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Hidden gems: free outdoor fun for kids

  • Eagle correspondent
  • Published Saturday, May 18, 2013, at 5:33 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, June 28, 2014, at 8:08 a.m.

Playgrounds are not always what they seem. For children, slides become roller coasters, poles become cliffs and swings change into time machines. Suddenly, the playground in the prairie is now a castle in medieval England or a pirate ship on the ocean.

The Wichita area has dozens of playgrounds, including some hidden gems that make a trip to the playground a magical experience.

For that young knight and little princess, Augusta houses Robert Shryock Park on Ohio Road near Augusta City Lake. This unique playground, which was built by community volunteers, has spires and wooden and stone platforms.

Wichita parks

Several years ago Wichita updated three of its parks with new play systems.

“Our newest and most exciting play systems have been in for about three to five years,” said Doug Kupper, the city’s park and recreation director. “These play systems allow the kids to climb and exercise their large muscles.”

These state-of-the-art playgrounds are located at Buffalo Park on Maize near Central, Dr. Glen Dey Park near Hillside and 27th Street North and at the South Lakes Sports Complex at 47th Street South and Meridian.

Each park includes an obstacle-type climbing course with a series of black cables that look like giant spider webs. These slick, metal and plastic structures also contain a few slides, several types of monkey bars, and innovative swinging steps that are attached by cable and move as the child climbs from one to the other. There also are large plastic “O” shapes that create an above-ground movable tunnel.

The Buffalo Park playground combines two extra-large units with many swings off to the side. The Dey playground has one unit, some swings and several fun, if a bit weathered, climbing toys. Although in disrepair, the large buffalo, stagecoach and climbing silo – with emerald green slides – are fun for the little ones. There is also an art wall and an engraved sidewalk featuring dinosaur bones.

O.J. Watson Park — This 119-acre park at 3022 S. McLean Blvd. (near 31st Street South), offers an old-time feel in the middle of the city. It contains a 40-acre lake where visitors can fish. Kids 15 and younger who are Kansas residents do not need a fishing license. There also are pony rides, an 18-hole miniature golf course, a miniature train ride and a yellow brick road that leads to the concession house. Two playground areas are set at opposite sides of the park. One has an interesting hoop that a child can jump through; the other is a small bridge and ladder model in a purple, maroon and blue color scheme – a little hard on the eyes but fun for the little ones. The golf course and playgrounds overlook the lake. Admission to the park is free. Pony rides are $2. Train rides, pedal boat rentals and miniature golf are $2.50 per person.

Fairmount Park fountains — Tucked into shady Fairmount Park at 16th and Yale, just south of Wichita State University, this water spray fountain makes for a fun excursion. The fountains are separated into two sections – one for older children and another with gentler sprays for younger ones. The toddler area features a colorful green frog and several spray showers.

In the older kids’ area, a curly sea monster spits a steady stream of water, while tumble buckets fill up and continually dump larger amounts on unsuspecting kids. Parents and caregivers can watch from shaded benches.

Central Riverside Park — This park, at 720 N. Nims, features an updated playground. There’s also a “Cascade Climber,” “Wiggle Ring Bridge” and “Space Net.” The old Riverside Rocket is still there but for decoration only. Years ago, the city spent $224,000 to create this 7,000-square-foot play area, making it the largest in Wichita. The interactive fountains, a great place to cool off during a hot afternoon, are nearby. Check out the Solar Calendar, an accurate astronomical calendar created by local artist Steve Murillo. Visit at noon on summer solstice, June 21, to see the sun hit the glass eye.

New playgrounds — Because of budget constraints, new playgrounds are in short supply. With partial funds from the AARP, a Grandparents Park on Kellogg near Estelle is scheduled to be completed this summer. There will be an exercise station and a tot playground with several digging tools and a swing set.

“We want them (the grandparents) to bring the little kids out,” Kupper said.

Another tot playground is going up near Central and Murdock.

Suburbs

To the east of Wichita, Andover has two large parks and several smaller ones. The 13th Street Sports Park, on 13th near Andover Road, has the usual sports fields, plus horseshoe pits and a nature path. Andover Central Park at 1607 E. Central has a stocked fishing lake and an arboretum.

The Maize City Park at Central and Khedive sits on a little more than five acres and sports a refurbished playground with lots of fun climbing facilities. Like the three newer playgrounds in Wichita, this one offers terrific climbing options. The kid-safe jungle gyms are in red, blue and yellow. There is also a skateboard section and bicycle paths.

Speciality parks

Sunrise Boundless Playscape — In 2009, a $1.5 million playground designed for children with disabilities opened in Sedgwick County Park. Sunrise Boundless Playscape is in the northeast section of the park near 21st Street. This playground is designed to offer 70 percent accessibility, with swing seats, gradual inclines and wide tunnels.

Skate parks — For the older crowd, Wichita and Derby offer golf disc parks and skating parks. The skate parks are professionally designed and offer a fun workout. The Derby Skate Park, on Corporate Park Drive, opened in 2006 and features stairs, rails, banks and a 4-foot-deep bowl. The city of Wichita’s skate park is on St. Francis under Kellogg. This 12,000-square-foot concrete course features three concrete bowls, ramps, rails, ledges and steps.

Disc golf parks — Disc golf parks include Oak Park, 1100 W. 11th St., and Herman Hill Park, 101 W. Pawnee, in Wichita; Old Oaks, 701 S. Jane, and Riggs Park, 301 Park Drive, in Haysville; and the Derby Skate Park, 424 E. Market in Derby.

Dog parks — Meridian Park sits on eight acres just off 21st and North Meridian. The Murfin Animal Care Campus Dog Park is near Hillside and K-96. This park has three fenced-in play areas – one for small dogs and two that rotate for larger canines. To the south, there is Chapin Dog Park at 2466 E. MacArthur near 39th Street South. This 10-acre park features fenced-in areas for small and large dogs.

Special events

The Wichita Park and Recreation Department is hosting a scavenger hunt this summer.

Park passports will be available at neighborhood recreation centers and O.J. Watson Park beginning May 25. Participants who find the signs and clues at specific parks may turn in their completed passports to be entered in a drawing that will give away four bicycles and a tent with sleeping bags and air mattresses from Academy Sports. Call 316-268-4361 for more information.

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