North Park playgrounds offer many options for children of all sizes, abilities

| Tuesday, July 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Summer provides time to explore new playgrounds.

Whether the goal is to meet new friends, find a shady spot on a hot day or complement playground playtime with a nature hike or visit to the lake, the 13 playgrounds at North Park provide plenty of variety.

“The playgrounds are open every day of the year,” said Andy Baechle, Allegheny County parks director.

He said he is especially proud of the Black and Gold playground, which is near the park's swimming pool and is accessible to children with disabilities.

“That's the newest one in the park,” Baechle said.

He said it is designed to allow children of all abilities to play together. But, Baechle said, the playground doesn't just benefit children; it also is a good play space if caregivers are disabled in some way.

Families can have fun checking out the existing playgrounds. Most are named after nearby groves and shelters.

Those looking for a playground that is perfectly sized for toddlers can try Latham, Leet or Idaho/Oregon.

These playgrounds tend to be less crowded, too.

Another thing seems to attract parents of younger children — playgrounds where the entire play surface is rubber. Some parents like to avoid the playgrounds with wood chips because they end up in the baby's mouth.

While the majority of playgrounds have a completely rubber surface, some, such as the one at North Park Lodge, have a mix of wood chips and rubber.

“The rubber surface is expensive, but it is the safest and requires lower maintenance,” Baechle said.

Other good playgrounds for younger children include Gold Star and Juniata.

Kassie Imm of McCandless, a mother of three, said she likes Gold Star.

“It has a tunnel slide and a smaller slide for younger kids. It is a small playground, but I like going there with my kids because I don't have to worry about chasing them around,” she said.

If nearby flush toilets are a must-have, families can head to Flagstaff Hill/Flanders, Point, Richland or Wagener, which is the playground near the North Park Boathouse.

The park's other playgrounds have portable toilets.

To combine a bike ride with playground play, the playground near the boathouse is a good option.

“I take my kids to the playground near the boathouse because it's about halfway around the lake, and it's a nice break from biking all the way around,” said Ashley Douds of McCandless, the mother of two.

That playground is a good one for children who also want the opportunity to get an up-close view of the fish, ducks, geese and boaters in North Park Lake.

If families want nearly full shade to beat the summer sun, there are only two playgrounds that fit the bill: Dogwood/Donnevale and Richland.

Leigh Kolanz, 32, of Gibsonia, a mother of two, said she likes Richland because of the shade but also because it's smaller, which makes it easier for her to keep track of her children.

“I feel like the bigger playgrounds are good for older kids that you don't have to constantly watch,” she said.

For many parents, the deciding factors are crowds and safety. This can create a tough choice because one of the favorite places to play seems to be the playground by the swimming pool, which includes the Black and Gold accessible playground and two smaller play areas.

“The kids prefer the larger playground by the pool, but safety is always my concern when going there because of the three separate playgrounds and how big it is. It's easy to lose sight of the kids,” Imm said. “The advantage is that it obviously offers more for the kids, and it provides an opportunity for them to play with other kids.”

Other parents agree that crowded conditions make it harder to keep track of their children, so they head to smaller playgrounds, such as Carnegie, which is on the Pie Traynor Loop.

For many families, however, the playground by the swimming pool remains an attraction.

“I love the Black and Gold playground by the swimming pool,” said Melissa White of Cranberry, the mother of two. “The slides and climbing structures are the best that I have seen in the area, and I love the cushioned floor around it.”

Mandy Fields Yokim is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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