he found was really a disappointment – it didn’t hang straight, and didn’t swing well. So, it was time to start building! We worked together to build a swing. (See a video of the swing here.)

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The Inspiration

The playground is inspired by free play advocates, and advocates for the benefits of risk-taking for kids and the benefits of allowing kids to tinker and build real things with their hands and real tools. There are several adventure playgrounds in England and Europe and the trend is moving to America. Learn more about the movement here:

What Kids Learn

There is so much to be learned in this environment!!

  • Creativity. As a child plays and explores what is already there, they learn about the range of possibilities, and start creating their own vision of what they would like to see in this world, and then set about making that vision a reality.
  • Construction skills. Kids learn about hammers, nails, saws. They learn about measuring, rope tying, adding in shims to stabilize something. So many skills that they discover the need for in the moment of building.
  • Safety assessment. They learn to test their work to see if it’s stable and safe, and re-build as needed.
  • Failure and trying again in a new way. Not everything they attempt works! I was watching a mom and daughter try to fit a bed railing in between two existing uprights. It kept tipping backwards, so they added support boards behind it. But then it was tipping forwards, so they added more boards, and it still tipped, so they had to figure out how to build a better stabilizer to hold it in place.
  • Teamwork. When installing an 8 foot long plank on a 4 foot tall platform, you need help. You can’t do it alone. So, you ask for help, you explain what you’re trying to do. You work together with someone. If they have different ideas, you might need to learn some conflict resolution skills.
  • Satisfaction in a job well done. The kids had just even more fun playing here than they would in any regular playground, but beyond that, they had a whole other layer of pride, sense of competence, and boosted confidence. They all left the playground bragging about what they had created together.

Read more about what kids learn here, where I share more photos, and stories from our trip.

Safety Issues

There are definite safety issues. Many of the ramps are shaky, there are lots of high platforms without rails, and narrow wobbly bridges several feet in the air. There’s lots of potential for falls. Also, the kids are working with hammers, nails, and saws. Some have clearly gotten safety coaching. Others have clearly not.

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When I was there in 2015, if my memory is correct, most of the wood was stacked up in a wood pile near the front gate. This year, the wood was randomly scattered EVERYWHERE across the site. This made it much easier to build… when you had an inspiration, you just searched the ground nearby and you’d find a board you needed, or a branch or a rope. But this means you better pay close attention when you walk! And if you fell, you’d be as likely to land on a board as on the soft ground of the woods. And most boards on the ground have nails sticking up out of them. (Remember those sturdy shoes!)

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There were also LOTS of loose nails on the ground. This is what I picked up just from under the platform where we built our handrail and swing.

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Another issue is that there’s LOTS of places where kids pounded a 3 – 4 inch nail through a 1 – 2 inch thick board, and that means there’s a section of nail sticking out on the other side… so watch out for protruding nails on the backs of ladders and on the bottoms of platforms.

I believe kids can stay safe there, but only if you emphasize to your child the importance of caution. An article in Seattle’s Child says that there have been few injuries, and most of those have been adults, because the kids are being more cautious.

I certainly taught my child how to be careful there!  I let him explore, but I made sure he knew to watch the ground when he walked (no running), test to be sure something is stable before going on it, check to be sure there’s no nails poking out before you put your hand there, and so on.

I LOVE the free play aspect of this playground, but I also think that with great freedom should come great responsibility. I wish that all parents would give their kids some basic education on the way in, not just about how to move safely through the playground and how to use tools safely, but how to be responsible for keeping it safe for others. I wish they were taught to be sure their structures were as stable as possible before walking away and leaving them for other kids to play on. I wish kids were encouraged to stack all their scrap wood in tidy piles, near worksites, but not directly in the range or where someone could fall. I wish they were encouraged to pick up any nails they drop, and to also scan their worksite for any hazards before leaving for the day. I wish that when kids or parents noticed nails sticking out on the back of a handrail, they take out their hammer and quickly pound it down to keep others safe.

I’m definitely a product of a girl scout / boy scout childhood, and have firmly engrained the idea of “leave the site cleaner than you found it.” I feel the users of the playground could use that message, though maybe here it’s “leave the playground safer than you found it.”

Age Guidelines

I personally would not take any child under the age of four here. I think it would be hard to keep them safe. If you have a little one, it’s much better to stick to the traditional safety-tested playground and Deane park has four fabulous play areas not counting the adventure playground! (Read my full review here.)

