Discovery Playground has been such a hit since it opened in May next to CenterPlace at Mirabeau Point that it is literally being loved to death. New plants have been trampled. Oversized metal flowers have had petals and blades of grass broken or bent.
Spokane Valley Parks and Recreation’s director, Mike Stone, said it has reached a point that he needs to close the park early this fall in order to repair the landscaping and other features before cold weather sets in. The exact date has yet to be determined but will likely be in September, said Stone.
The playground, bustling at 10:30 a.m. on a recent weekday, sees 200 to 400 people a day. The tables in the picnic shelter are nearly always full, said Stone. Numerous day cares and camps bring busloads of children to play on the wide variety of features. The bear cave and splash pad seem to be the most popular. Stone said that maintenance staff has to clean large amounts of sand out of the bear cave every morning.
The biggest problem is lack of parental supervision, said Stone. That allows some children to do things they’re not supposed to, including climbing on top of the giant oversized pumpkin, climbing on metal arches and damaging the oversized metal flowers.
Still, Stone is happy that the park has been so well received. More picnic tables and benches were added in response to the crowds. “All in all we’ve been very pleased with the response,” he said.
There have been few problems, though the park experienced its first serious vandalism this week. A large trout near the entrance, designed to be touched and climbed upon by small children, was yanked off its base and hauled a few feet away. Someone also kicked the bathroom door handles, damaging them.
Stone said most of the comments he hears are positive, but he did receive a complaint from a woman who said a child got his head caught between a large post and the blue stairway railings near the Wavy Walk feature. Since the space was not enclosed at the top, the child was freed simply by being lifted straight up until his head was above the post.
“It’s all up to code, but kids will find ways to use things that were never expected or intended,” Stone said. “We’ll take a look at this and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
A staff member is usually in the playground about three to four hours every weekday to keep an eye on things and check for any problems. Though the park closes at dusk, the gate is not locked. Stone said he dropped by one night at 10:30 p.m. to check on some lights and saw several families with young children playing. “You would be surprised at how many people are still here,” he said. It is that popularity that is probably keeping the incidents of vandalism under control, he said.
Stone is already making plans on how best to make repairs to make the park a bit sturdier in the face of thousands of trampling feet and tugging hands. Areas that have been used as makeshift pathways will likely be seeded with grass rather than being replanted, he said. The few grassy areas the playground has are always full of kids and families and adding more grass will give them more room. Some of the trampled greenery will be replaced with larger plants that will hopefully survive. He’s also looking at replacements for the oversized metal flowers. “We’re going to look at some more stout, sturdier ones,” he said.
The current policy of not taking reservations for the picnic shelter or the outdoor classroom might also be reconsidered. The Parks Department has been receiving a steady stream of calls asking to reserve the shelter. Stone has noted that some people show up hours early to lay claim to picnic tables that might not be used until the afternoon. “The jury is still out on that one,” he said.
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