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Discovering Maryland’s Parks and Playgrounds

Fri, 09/01/2006 - 4:00pm
Last updated
5 months ago
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They’re a picnic in themselves

Maryland has an abundance of state and county-owned parks that are just perfect for picnics and playgrounds. Greenspaces and regional parks are scattered strategically throughout the state and range in size from only an acre or two to those having a thousand to 1800 or more acres. Summer just wouldn’t be summer without a few trips to the outdoor playgrounds with a picnic basket.

The ‘kid-friendly, age-appropriate” playground in the Cosca Regional Park in Clinton, Maryland, is a shining example of what public officials can do to provide modern recreational facilities for a community.

With a little forethought, effort, and investment, a new contemporary playground has, like the proverbial Phoenix bird, arisen from the past. It is the second formal playground to be built within the sprawling 700-acre park. The play structures, manufactured by Landscape Structures, Inc., are the most modern and age-specific challenging available. The surface beneath them has also been scientifically engineered and built with the safety of the young end users in mind with the major grouping easily accessible to handicapped users.

Nancy & Joe Graves from nearby Capital Heights brought their two grandsons, Russell and Joseph, to the recreational area early one Sunday morning just as they had done with their own sons, William and Russell, three and four decades earlier to a much different facility. And they were not alone. Brian Hilko brought his two young sons, Trevor and Jordan, to the playground after hearing about the park and play area.

Oh sure, a few ants are likely to crash any picnic party. Turn the tables on the intruders, however. Use the occasion to teach your children about the ants and their unique strengths. While you are at it, take the time to teach your progeny the benefits of participating in healthy outdoor activities as opposed to becoming indoor couch potatoes. No TV or computer games at a picnic.

The “kid-friendly” parks, some even with small lakes for basic fishing, often have challenging adventure playgrounds, outdoor grills, miniature train rides, paddle boats, carousels and objects that are specially designed and built to develop motor skills and coordination. It has been scientifically proven that young children are much more likely to try foods at a picnic that they normally reject at home.

Just be sure to arrive early in the day to get a free picnic table and grill, especially on the weekends. And bring a blanket as a backup, just in case. The picnic areas always fill up quickly, and the astute families often reserve tables wherever possible.

The sprawling “adventure” playground in Wheaton, Maryland, has everything from monkey bars and old-fashioned tire swings to a climbable tree house and long tube slides. Nearby, the 1915 Hershel-Spellman carousel rotates practically nonstop with giddy kids. The looping miniature train is pulled with a replica of the famous 1863 C. P. Huntington engine.

The Wheaton regional park also contains a small lake for bank-side fishing and the 50-acre Brookside Gardens with a summer-long live butterfly educational show and program.

The Cabin John Regional Park in Rockville makes it easy to eat and play, sometimes even simultaneously. With picnic tables situated near the large outdoor play structures, kids can’t help becoming distracted in mid-meal by the many geometric structures to climb on and slide through, and dry land bridges to cross.

Here too, the older style wooden playground is divided into age-appropriate categories with signs posted to indicate the proper ages. It was interesting to note, that while the older preteen children wouldn’t be caught on the play structures designed for their younger siblings, friends, and competitors, the younger children often were more than ready to tackle those designed and built to challenge older children.

The one attraction at the Cabin John Regional Park that fascinates practically everyone, young or old, is Porky the Litter Eater. This is a mechanical trashcan that snorts or growls every time someone “feeds” it.

At the opposite end of the playground, spectrum is the Fort Washington Park. No swing sets or jungle gyms here. The massive brick and stone structure is an 1815-era fort. This is a historic park complete with cannons to touch and military barracks with rooms and passageways to explore. The parade grounds are perfect for playing soldier, and for exercise and running activities. Although no picnicking is permitted inside the fort, there are tables outside along the water’s edge with an expansive view of the Potomac River. In the distance is the Washington Monument, the National Cathedral and Alexandria, Virginia’s historic Masonic Temple. There is a $5 per vehicle entrance fee in effect at the Ft. Washington Park.

It should also be pointed out that nearby Virginia also has both historic and contemporary regional parks with modern children’s playgrounds, picnic areas, fishing lakes and miniature golf courses. Typical of these is the Burk Lake Park in Fairfax with the Burk Lake Railroad miniature train ride an old-fashioned train station.

Whatever your choice, many of the area’s regional parks have age-appropriate children’s playgrounds with ample picnic spaces with shelters, tables, and grills. Take your children out for the day during the spring, summer and early fall months. Give them a healthful outdoor experience that they will want to repeat often.

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