I took my son last year when he was four. (And I should note, we spend LOTS of time at playgrounds and hiking outdoors and climbing rocks and climbing trees, so he has a lot of physical skills and learned caution from those environments.) I kept a very close eye on him the whole time as he played, and actively educated him about how to stay safe and we didn’t attempt to build anything because I didn’t want to get distracted. We did carry a hammer around with us, and did pound in some loose nails we found.

This year, he’s five, and my husband came too, so we had two sets of eyes to make sure he was safe. So, this year we were able to balance building and supervising him. But I didn’t really have any “sit down and relax” time.

We observed other parents and grandparents with a range of ages, and definitely the 6 – 9 year olds had an adult working closely with them. For the 10-12 year olds, a few parents would sit on a log and read while keeping a vague eye on the kids and calling out suggestions. There weren’t any kids there alone that I noticed, but 12 and ups are allowed to be there without an adult.

If you’d like a building adventure, check it out soon! They’ll dismantle this year’s constructions on September 25th.

 

Carillon Woods Park – Kirkland

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Carillon Woods, at 5429 106th Ave NE is a lovely wooded park with nice play equipment and plenty of trails through the woods. It’s tucked away in a neighborhood about a quarter mile east of Carillon Point, and just west of Northwest College.

The sign shown above is in the midst of the butterfly garden which had lots of bees gathering pollen and some butterflies on the day we were there. It also has an interpretive sign about the butterfly life cycle.

The play structure is a nice one for ages 3 – 9. It’s got lots of ways to climb up: regular stairs, two ladders up the centers of each tower, a climbing rock, tricky stairs (the fourth picture below), and loop ladders up the sides. For ways down, it has a pair of toddler size slides, and a mid-size slide. There’s a long “bridge” connecting the two towers.

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The playground was partially in the sun partially in the shade at 11 am. It was a fairly hot day, but all the dense greenery of the park helped the shady areas feel quite cool.

Around the corner, you’ll find a nice climbing rock with some comfy benches to sit on and watch your child climb. It’s an artificial rock, and you can definitely tell by the hollow sounds it makes when you climb on it, but with several years of moss and dirt on it, it looks surprisingly realistic. The wood chips around it are deep and soft – as my husband walked on it, you could see the chips sink down an inch or so, and slowly raise back up as he moved on.

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Around the corner from there are swings. They’re both kid style swings – no toddler bucket. The climbing rock and swings are very shady, so good for a hot day.

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Then there are the trails – there’s a short paved loop (plenty long enough for a tricycle outing) that takes you around the play equipment and back to this interpretive sign about water, and a bench.

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Then there’s lots of other trails through the woods. We wandered along some of them, but didn’t fully investigate. The park is almost 9 acres, and the developed area with the play equipment is maybe an acre of that, so there’s lots more to explore. (2 acres is off limits to the public as it’s an unstable slope, and contains a pump house and active wells.)

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There are no bathrooms at the park.

We were there from about 10:30 – 12:30 on a sunny Tuesday, and saw one man walking his dogs, one grandma with a toddler, and one other family arrived just as we were leaving. I don’t know if that’s typical usage or not. If you’re looking for a busy park packed with kids, this may not be it.

But, if you’re looking for a quiet and really lovely park, where you’re surrounded by lush green foliage, this is a great park for you!

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Note: this park is not as well maintained as we’re used to in Kirkland. The playground could really use a pressure washing (especially where the moss is growing on the roof) and there’s lots of weeding to be done. But there’s no trash or anything – so the users keep it tidy.

More info at: Kirkland Views (a great write-up), Active Rain, and My Parks

Reservoir Park – Kirkland

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In the Norkirk neighborhood, around the corner from Van Aalst Park, you’ll find Reservoir Park at 1501 3rd St. It’s a small neighborhood park with a fun playground.

It’s got a good-sized climbing structure, best for ages 4 – 8. It includes a tall tube slide, two mid-size flat slides, and a short wobbly slide, plus a climbing “rock” zone and some low-ish platforms to peer out from.

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It has one of those sit and spin / stand and spins.

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And swings. (2 kid, 2 toddler buckets)

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No bathrooms. Partially shady.

Just one other family came by on the warm Wednesday afternoon when we were there. Not sure if that’s typical usage.

More details and pictures at: Active Rain and My Parks.

Learn more about other parks in Kirkland / Juanita: Tot Lot, Finn Hill, OO Denny, St. Edwards, and Van Aalst Park